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Vary Your Chords

Dave Ratcliffe (289) · [archive]
Style: Theory/Reference · Level: Beginner · Tempo: 70
Pages: 1 2

Chord/scale Substitution
Stephen King once wrote that he'd been playing the guitar for (then) 20 years, but could not--in effect--get past Basic Chords. He's not alone.

Let's say you have some sheet music, with or without tab, and you find the "lead sheet" elements: Melody + (Basic) Chords. Some lead sheets contain developed chords with 'clever' numbers (e.g. Bmb5-7, C11, Am13); you duly find them in your big chord book; play them, but wish:

I could play more chords myself,
I knew more about harmony

Well, making a start is easier than driving a car or operating your PC. We'll look at the Major scale reading my '3 Chord Trick' lesson will help, plug, plug. I'll also plug Lesson #4413 by Mr Kaltrow, 'A Primer in Chord Substituion'. Read that next...):

C Major

I----ii----iii--IV----V----vi----vii dim--I In C: C----Dm----Em--F----G----Am----Bdim--C

C = I
Dm = ii
Em - iii
F = IV

G = V
Am = vi
B dim = vii o
C = I (octave)

----------------- Chords on the the 1st, 4th, and 5th degree are always major
The 2nd, 3rd, and 6th degree chords are always minor
The 7th degree chord is always diminished (aka Am7-5)

To show the possibilities, let's leap ahead. Say you have 9 beats of G. You can play:

G Gmaj7----/----Bm7----Bbm7----Am7----Eb9----D9----Ab7----Gmaj7

This is sophisticated, as in Jazz.

The easiest way to vary the chords is with inversions followed by a dominant chord:

4 beats of C = /open /'A' shape based on string 5 fret 3 / 'E' shape based on string 6 fret 8 / ditto, but the 'E7' shape. Here's some tab:




I'm sure you've found that the dominant chord, and its b7 is a 'joining' chord--its sound suggesting something is going to change. That 'something' is called Tension--the b7 discords mildly with the root of the chord.
This is called horizontal development.You're going up the frets horizontally.

How about vertically? In most cases, you can use the following Tonic Degrees within each chord:
You can also use bV (Major/minor depends on context--your ear). There's a table coming showing the no. of frets between the roots. First, figure this:

Original Major chord--check the scale of that chord, its Tonic Degrees (notes)
Find its accompanying minor--Degree 6
Find the 3rd Degree (the 2nd chord tone!); play the minor chord based on it.

Let's translate this into C:
C----Am----Dm = I----vi----iii.

If you go no further, you still have a large number of alternate chords.
C---- plus ----3 or 4 inversions----times----vi----iii---- = 8

In C, the bV is Gb/F#. M or m depends. Use your ear. Think of (horizontal development) inversions and you have 12 alternate chords (some doubled)! And we haven't finished yet...

See page 2 for chromatism and passing chords...