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The harmonized fingerboard - triad shapes

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Previous page: Fretboard Next page: Fingering of the G-chord

The harmonized fingerboard
triad shapes

If you learn the following tirad chord shapes, you will have the main building block for constructing all kinds of chords all over the fingerboard. They are all played as closed chords, meaning that there are no open strings. It also means that all chords are movable. Move them up two frets, and you move up one whole tone.

You will see that I have divided this lesson in two. The first part starts from proper chords, and you will se how you can finger the chords in many position. The other part starts from fingerings or shapes, and deals with the sounds you will get from these fingerings in different positions. It is two a large extent two approaches to the same subject. But some of the sonic shapes gives sounds that are rather strange chords to my ears. The term "sonic shapes" is taken from the late Howard Roberts.

Mp3-files

I have recorded the sound of the chords and shapes as MP3 files. The chords or shapes in one row is played in sequence. Each is played first as arpeggios to make it easier to hear the notes, and then as a block chord.

Content:

Chords

Major chords - root position

For a general discussion on major chord, go to my Music Theory lessons.

When played in root position, you have the root note on lowest string, third on the middle string and fifth on the top string.

(Picture)
(Picture)
(Picture)
(Picture)
Major
(A)
Major
(D)
Major
(G)
Major
(C)

Listen to a recording of the chords (MP3)

Major chords - 1. inversion (root on top 3-5-1)

In first inversion, you have the third on the bottom string, fifth in the middle and root on top.

(Picture)
(Picture)
(Picture)
(Picture)
Major
1. inversion
(E)
Major
1. inversion
(A)
Major
1. inversion
(D)
Major
1. inversion
(F)

Listen to a recording of the chords (MP3)

Major chords - 2. inversion (root on middle string 5-1-3)

Root on the middle string.

(Picture)
(Picture)
(Picture)
(Picture)
Major
2. inversion
(C)
Major
2. inversion
(E)
Major
2. inversion
(A)
Major
2. inversion
(D)

Listen to a recording of the chords (MP3)

Minor chords - root position

For a general discussion on minor chord, go to my Music Theory lessons.

(endre akkortene til Am. Dm, Cm og Gm).

(Picture)
(Picture)
(Picture)
(Picture)
Minor
Minor
Minor
Minor

Listen to a recording of the chords (MP3)

Minor chords - 1. inversion (root on top 3-5-1)

(Picture)
(Picture)
(Picture)
(Picture)
Minor
1. inversion
(Em)
Minor
1. inversion
(Am)
Minor
1. inversion
(Dm)
Minor
1. inversion
(Gm)

Listen to a recording of the chords (MP3)

Minor chords - 2. inversion (root in the middle)

(Picture)
(Picture)
(Picture)
(Picture)
Minor
2. inversion
(Cm)
Minor
2. inversion
(Fm)
Minor
2. inversion
(Am)
Minor
2. inversion
(Dm)

Listen to a recording of the chords (MP3)

Diminished chords - root position

For a general discussion on diminished chords, go to my Music Theory lessons.
(Picture)
(Picture)
(Picture)
(Picture)
Dim
Dim
Dim
(Endres til G)
Dim
(Endres til C)

Listen to a recording of the chords (MP3)

Diminished - 1. inversion (root on top 3-5-1)

(Picture)
(Picture)
(Picture)
(Picture)
Dim
1. inv
Dim
1. inv
Dim
1. inv
Dim
1. inv

Listen to a recording of the chords (MP3)

Diminished - 2. inversion (root in middle - 5-1-3)

(Picture)
(Picture)
(Picture)
(Picture)
Dim
2. inv
Dim
2. inv
Dim
2. inv
Dim
2. inv

Listen to a recording of the chords (MP3)


Finger movements

Look carefully at how the shapes moves (or not moves) when crossing strings. The same type of chord have the same fingering if you use strings 6, 5 and 4, and if you move to 5, 4 and 3. But if you continue to strings 4, 3 and 2, the interval between 3rd and 2nd string is not the same as the interval between the other strings (it is one half step smaller=> one fret shorter). To compensate, one has to move the finger on the 2nd string up one fret. If you then go on to strings 3, 2 and 1, you have already compensated for that on your top string, but now the finger in the middle (at 2nd string) must move up one fret.

When shifting between major and minor, it is the third that moves. It is the middle string in root position, the bottom string (of the string used) in first invention and the top string in second inversion.

When shifting between major and diminished, both the third and the fifth moves. These are the two top strings in root position, the two bottom strings in first inversion, and the bottom and top string in second inversion.

When shifting between minor and diminished, the fifth moves. This is the top string in root position, the middle string in first inversion and the bottom string in second inversion.


Sonic shapes (chord shapes)

The late Howard Roberts, a superb guitarist who was one of the founders of GIT in Hollywood and had one of the longest running columns in Guitar Player, used the term sonic shapes. These are fingering shapes that can be moved around the fretboard, to produce various sound. (Howard Roberts explored many shapes that were much more advanced, both musically and technically that the shapes I will discuss here.)

E/Am-shape

We can start with what we might call the E/Am shape (they are easier to remember if you give them names). If you play the shape on strings 6-5-4 or 5-4-3 (E-major), you have a major chord in second inversion. These two major chords are a fourth apart (and an inverted fourth is a fifth, meaning that they can be regarded as a fifth apart, depending on how you count). If you make the E chord (strings 5-4-3) the root, then the chord on strings 6-5-4 will be one fourth below, which is the same chord as the one you will find one fifth above the root. This is the V chord, a B if you just move the E-major across to the lower strings. If you define the B as root, then the E will be one fourth above, making it the IV chord of that key (but still it is an E-major chord).

I am sure you have played the Am - E change. When I learned to play guitar, back in the 60's, the Donovan hit Donna Donna was on every beginner guitarists repertoire - and it utilizes that Am - E change. E-major is the V chord of harmonic A-minor (minor keys are more complicated than major keys, with three different minor scales). You could also turn it around and say that Am could be the iv of E, but this will not work that well. A minor root (I) and major dominant (V) is a strong harmonic relation. A major root (I) and a minor subdominant (IV) does not work so well.

If you continue to strings 4-3-2, you get a minor in second inversion - that is the good old Am chord. If you move to strings 3-2-1, you get a strange fellow that we have not met so far. It has a restless sound, but is not unpleasant. This is an augmented chord, usually noted as Xaug or X+.

(Picture)
(Picture)
(Picture)
(Picture)
Major
2. inversion
Major
2. inversion
Minor
2. inversion
Aug

Listen to a recording of the chords (MP3)


The augmented chord consists of two major thirds. If you add one more major third on top of an augmented chord, you get back to the root note. I am not sure that one can use the word symmetrical when there are three parts. But I'll take the risk. The augmented chord is symmetrical in the sense that it divides the chromatic scale in three equal parts. This also means that you can make any of the three notes the root. But the spelling of the notes might be a bit complicated. If you play the chord on first and second fret, you can make the A (second fret, third string) the root. The other notes will then be C# and E#. But if you add another major third on top of the E#, it should be some kind of a G, not an A. (A is three steps above, making it some kind of a fourth). It will be a double sharpened G, which is spelled Gx. But you do not have to worry these theoretical questions. If you play this Aaug and then goes to D, you will hear that Aaug may substitute A7 in the key of D. As a Faug (which contains the same notes) it should also work as a substitution for F7 in Bb, and substitute C#7 in F# (or Db7 in Gb), but in my ears, this particular voicing of the aug chord does not sound as good with Bb or F#.

Listen to a recording of the chords (MP3)

A-shape

If we look at the "A-shape", we get a major in second inversion on strings 4-3-2, and a minor in first inversion on strings 3-2-1. This creates a shift from major to the parallel minor chord, if you just move across on the same frets. And this is a change that is often used. You can go to the parallel from each point of departure. If you are playing in A-major, you can go to F#m, and if you are playing in F#m you can go to A-major.

If you move the shape to the two bottom sets of strings, you will get a chord that can be labeled a sus4 chord in second inversion. The sus4 chord is a popular chord, and is prominent in the opening of The Who's "Tommy", and in the 60's hit "Needles and pins". It is a chord that asks to be resolved into the major chord it has been derived from. But in my ears, a sus4 chord does not sound very good at the lower strings. It may work as a Esus4 on strings 5-4-3, but it sounds muddy on strings 6-5-4.

In some contemporary music, one can also hear harmony built on fourths instead of the traditional thirds. But I will not go into that.

(Picture)
(Picture)
(Picture)
(Picture)
Sus4
Sus4
Major
2. inversion
Minor
1. inversion

Listen to a recording of the chords (MP3)

D-shape


The D-shape give us a major chord in second inversion on the top three strings. We know that the interval between string 3 and 2 is not the same as the intervals between the other strings, and that we cannot move a shape with second string across and maintain the chords character. If we move it to strings 4-3-2, we get at diminished chord in second inversion.

If you move the shape to the two lower set of strings, you get I kind of chord that I can't name, and that does not sound to pleasing to my ears.

(Picture)
(Picture)
(Picture)
(Picture)
????
????
Dim
2. inversion
Major
2. inversion

Listen to a recording of the chords (MP3)


Allow me a little detour about the dim chord. We have seen that the dim chord have to minor thirds. In C, it will be C, Eb and Gb. If we stack another minor third on top of the Gb, we will add a note to most of us would be an A. Those who want to have everything correct, can note that the correct spelling is Bbb, which is a double flatted B (lowered one whole step). But that is not important. If we then add another minor third, we come back to C. If we expand the dim chord to a dim7 chord, we get a symmetrical chord: The chromatic scale is divided into four equal parts, with all the notes a minor third apart.

If you play the D-shape on fret five and six on strings 4-3-2, you get a C#° in second inversion. But we now know that the C#° will turn to a A7 if we put an A underneath it. And so we can do on the open 5th string. If you then move the chord down one fret, you will get a C°. And now we know that if we add an A to that chord, it becomes a C°7 (we do not care about the spelling of the A). And since the chord is symmetrical, every note in the chord can function as root, meaning that a C°7 have exactly the same notes as an A°7. Finally we come to the point: Play that A7, and then slide it down to become a A°7 (you might add an A on 1st string, 5th fret), and then back to A7. There you have one of the blues giant Robert Johnson's trademark licks in A. Listen to his "Kindhearted Woman" to hear how he treats the change.

D7-shape

The "D7-shape" is a diminished chord in second inversion on the top three strings. On strings 4-3-2 it becomes a minor chord in second inversion. If we continue across to the two lower set of strings, we get a sound that is familiar, but it gives a chord that is hard to name. If you play it on strings 5-4-3, 2nd and 3rd fret, you get the notes C, E and Bb. You can not reorganize these notes into a stack of thirds, meaning that it is not a basic triad. What you get is a fragment of a seventh chord, in this case a C7. The 5th is omitted from the chord, but it still sounds like a C7. If we for some reason we want to or have to omit a note from a chord, the 5th is the first to go. If we omit the C, then the chord has no root. If you start with a 7th chord, you will then get a dim chord, an E° if you starts with C7 and then omits the C. If you omit the third, you omit the character note that defines it as either major or minor. And if you skip the 7th, then it is no longer a 7th chord.

I have to add that if you are playing in a band, other musicians in the band might play the notes you skip. If the bass plays a C, then the band will play a C7 even if you only play the notes E, G and Bb.

If you move the chord across to the bottom strings, you will have the same kind of 7th fragment, this time G7 if you stay on the same frets.

Look at the connection between a E-chord i E-shape, and a B7 fragment. Both chords are played on strings 5-4-3, on first and second

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