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Music Theory for Guitar - Reading Chords - Lesson 1, part 1: Triads in root position

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Previous page: Music Theory for Guitar - Reading Intervals - part 1 Next page: Music Theory for Guitar - Reading Chords - Lesson 1, part 2: Triads in first inversion

Reading Chords - Lesson 1, part 1: Triads in root position

Being able to read chords compared to individual notes, is as being able to read words and not just spell the letters when reading a text. We should know by now that if two notes have no space between them, and there is no overlapping overlapping of the notes, then they make up a thid. If you do not really know this, then go back to Reading Intervals, part 1. If you also know that a triad in root position is made by two thirds stacked on top of each other, then it should not be too hard to figure out that three notes with no space between the notes and no overlapping, is a triad of some kind.

A keyboard player or a classical trained guitarist will probably think of the notes D-F-A as just that: D-F-A. But many of us other guitar players will think of it as a D-minor chord. That is why I think it is important to be able to identify the chords when reading music.

This stack of three notes tells us that it is a triad, but not what kind of triad it is. So you must either read the notes D-F-A and have the knowledge that this is a D-minor chord, or know that a triad on the D will be a D-minor in this specific context. I said either or, but you should really know both. The point is that you must be able to process the information fast enough to be able to play it before it it late and the music has moved on.

The main difficulty of reading music for guitar is not to dechipher the dots on the paper, but to apply the result to the neck of your guitar. Too many of us will read the music, find each note on the fretboard, and then recognize the fingeiring position as a certain chord. If we can recognize the chord when we read the music, it will be a quicker process.

So far we have only dealt with they key C-major. If you know that the primary chords in C-major are C, F and G, and that the secondary chords are Dm, Em and Am, then you are well on your way. Add that a trian on the B is a Bdim, just to be complete. These chords make up the harmonized scale in C-major. In root position, a C-major scale harmonized in triads will look like this:

Notice that all the chords in the staff are made up the same way.

You do of course need to know how to finger these chord in various positions, to be able to play them. These are the four fingerings for major triads in root position:

We can of course also play with open strings, but then the shapes will not be moveable. You will recognize these shapes as parts of our familiar basic shapes. (The notes in the basic chords that are added to the basic triad in root positions are marked with a diamond.)

G-major C-major E-major A-major

We have similar shapes for the minor triads in root positions:

These are the chords triads with open strings.

G-minor C-minor E-minor A-minor

The reason for starting with C-major is that there are no sharps (#) or flats (b) in this key. The same goes for the key A-minor. If there are some accidentials (sharps of flats just before a note), then you know that you are supposed to play some chromatic notes – notes outside of the key. This again mean that the chord is a non-diatonic chord. We will come back to these issues later. So far it is sufficient to say that as long as there are noe accidentials, then the chords are diatonic chords – either one of the primary or secondary chords.

We will come back to the differences between keys later in this series. But you can find the chords in all keys if you look at these harmonized scales:

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Previous page: Previous page: Music Theory for Guitar - Reading Intervals - part 1Next page: Music Theory for Guitar - Reading Chords - Lesson 1, part 2: Triads in first inversion Next page:

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Previous page: Music Theory for Guitar - Reading Intervals - part 1 Next page: Music Theory for Guitar - Reading Chords - Lesson 1, part 2: Triads in first inversion