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Chord charts

Chords! Lots of them!


Man, there’s a lot of these things. The problem isn’t that they’re not useful. The problem is that they encourage you to stop exploring. What if you need an Ab9 chord, but you don’t like the sound of the one on the chart? Just use the one on the chart anyway?

Well, there’s this.


Make your own stuff

Or you can learn some basic chord theory and key signatures. Then you can make your own stuff instead of depending on someone else. You also need to know where all the notes are on the neck of the guitar.

This type of work develops your brain and allows for creativity. Learning a chord from a chart doesn’t. It just trains your fingers.


Exploring C major

Take the C major triad. It’s made of three notes: C, E, and G. Find as many combinations of those notes on the neck as you can. Find a C on the G string, then find the closest G and E.

Now find the C on the D string. Where’s the closest G and E?

Play the open high E string and the C on the G string. Where’s the G?

Now use this same procedure for a G chord. Or any other chord. Move between the C chords and the new chords.


Chords, keys, and notes

Here’s a post that talks about building chords.

And another one that talks about building chords in different keys.

Here’s one on notes on the neck of the guitar.


Once you start moving between the chords you make, it begins to feel a lot like composition instead of just going between the same old C an G chords. You start getting new ideas.

And you don’t have to depend on outside resources if you don’t want to.

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Interactive techniques

Call and response


Call-and-response shows up in all sorts of music, from the blues, to chain gangs, to different parts of the Catholic mass, to English sea shanties.

It’s a pretty simple concept. One person plays or sings a musical phrase and another repeats it. This famous scene from Deliverance illustrates the idea. Aside from an example of call-and-response, it’s a beautiful example of how different cultures connect through music.


You can use it in a song – singer sings a melody, guitar player repeats it; the drummer plays a rhythmic phrase, guitar repeats it. It’s difficult to be subtle about this. Use it sparingly.

More interesting is to think of other ways that people interact. Such as…



The hocket is like interjection or interruption. One person speaks and another jumps in with a related (or unrelated) statement. The idea is that you take an extended idea, and pass it around between different people in the group. This can be the lyrics, a rhythmic idea, a melodic idea, something else…

Example: player 1 plays the first 4 notes of a melody, player 2 plays the next 4 notes, player 3 plays the next 4 notes, etc. Each player plays their notes alone. The effect is that the entire phrase jumps around from place to place in the performance space. The challenge is to make it sound smooth.

Here’s an example of a rhythmic idea.



Here’s that same idea passed around between three players.





The interlocking technique can be a beautiful thing. Do this with two to four players. More if you can make it work.

Each player plays something different, and everything that’s played “interlocks” into something that works as a single thing.

Here’s an example:




Notice how notes are played together in only two places: the first beat and the third beat.

This can work with chord progressions, too. Substitute the notes in the example for chords, and have the guitar player play the top rhythm while the piano player play the middle rhythm. Try it with just one chord. The bass player plays the bottom staff rhythm.

Make up some other interlocking rhythms. You can make it simple or complex.

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This term gets thrown around a lot. But what does it really mean, and how is it developed?

First of all, if it grooves, you’ll be moving your body. This happens most naturally in funk, rock, soul, latin, and big band jazz. It’s not usually associated with folk. Certain styles of country make you want to move, but not all of them.

Here’s Part 3 of a collection of music that grooves (there are 7 parts in this collection that I know of). The first tune will show you what groove is, but you might as well listen to it all.



The pocket

The phrase “in the pocket” means playing with great feel, usually in the middle of the beat. It can imply the bass player and the drummer feeling the downbeats together, but a single person can play in the pocket. I’ve heard singer-songwriters playing solo that do it really well.

Many people feel that the question is not so much what the pocket is as much as how you know when you’ve achieved it. If it feels as though all the rhythmic parts have merged into what feels like a single instrument, you’re there. If you’re playing solo, it kind of feels like the instrument is playing itself. No speeding up or slowing down, just a consistent rhythmic pulse. Everything happens naturally.

You can play a groove in three basic ways:

  • in front of the beat, which feels kind of rushed and energetic
  • behind the beat, which feels really relaxed
  • or right in the middle of the beat, which just feels solid


The metronome

Get a metronome. They’re free on your phone.

Use a medium tempo (somewhere between 80 and 100) and just play a chord every time the metronome clicks. Or beeps. Or whatever sound yours makes. Each sound equals a quarter note.

Try to stay aware of where you’re playing the chord. Is it in the middle of the beat? It’s not always obvious. You might hear the metronome sound after you play the chord. That means you’re in front of the beat. If you hear the metronome before you hear the chord, you’re behind the beat. Or you might not hear the metronome. That means you played exactly in the middle of the beat.

Try to put the chord in the same place every time. Think of it as a game. Give yourself points every time you play in the same spot as the last time. Or see if you can do it five times in a row. After awhile, you’ll start to feel where the metronome sound is going to land.

Once you can feel that, you can put the chord anywhere you want, and do it consistently.






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