When “Sultans of Swing” first hit the
airwaves in 1978, I remember going
ape over Mark Knopfler’s supple lines and
bell-like Strat tone. But something else struck
me as well, and that was the line “You check
out Guitar George, he knows all
I thought, “Wow, I wonder what it’s like to
know all the chords. I want to be that guy!”
So I set out to learn as many chords as
I could. Along the way, I developed a little
game to help me expand my harmonic
vocabulary. Of course, since then I’ve
discovered that no one really knows all
the chords—although the late Ted Greene
could be the exception—but I still play
The rules are simple: Choose a note
and then play as many chords as possible
that each include this particular tone in
the identical fretboard location. This common
tone is the only fixed element—all
the other notes are up for grabs. When
playing this game, you suspend all
requirements for keys, cadence, or tonality.
The chords don’t have to make sense
as a progression—that’s not the point.
Instead, the goal is to construct a chord
sequence based around one note that’s
shared by every voicing. Each chord earns
you a point. How many can you build off
a given note before running out of ideas
... four? Eight? Or maybe 12 or more?
The only other rule: You must name
every chord you play. Gripping a shape you
can‘t identify is cheating.
Guitar George has different levels of
complexity. I’ve found it’s easiest to begin
with a common tone in the highest voice
and build the chords below it. Fig. 1
illustrates the process. If you squint at
the notation, you’ll see that every chord
has E on the 2nd string as the top note.
For example, in measure 1, Fmaj7, Dm9,
C#m7, and B11 all share E—this is the
“anchor” tone, if you will.
Likewise, the chords in measures 2, 3,
and 4 have E as the top note. Don’t be
fooled by the Fb in measure 2’s Bbdim7.
Enharmonically, that’s E, but the 5 of a
Bb chord is F, so when you lower it to a b5
to create a diminished voicing, it becomes
Fb—which is an odd duck, I must say.
Because Fb is also E by another name, I
haven’t broken the rules in this round of
But I digress: When you play the 13
chords in this example, you’ll see—and
hear—how one note is the lynchpin of
the entire sequence. Notice how this
example is marked “Freely,” which simply
means there’s no tempo. Take your time
with each chord and observe how the bass
descends in a more-or-less stepwise manner.
Essentially, the middle notes get filled
in between the fixed high note and the
descending bass line.
Of course, in this game the anchor
tone doesn’t have to be the top note.
In Fig. 2
, the chord sequence revolves
around A on the 6th string. Once again,
the key is irrelevant—all that matters is
keeping that low A as the bottom note in
each voicing. To make a chord sequence
more demanding, simply add rhythm to
it, as I’ve done here. This makes the exercise
a bit more musical and forces you to
practice the chord-to-chord movement to
nail the changes in time.
There you have it—Guitar George. It’s
fun, especially if you play the game with
a friend or two, and you challenge each
other to see how many chords you can
play and name based on a common tone
in a fixed fretboard position. Start off with
a common tone in the lowest or highest
voice to get a feel for the game, and then
see if you can play a sequence using a
middle voice as a common tone instead.
Or make it really challenging by declaring
two common tones. However you play
it, Guitar George will push your chord-voicing
chops to new heights.
is a veteran guitar journalist
and Senior Editor at PG
in Nashville, Andy backs singer-songwriters
on the baritone guitar, and also
hosts The Guitar Show
, a weekly on-air
and online broadcast. For the schedule,
links to the stations’ streams, archived audio
interviews with inspiring players, and more,