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Build your own chords

A chord is defined as two or more notes played together. Most chords are at least three notes, and if they’re three notes that’s called a triad.


If you want to make a three-note chord on adjacent strings, there are three ways to do this. .


  1. place one finger across three adjacent strings
  2. use one finger on one string and one finger on the other two strings
  3. use one finger per string


Let’s look at each in turn.


One finger across three strings – the barre.

3 note chords1

                 1                              2                                3


You can barre with any of the fingers. Use your index (pointer) finger or ring finger for now.  Barring can be painful if you’re not used to it. Change fingers from time to time.


Place your index finger or ring finger across all three strings in each example and press down.  Which is easiest?


Now play each example. If you’re strumming with a pick, numbers 2 and 3 can be tricky. The idea is to play only the three notes indicated. It can be difficult to miss the other strings. You can fix this problem by playing the notes fingerstyle.


One finger on one string and one finger on two strings

 3 note chords2

               1                              2                               3

This means that you have to barre two strings with one of those fingers. Try it with the shapes below. Numbers 2 and 3 aren’t so bad. For number 2, you can use your first finger to play the two first two strings and your second finger to play the note on the 3rd string.


For number 3, use your middle finger for the note on the 1st string, and your index finger for the other two notes.


One finger per string


This feels the most normal. Here are a few examples.


3 note chords3

              1                                2                             3


Some of these nine examples are standard triads (especially the one-finger-per string examples). Some are not. This is a way of taking things that you’re used to playing, and using them with things that you aren’t. Part of the reason for doing this is to find sounds that you aren’t familiar with. This helps you hear harmony differently. Hearing harmony differently gives you new ideas.


Moving it around


Try these on any string set.  String set 1 would be strings 1, 2, and 3; string set 2 is strings 2, 3, and 4; string set 3 is strings 3, 4, and 5, etc.


Now start moving between the shapes. Try moving them to different places on the neck. This is experimentation, so don’t expect to always find stuff that you like. Just play around for 10 minutes or so, and write down the things that you like.



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