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I’ve talked a lot about chords in the last few posts. I want to focus on the individual notes in those chords now.

I’ve talked about how we get the notes of a chord (Take every other note of the scale).

And I’ve talked about what to name those notes. For example…


Key of C:


C           D         E         F         G         A         B

Root          2nd        3rd        4th          5th           6th        7th


So the C major chord has a C, E, and G, also known as the root, 3rd, and 5th.

Start the C major scale from D and you have the dorian mode.


D         E         F         G         A         B         C

Root       2nd          3rd        4th       5th          6th          7th


…and the notes of the D minor chord are D, F, and A.



Why am I talking about all this? Because the notes of any chord (called chord tones) can be used to make solos and riffs sound like they make sense (i.e. good)

How? By placing chord tones in strategic places in the solo or riff. This is called targeting. You’re targeting notes in the chord

And how do you do that? Take a look at your progression. Figure out the notes in each chord by taking the root, 3rd, and 5th of that chord. Then place those notes in important places in your solo or riff.


The important places

Where are the important places? Perhaps the most important place in a solo or riff is at the end. When you put a chord tone there, any tension you’ve created gets resolved. Everything sounds complete.

Of course, you may not want it to sound complete. But that’s another post.

So, an example…


simple progression


The first thing to notice is where the chord tones are. I’ve started the whole thing on the root of the first chord. The root is the most stable chord tone so it always works at the beginning. It communicates solidity. That doesn’t mean it’s the right thing every time, but it’s not a bad place to start.



The second note is the 5th of the chord, and I end the first bar on the 3rd (E). In between those notes are non-chord tones (F and D); these communicate less stability, and are great for transitions to chord tones. To make things interesting, it’s important to create tension and then resolve it (which going from non-chord tones to chord tones does).


Do some analysis

Analyse the rest of the progression keeping in mind what chord you’re on, and what chord tones you’re looking for. Which bar creates the most tension (i.e. has the most non-chord tones)? Notice how a non-chord tone on one chord (E on the G chord, bar 3) turns into a chord tone on the next chord.


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Incomplete 7th chords

This idea makes 7th chords easier to play, and creates new possibilities. Instead of making them four-note chords, make them three-note chords.


Eliminate a note, of course, but which one? We can’t really get rid of the root or the 7th because they define the sound of the chord. The 3rd also plays an important role in defining a 7th chord’s sound.

But the 5th? We can lose that.


Here’s what you do. Just take any 7th chord, say a G major 7, and build the chord: G, B, D, F#. Now get rid of the 5th, and you’re left with G, B, and F#.

Now the fun part. Find those notes on the neck of the guitar, and build some chords.


Root in the bass

Keep the root in the bass for now. Put the G of the G major 7 chord on the 3rd fret of the low E string. Now find a place for the B and the F#.

You have three practical choices for the B:

  • 2nd fret, A string
  • 4th fret, G string
  • open B string


There are two practical choices for the F#:

  • 4th fret, D string,
  • 2nd fret, high E string.


If you put the B on the A string, the F# can go in any of its two locations. Try both. Which is easier to play? Which sounds better?

Put the B on the G string and, again, the F# can go in any of its two locations. Again, try both. Always ask which is easiest to play and which sounds better.

And finally, the open B. Again, the F# can go in either location.


The root on other strings

Now go through this process with the root on the A string. As before, identify where you can play the other two notes (put them on higher strings than the A), and figure out how many chords you can make.

Then place the root on the D string, and find the other notes. Finally, put the root on the G string.

Remember that, in all these cases, the root is the lowest sounding note.

And make sure that you’re writing down all the chords that you like. The ones you don’t use now, you’ll use later. You keep ideas fresh by making sure that you have materials you like, and by making sure that those materials aren’t all the same.

Some people never use anything but standard, open string chords…


The 3rd in the bass

If you feel like making more chords, put the 3rd in the bass, and then find the root and the 7th on the other strings. So the B (if you’re using the G major 7th chord) goes on the 7th fret of the low E string. Then find the other notes (G and F#) on the other strings. Same process as before.


Other things to try

I know. It never ends.


  • Use the 7th (F#) in the bass, and put the root (G) and the third (B) on the other strings.


  • Do the entire process from the beginning of the post, but get rid of the 3rd instead of the 5th.




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Changing 7th chords

Let’s take the C major 7th chord I talked about in the last post.

Cmaj7 chord

As in my post on ambiguous triads…

…start moving the notes around.


Lots of chords

In some cases when you do this, you get other functional chords (rather than ambiguous ones).

For example, move the 7th of the chord (the note on the E string) down a semitone and you get a C dominant 7 chord.



Move it another semitone down and you get an A minor 7 chord. Suddenly, we’ve changed roots from C to A.



Now, using the A minor 7 chord, move the note on the G string up a semi-tone and you get an A dominant 7.



Move that same note up another semitone and you get an Asus4 chord.

So the work is to simply move your fingers one or two frets up or down on each string, just like you did with triads. The difference is that with 7th chords, you get more material.


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Playing the bass line

It’s an effective move for the guitar player to become the bass player. Even if you never actually play a bass line, it’s a good idea to learn how to construct one.

I love it. It helps me get into the mind of a bass player. It helps me figure what they care about. And what they care about (probably more than anyone) is groove.

Let’s take a basic progression and see what we can do with it. We need the notes before we can sink into groove.


bass line


What you have here is a G major arpeggio, followed by and E minor arpeggio, a C major arpeggio, and an A minor arpeggio.  Let’s talk a bit about arpeggios.



Arpeggios are simply the notes in a chord played one at a time instead of together. These are the main notes that any bass player in any style will play. But outside of walking bass, no bass player will play them in the way I’ve outlined above. There needs to be some rhythmic interest.

Before we get to rhythm, though, let’s see how arpeggios are built. It’s not all that complicated.

Let’s start with the key of C.


C            D            E            F            G            A            B


How to make an arpeggio

Arpeggios are made by taking every second note of the scale. If you want a C major arpeggio, take the C, the E, and the G. If you want a D minor arpeggio, take the D, the F, and the A.

How do I know that building an arpeggio from the D is a minor arpeggio?

Here’s how it works in any major key (I’ll use C major as examples here):

  • the arpeggio built on the first note is always major: CEG
  • the second and third notes give us minor arpeggios: DFA and EGB
  • the fourth and fifth notes are major arpeggios: FAC and GBD
  • the sixth arpeggio is minor: ACE
  • and the seventh is diminished: BDF


To be totally clear:

C            D            E            F            G            A            B

maj            min            min            maj            maj            min            dim


Now you know how to find the main notes for making a bass line. Take a song that you like to play, and find the arpeggio notes on the E, A, and D strings.


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100 posts

This is my 100th post. Which seems a bit incredible. My other 4 blogs produced maybe 20 posts altogether…

Up until now, this blog has been about helping guitar players work with concepts that might make their songwriting/composition process and product more interesting. That won’t change.

But after 100 posts you start to want to stretch a bit. It will always about making stuff, but I’ll start introducing topics that I notice I’ve been shying away from: more advanced compositional ideas, some tech stuff, jazz harmony, artist reviews from time to time. Other stuff…

Stay tuned.


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Eastern European scales and making chords

You can’t have chords without scales. Even if you just throw some randomly chosen notes together, those notes would be part of a scale.

You can’t really escape scales. People try. “Too technical,” and “Aren’t they just for soloing?” are a couple of things I hear when the topic arises.

“Too technical” translates to “I don’t want to practice.” And the answer to “Aren’t they just for soloing?” is “no.” They’re also for inventing chords.

I admit, it’s easier to look at a page full of chord diagrams, and make your fingers conform to what’s there. Developing a creative, curious mind takes a bit more effort.

It’s kind of worth it to do the work. It stretches your mind, and it stretches your ear.


Eastern Europe

This scale might sound strange. Or beautiful. Both are great. Once you get used to it, it becomes something that adds color, rather than a random, weird sound.

Let’s start by building a random, weird sound…

Here’s a scale from Eastern Europe


East euro 1


Making chords: Unfamiliar to familiar

Place your middle finger on the C on the A string, 3rd fret, and your index finger on the F# on the high E string, 2nd fret. Add the open B string. Or you can use the B at the 4th fret of the G string (that’ll make the next move a bit more challenging, though…)

Might sound a bit different than what you’re used to. Might not. In any case, let’s reduce the tension. Move the F# to the G on the 3rd fret of the E string (leave the C and the B where they are), and play the new chord.

Might still sound a bit strange. Try moving the C to the open string D (or the D on the A string, fret 5). Better?

The point here is to use the scale to randomly choose notes with which to build chords you would never have otherwise found. And then to resolve those chords by moving the notes in the chord to new notes.

This is a process of discovery and experimentation, of trial and error. The point is to take the stuff you’re used to (and maybe getting bored of?) and add interest.


Familiar to unfamiliar

Another way to approach this is to go from familiar to unfamiliar. Place your index finger on the G, 3rd fret, high E string; middle finger on Eb, 4th fret, B string; ring finger on C, 5th fret, G string. That’s a C minor chord.

Now just move the fingers to other notes in the scale and back. The G can go back to the F#; the Eb can go to the D; the C can go to the B. These can move together or one at a time. Work with this, and you’ll find ways to introduce this kind of sound into your regular playing and writing.

Check my posts on scale-tone chords for more shapes like this.



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