Everybody needs to start somewhere, and the basic triad is a cornerstone of nearly every guitar style. In this video, Michael Palmisano breaks down how triads are constructed, the most common shapes, and how to play them in any key.
A guide to develop a larger chord vocabulary.
- Understand how to create drop 2 voicings.
- Learn to smoothly transition between chords.
- Create a larger vocabulary of chords to pick from.
Inversions are one of the fundamental fountains of knowledge when it comes to learning harmony. They increase your fretboard awareness, spice up your chord knowledge, and impress all your friends who are stuck trying to get their barre chords sounding great.
Except for sight reading, inversions have been the skill that breaks the most students in terms of frustration. However, they have also led to the "eureka" moments in their studies when the neck just opens up for them. Over the years I've adopted this system on mastering your inversions by learning the shapes and applying them to songs.
The Basics of a Drop 2 Chord
There are two main families of 7th chords: drop 2 and drop 3. With these two families you have access to a vast majority of the chords used by greats like Wes Montgomery or Joe Pass. The voicings are very versatile and will open up the entire geography of the fretboard. For our purposes, we will focus on drop 2, but the concept can also apply to drop 3.
Drop 2 chords cover the most range of the instrument without creating dissonances and provide a massive number of options. How one arrives at a drop 2 chord sounds mysterious, like a strange code. However, it's not that difficult. Let's start with a basic Cmaj7 chord in root position (C–E–G–B). Next, we take the second note from the top, which would be G, and drop it down an octave to create a new shape (Ex. 1).
The new shape (G–C–E–B) is 2nd inversion Cmaj7 chord and likely doesn't look that unfamiliar. It's more open, stable, functional, and playable in any situation that a Cmaj7 chord could be played. Simple, right?
Next, we will want to extend this idea to the remaining inversions along the neck. In Ex. 2 I've written out the four drop 2 shapes for Cmaj7 along the top four strings.
I use the term 1573 for a specific reason. This is a way to memorize and visualize the voicing on a deeper level so that you know the function of each voice rather than just internalizing a grip that you spew out. It allows you to alter your voicings to suit your personal tastes in terms of harmonic extension and character. Here are the formulas that correspond with each inversion of a Cmaj7 chord.
1573 C–G–B–E Root position
3715 E–B–C–G 1st inversion
5137 G–C–E–B 2nd inversion
7351 B–E–G–C 3rd inversion
Because of the nature of the drop 2 voicings, we are now offered a large library of new shapes. These exist on four adjacent strings. That gives us three different groups of voicings to learn: one based with the lowest note of the voicing on the 6th string, one on the 5th and one on the 4th. They all have different uses, but that is something we don't need to worry about just yet, we need to get these shapes in your hands and ears.
I've outlined the set of major 7 chords with the lowest note on the 4th string (Ex. 2). In Ex. 3 you can see the shapes based on the 6th string and Ex. 4 covers the 5th string.
Mastering all three groups of voicings gets you ready to play in real musical situations. Listening to the solo arrangements of players like Joe Pass and Wes Montgomery, you will discover much of their chord vocabulary is based off this group of voicings.
Now We Exercise
Memorizing the shapes of the chords is the first step to practical application. With four variations on each 1573 chord there is a lot of work to get to. One of the most practical ways is using these shapes to harmonize a major scale. Keeping everything diatonic (within a key) we end up with the following harmony:
Translate that to a key of your choice. Let's start with the key of F, which is a very common key in jazz repertoire, and covers a good range of the instrument.
We begin with the lowest possible root-position chord voicing on the top four strings, which in this key would be Em7b5 (Ex. 5). Naturally, we would move up the neck with each note going to the next scale tone.
As with every exercise we want to transpose this into other keys. Once you can play this in F major, go to the next key and apply the same concepts. After you get a grasp on your root position chords, start applying inverted shapes right away (Ex. 6). In this exercise, we are working on 1st inversion chords starting with a C7 with an E in the bass.
Continue this until you can get through all inversions in every key on each of the three string sets. Although these three exercises aren't expansive, they will give you plenty of material to practice. Remember, when you start to learn any new chord shape it takes a little time, but eventually it gets easier.
Playing these shapes across the string sets really opens things up. In Ex. 7 I apply these shapes across all three string sets.
Now you could not play this entire passage on just the lowest string set, however you need to switch string groupings as you continue to progress. The choice as to when you change groups is yours, and you will want to be able to make this "swap" at any point in the progression instinctively.
In Ex. 8 I've given you one possible way to navigate through all four inversions across all three sting sets. This exercise is very useful in getting a strong start on the basic major scale shapes. Don't rush these; nothing will be internalized and memorized overnight. Remember, we have to not only learn the physical shape of the chords but get comfortable with the sounds that they create.
Our next exercise will help visualize how each inversion works together going down the neck. In Ex. 9 we start with a higher voicing of Cmaj7 (in 10th position) and work our way down diatonically by keeping all common tones the same. For example, both Cmaj7 and Dm7 share a C, so that note stays while the upper notes move to the closest chord tones. We continue the pattern down the neck and across to the lower string sets.
Take this process and apply it to all 12 keys to reinforce all of the inversions. Remember, you will be switching string groupings throughout this exercise, so find the best option for you.
Practicing these basic exercises helps to get familiar with the shapes, but as you practice them you're going to want to use them over common progressions. Jazz standards move keys often, and in ways that are formulaic and predictable. I teach my students to learn these very common chord progressions in inversions as part of an etude. That way, they learn their inversions not only as a shape, but how they actually work in a tune.
The most common progression is the IIm7–V7– Imaj7. It's also the fundamental basic way of mastering inversions outside of just getting your fingers to make the shape. In Ex. 10 I've gone through a few examples in the key of G. Several of these will stretch out your fingers but after some diligent practice they will become more comfortable.
Now, you have progressed through learning the basic shapes of the Drop 2 or the 1573 chords, let's unlock the last subject of this lesson, how to play them in song form. As I had mentioned earlier, standards seldom stay in a key for very long. There always seems to be a key change at the bridge, or even several key changes throughout a chorus. Here are a few really common shifts that happen in jazz tunes just to get the ball rolling. Learn these relationships, transpose them, and you're going to be way ahead of the curve.
Practice these studies with a metronome, go slowly, and internalize them. It may take a while for you to get everything nice and smooth. It's a long journey to really get some of this under your fingers and into your ears.
In Ex. 11 we start in the key of G and then play a progression in E minor, which is the relative minor of G. Break open your Real Book to nearly any page and you're likely to find this one.
For Ex. 12, we start in F major before shifting to Bb major. This I–IV motion appears in countless tunes. Notice how moving across the string sets opens your ears to the relationship between the bass note and the melody. Many times those are the key notes when picking up chords by ear off a recording.
Moving around by whole steps is another tried and true harmonic pattern. By now, I'm sure you're starting to recognize sounds and inversions and how they interact. In Ex. 13 I've written out a handful of ways to play through a IIm7–V7–Imaj7 in Bb and then move down a whole step to Ab.
Finally, we get more adventurous with Ex. 14. Here we move from the tonic, in this case Eb, to a minor progression in the key of G, the 3 of the scale. Sounds like jazz to me, right?
I get it. That's a lot of information. This is going to keep you busy for a while. But remember, you don't have to use all of these voicings. Find the ones you like, pick a tune, and get to work.
Its roots are from Britain, but it came to prominence thanks to '80s college rock.
- Demonstrate genre-defining elements of jangle guitar.
- Show how to use common chord shapes to create uncommon harmonies.
- Add rhythmic variation to your right-hand with syncopated strums, arpeggios, and combinations of the two.
Although the term "jangly guitar" is commonly associated with 1980s college rock bands such as the Smiths and R.E.M., the jangle sound has its roots in the British invasion of the 1960s (the Beatles), found a place in 1970s hard rock and '80s progressive rock (Led Zeppelin and Rush), and is starting to resurface in the contemporary indie-rock scene (Mac DeMarco, Plums, and Vacations). No matter your genre preference, this lesson will show you how to add some jangle–and lots of new chords–to your guitar playing.
Open Strings and Moveable Shapes
The formula for creating the jangle sound includes two main ingredients: open strings and moveable shapes. Thus, this lesson will focus on moving common, first-position, "cowboy chords" (with variations) up, down, and across the fretboard.
Let's start with a simple Dsus2 shape–that's a D chord with an open 1st string–moving up and down the top four strings (Ex. 1). Notice that this basic shape yields some surprising harmonic results, including two sus chords–a ubiquitous jangle sound that replaces the 3 in a triad with either a 2 or 4, thus sus2 or sus4. Also pay attention to the syncopation in the strum, with the chord changes in measures 1 and 3 occurring on the upbeat. Although this progression was inspired by R.E.M.'s Peter Buck, it came out sounding more like Neil Young.
We continue with the idea of moveable chord shapes in Ex. 2, this time with a C chord. Using the third finger on your fretting hand as a guide, simple move the shape to the 10th, 8th, and 5th positions to create harmonically rich sonorities a la the Smiths' Johnny Marr. Don't worry about being too exact with the right-hand combination of arpeggios and strums. More important than uniformity is the idea that you are not merely strumming or arpeggiating but mixing it up and creating variations.
Ex. 3, with its swinging 6/4 strum, employs an "E" shape barre chord, but leaves the top two strings ringing throughout to create some unusual harmonies. You'll find this specific shape in U2 songs, among others.
Alex Lifeson is our point of reference for Ex. 4 and Ex. 5, as these chords can be heard on several Rush songs. In Ex. 4, your emphasis is on a two-note power chord shape on the 5th and 4th strings while occasionally accenting this shape with top three strings ringing open.
Ex. 5 is the same idea with a three-note power chord shape (here you'll also fret the 3rd string), which alters the harmonies just enough to provide some variation. One could perhaps use these two for a verse and a chorus.
Ex. 6 combines the shapes found in Ex. 3 and Ex. 5, which, at the risk of stating the obvious, is something you can do with all these shapes–mix and match!
Arguably, Ex. 7 is where jangle guitar started, with the Beatles. Reminiscent of the intro to "Eight Days a Week," this relatively simple shape allows you to drone both the 1st and 5th strings. After one time through the progression, the entire pattern moves up a full octave, adding even more jangle. This rhythmic figure can be tricky for some players. I would recommend using a down, down, down-up-down, up pattern.
Ex. 8 was inspired by early recordings of the Pretenders. Using a combination of two different shapes, this sequence also involves movement with the pinky. Once again, this example employs both strumming and arpeggiating with the right hand.
Our final example is an homage to one of the riffs in Led Zeppelin "Ten Years Gone." Ex. 9 introduces unfamiliar shapes that are relatively easy to play. The first measure starts with an Asus2 chord but you'll have to fret it with your first and second fingers so you can quickly add the pinky for the subsequent chord shape. Tip: If you fret the Asus2 with your 2nd finger on the 4th string and your 1st finger on the 3rd string, you can play the whole pattern without ever lifting those fingers off the strings.
I hope this lesson has demonstrated how to get new sounds out of old shapes inspires you to mix and match, move around, and make up your own figures and patterns. The harmonic, melodic, and rhythmic possibilities are endless, thus I entreat you to imitate and innovate far beyond what has been presented here.