Learn to Turn Basic Chords Beautiful
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with using basic chords. After all, they’re safe, reliable and well-known. However, to truly make the most out of your basic chords, you have to learn how to make them interesting. In this article, we’ll take some of the most common chords on guitar and transform them into beautiful and versatile voicings for your next song.
This article is a summarised transcript of our video “How to Make Basic Chords Sound Beautiful”. Click here to watch the video for more details, explanations and examples.
The C Major Chord
This is a really simple open chord that is often one of the first that beginners learn. The great thing about this chord shape is that you can do a lot simply by moving some fingers around.
For example, by moving your first finger off, you introduce the major 7 note, which turns it into a Cmaj7. Furthermore, dropping your little finger allows you to add the nine note which turns it into a Cadd9. Observe the images below, where from left to right, we have C Maj, C Maj7 and C Add9:
To learn more, click here to download a free chords PDF with 10 pages of detailed diagrams and photo demonstrations to help you make basic chords more beautiful:
The 6/9 Chord
The concept of adding little melodic lines on top of your chords helps take a static chord and introduce some movement to it. However, you can take it a step further and introduce a new chord called the 6/9 Chord.
A 6/9 Chord consists of notes 1 – 3 – 6 – 9. You can optionally add in the 5 on top if you’d like as well. The image below shows a C 6/9 chord, with the optional 5 on top:
The great thing about this shape is that it’s movable. For example, you could move the C 6/9 shown earlier up two frets to create a D 6/9 instead. If you wanted to get even more complex, you could lift your little finger to the #4 or #11 note. Observe in the image below a C 6/9#11:
The G Major Chord
G Major is another common open chord that beginners learn. It sounds great because it relies largely on open strings to create it’s sound. You can enhance that openness by removing all of your fingers and focusing only on the root note, like so:
This is useful because it allows us to hammer-on and pull-off certain notes as we play the chord. Country and folk music often use this technique. You can hear it in John Mayer’s song “Why Georgia” in which he uses a little riff with a hammer-on to set up the whole tune.
E Major and E Minor
The E Major chord on guitar in it’s original form uses all 6 strings, particularly the lowest one. We can augment this shape to create an E add9 instead, which has a really beautiful, and warm effect – especially if you use a backwards rake to help those open strings shine. Below, you can see E Major on the left and E add9 on the right:
We can then turn the E Major chord into an E Minor chord as follows:
And can even further augment this by adding a 9th note to create an E Min9, which sounds really beautiful, dark and mysterious. Here’s what that chord shape would look like:
A Minor and D Minor
You can also add a 9th to A Minor and D Minor to create A Min9 and D Min9 respectively. Have a look at the image below:
Similarly to the idea with the C Major chord earlier – where you took your first finger off to make a major 7, and then dropped your little finger to create an add9 – you can do the same with a D Minor to create a melodic idea.
These ways of playing chords are useful because they allow songwriters to have chord progressions that aren’t particularly complicated, yet still create a lot of movement, and motion.
The F Chord
Instead of playing F Major in it’s standard form with a mini barre across two strings, you can leave the last string open to form F Maj7. Doing this also frees up your little finger to potentially add a 9th to form F add9. Below you can see F Maj, F Maj7 and F add9:
F Major can also be played in a split voicing form where you take your first finger and come across to the sixth string, then put your third finger on the third note to create a sort of tenth voicing, like so:
This voicing is super useful if you’re not comfortable with barre chords because it can be moved up and down the neck while still providing you opportunities to engage the open strings. However, it should be noted that the chords you form with this technique won’t work in every key.
Experimenting with Bass Notes
So far, the main method we’ve been using to create different chord voicings is to use the fingers we have available to create some melodic movement on top of the chord. Another way we can make these chords interesting is by using bass notes that aren’t the root of the chord.
The basic construction of chords is usually 1-3-5 for major chords and 1-b3-5 for minor chords. We can use either the 3 or 5 as the bass note of the chord, instead of the root as usual.
Let’s use D Major as an example. You could take a finger off to create a D Sus2 or add a finger to create a D Sus4.
The above two forms of D Major sound great but what we’re going to do now is instead put a F# on the top instead of a D, to create a D/ F#. This is a really rich sounding chord and the chord shape would look like this:
You could also use this technique to create smooth transitions between chords. For example, if you went from F/C to C, the C bass note becomes the common note between the two.
Conclusion: Learn to Turn Basic Chords Beautiful
The great thing about guitar is that it has the ability to let open strings ring, and we want to search for those opportunities as often as possible. To help us, we can use techniques such as changing the bass note or adding extra notes on top of our chords. This way, we’ll be able to make the most out of the open chords we know, and create interesting chord progressions for our songs.
If you would like more details, explanations and examples, then be sure to check out the video now
Level up your songwriting with five radically practical exercises used by professional songwriters around the world: