In guitar chord theory part
5, we looked at creating alternate chord
voicings using different chord
In this lesson we're pushing it to another
level and looking at more
advanced voicings and also chord
inversions, where the root note is not the
note in a
chord. Although the root is still there, it can take on the octave
position and actually be voiced higher than the 3rd, 6th, 9th
Note that there is a series of
lessons dedicated to guitar
chord inversions, but this lesson will give you a good
introduction and round off the chord theory series.
You'll know from studying this
series that the major triad consists of the root (1), 3rd (3) and 5th
Now, the standard way to play
a major triad is with
an open position chord or
barre chord (which is a movable version of the open position shape).
While they certainly "do the job", these types of chords can start to
sound a bit stale after a
while, so it's good to hunt down some fresh voicings to give your chord
progressions some variation.
We can do this
the order of notes, so the root no longer sits as the lowest sounding
note in the chord.
Try the chord below at any
fret. Avoid playing the low E, D and high E strings as indicated by the
So, a standard R 3 5 major triad there, but the order of stacked tones
has changed and the root
is no longer in the bass position.
Usually if you play, for
example, an E shape barre chord for a major triad,
the order of tones appears as R 5 3
- Root on the E string, 5th next up on the A string and finally the 3rd
on the G string. This is known as a root postion or root voicing, as
the root is in the bass.
In the major
triad voicing above, the order has changed to 3 R 5
the chord a very different flavour. It adds tension (or an "unresolved"
The 3rd is now the
lowest sounding note in the chord.
Using scale patterns as "scaffolding" for building chords
One way you can
construct inversions like this by yourself is by learning
the 8 major scale patterns! Use those
patterns as the scaffolding for building your chord shapes in different
The below video shows you how
you can pull several chord voicings (including inversions) right out of
a scale pattern. This is your first step in connecting chords and
For example, we can build a higher
voicing of the major chord as follows...
So that's the same major triad as before but with the 5th
lowest note in the chord.
Can you see how we built this from the major scale pattern below?
Another thing to notice here -
chord shapes overlap!
In the chord form above, the formation of the 5th (D string), Root (G
string) and 3rd (B string) might look familiar to you if you know your
barre chords. It's "taken" from the A major barre chord form...
These two chord forms share tones because of their close proximity
on the fretboard
when using the same root note on each.
Added 9th voicings
We learned in part
4 that add9 (added 9th) chords are made up of the root, 3rd, 5th
and an added 9th.
Again, the standard barre
chord voicings can lose their freshness after
years of playing, so you'll eventually want to find new voicings, like
we did with the major triad above, but this time we'll be adding
the 9th (which is the same as the 2nd)...
Learn to be resourceful and
free up your fingers
for outside or anticipated movement by only fretting the strings needed
for the chord. Doubling up tones and big, 5/6 string chords aren't
always necessary to "get the point across".
Let's look at a fuller voicing
for an added 9th (2) barre chord inversion...
Now, the 3rd is the lowest sounding note in this
chord voicing, but if you know your scales you should have picked
There is a root note on
the D string
Most of the chord lies in
the D shape barre position
The low 3rd has been
"borrowed" from another shape/pattern...
The D string scale is just the
of the E string scale.
what's my point?!
If you can build a chord on
any root note, and you
know how the major scale patterns and their related chord shapes
overlap, you can "borrow" notes from
nearby shapes/patterns like in the example above!
Another voicing of an add9
This has been taken straight from the "boxed" E string major scale
The low root note has been
removed, and the first
occurance of the 3rd in the scale has been used as the lowest note in
You can let the bass player
in your band (if you have one) cover the root notes. This
allows you to free up your fingers for the other notes. If you can do
without a note somehow (e.g. a bassist can
cover the root) you'll have an extra finger to create more interesting
chords. Basic finger economics!
So what happens if the root note becomes the highest
sounding note in the chord?
That's an added 6th chord completely inverted.
Play it and you will notice
something quite peculiar...
It sounds like a minor chord!
Yes, it technically is. This
is what inverting chords to this degree does - the chord tones end
up expressing something completely different when stacked in a
This is where a bass player
comes in. They ultimately define the bass note and therefore the
context in which the chord form is played.
A typical progression example
would be - C♯m7 F♯7 Badd6
It's all about context
- if you used that chord above at the start of a progression (for
example) and the bass was firmly planted on the 6th of the chord, you'd
get the minor sound.
know this can all be a complete head f**k, but the best way to get it
to sink in is to keep investigating how scale patterns connect with
chord shapes (and vice-versa), borrowing chord tones from nearby
patterns (of the same
key of course) and knowing what tones each type of chord
Stick with it. Here are some
chord voicings to play around with. Remember, all these chords are movable
(no open strings) so you can play them in any position on the fretboard.
- R 3 5 7
- R 3 5 7 9
- R 3 5 6 (remember, 6 may also be written as 13)
This stuff takes time to
learn, but it's very rewarding to accomplish
whether you want to improvise in a band or sit down and write
a song on your own.
Knowing different chord voicings gives you more creative options and a
more accurate expression of whatever you want to "say" with your
It all boils down to experimentation.
Have fun with it.
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