Scales and Intervals, Part 4: Review

If you’re still with us on the Scales and Intervals series, thanks for sticking with it. I guarantee you that while it may seem like a lot of information to absorb, especially if you’re starting with basic (or no) knowledge, that it will pay off, relatively quickly, and for years to come.

These are concepts that form the basis for developing the technical and the creative aspects of your playing. Obviously, both of those things are important, and knowing where things are and what they’re called will enable you to get where you want to go more quickly, and with fewer potholes along the way.

But for this post, let’s take a quick break from all the theory jargon, and show you a few practical things to work on, based on the material so far, that will give you real results, in a fairly short amount of time.

Check out the three main ways to play the C major scale across the neck, starting with the 1st, 2nd, then 4th fingers:


The above one we covered earlier in the series. Three-note-per-string scales are invaluable to learn, as they are the most adaptable, and present the most opportunities for creating great melodic patterns to run up and down through the scale.


The above form was the most conventional way to play a major scale for a long time, but most rock players went to the 3-note/string style in the ’80s, as those patterns are more applicable to shredding. Still, this is a good pattern to know, as it presents another way to anchor your fretting hand and prepare to navigate through the course of a solo or melodic phrase.


This last one is another good pattern for navigating and finger independence. It may be easier for you to play the D and G strings using the 3rd finger, instead of the 2nd. Either way, there’s going to be a little bit of shifting back and forth, but not too bad.

Practice all three forms with alternate picking, starting with downstrokes and with upstrokes, observing how the changes from string to string affect your picking motion in each form. Remember also these forms are movable, and the first (lowest) note is the root of the scale, so if you want to play a B major scale, start one fret down in 7th position.

In moving the forms to other positions, keep the note diagram for the entire fretboard handy, and observe the names of the notes in the other major scales. It’s especially helfpul to notice how many more accidentals (sharps/flats) are present in various keys.

For example, the C major scale, as we’ve seen, has no sharps or flats. But one position down, the B major scale, goes:  B-C#-D#-E-F#-G#-A#-B, a total of 5 sharps in that scale. One position up from C, the C# major scale, goes: C#-D#-F(E#)-F#-G#-A#-C(B#)-C#. Technically, B#-C are enharmonics, as are E#-F, so the key signature (like you would see on a musical clef) of C# major is shown to have seven sharps, or every note in that major scale!

(About the only time you will ever see the notes B-sharp, E-sharp, C-flat, or F-flat, is when they are used in specific key signatures. Otherwise, they are conventionally known as C, F, B, and E respectively.)

There are mathematical patterns behind this, which we’ll cover in future posts when we get to concepts like the circle of fifths. In the meantime, just practice all three major scale forms in as many positions as possible (utilizing open strings as needed), and identify all the notes in each different major scale.

All those movable major scale forms should keep you busy for a while, and to add to the fun, let’s leave you with a couple of exercises based on third intervals. Here’s the first (3-note-per-string) scale form in thirds, ascending then descending:


Now in sextuplets:


The sextuplet rhythm and number of notes don’t quite land “right” the way the first example does, but you get the idea.

Needless to say, these interval exercises can be worked through all three scale forms diagrammed above. Start with both directions of alternate picking, then try incorporating legato, palm muting, and economy picking. Learn the patterns thoroughly in one position or key before moving them up and down the neck.

This series has grouped scales and intervals together, in order to show how the former is constructed from the latter. Hopefully this series has provided some insight as to how the two are related. Please check out the Intervals PDF on the Resources page for a larger chart showing the note and interval relationships within a given scale.

At this point, in order to do justice to each subject, we’re going to investigate deeper into intervals and scales separately. Over the next couple weeks, we’ll check out each type of interval separately, and provide tab examples and diagrams to help you get them under your belt. Then we’ll move on to some different types of scales.

Scales and Intervals, Part 3

Hopefully the material we’ve covered so far in scale and interval theory is useful and makes sense. As always, please post any questions or comments here, or send directly to and we’ll respond ASAP.

So continuing on with exploring the C major scale, let’s try playing a few simple variations. Here’s a 5-string 2-octave version starting from 3rd position A string:


The same version spelled with intervals:


Check the tab, observing the slight shift when you get to the B string:

2octave Remember to come back down the pattern, maintaining strict alternate picking. This one is movable as well, with the first note as the root. Playing the formation at the 5th position makes it a D major scale, 7th position is E major, etc.

Here is the scale in just a single octave, but in the more traditional (rather than 3-note/string) form:


As we progress through scales and intervals, and move on to triads, modes, chords, and arpeggios, the 1-octave form comes in pretty handy for developing melodic exercises that go through all seven modes of the scale (which we’ll get to soon).

Let’s look at one more way to play the major scale, before moving on to a quick interval exercise. Check out the single-string scale below:


This is a great exercise for position shifting. Use the suggested fingering and slides, ascending then descending, alternate picking throughout. Take it slow at first; the range you cover quickly makes it tough to just rip through it.

Single-string scale patterns are great to learn, in all keys and on every string. Sample diagrams will be provided on the Resources page, and you can also refer to the fretboard diagram below to figure the rest of the possibilities in C major:


Spelled intervallically:


Don’t worry about going strictly from C to C’ for single-string patterns, this is another great way to build fretboard knowledge and develop melodic patterns to use. Single- and two-string patterns are awesome for developing cool pedal point figures.

In all of these different scale formations, make sure to observe where the intervals are, and how they fall on the fretboard. Keep in mind that the interval designations in the above diagram are in relation to the root, and that the notes are also intervallically related to each other.

That might be a bit confusing, so here’s an example of the different intervallic relationships: you can see where the E note at the 12th fret of the low E string is a major third above the C note on the 8th fret of that string. You can see where the G note (10th fret, A string) is a perfect fifth above that C note. But that G note is also a major second above the F note (8th fret), and a minor third above the E note, the one that’s a major third above the C.

Be sure to check out the 2-page Intervals pdf cheat sheet on the Resources page; it contains a handy 2-octave chart that demonstrates the various combinations. Thirds are especially important to get a handle on, as it is the various combinations of major and minor thirds that are used to construct triads and chords.

We’ll get more into depth on intervals in the next post, but the tab below shows the C major scale played in ascending thirds:


All of the intervals are useful to know, but thirds are probably the most important ones to get familiar with. Stay tuned; more exercises based on thirds, and how to construct triads and chords with them, are up next.

Scales and Intervals, Part 2

Picking up where we left off with a basic description of how the 12 notes of an octave are named, organized, and related musically and on the fretboard. Recall the deceptively simple exercise we went over in the last post, of identifying each note on the fretboard.

Try it two ways:

  1. systematically running up the neck one fret at a time, calling out the name of each note as you go along;
  2. randomly selecting the 12 notes in succession, playing every note of that name in every octave, before moving on to the next note.

The reason I say the exercise is deceptively simple is that as a concept, it may seem to be at a basic level — names and locations of notes. But I have seen intermediate and even advanced players have to work at it. Try it, it’s not an easy thing to do all the way through. Five minutes before each practice session for two weeks, you will see results in your fretboard knowledge and ability to navigate quickly and confidently, guaranteed.

Let’s continue with another basic definition. A scale is simply a specific sequence of notes within an octave. There are many different types of scales, of varying numbers of notes. The scale that uses all 12 notes of the octave is the chromatic scale. Most scales you encounter will have five(pentatonic), six (hexatonic), seven, or eight notes. The most commonly used scales are major and minor seven-note scales. This post will focus primarily on the C Major scale.

The C Major scale is ideal for this purpose because it uses all seven natural notes, and no sharps or flats. The sequence goes like this:

C     D     E     F     G     A     B     C’ (start next octave)

In the last post, we looked at the distances between notes in terms of half steps and whole steps (also known as semi-tones and whole tones, respectively). Keeping in mind the full 12-note octave, and the locations of the five sharp/flat notes, let’s break down the C Major scale in terms of distances between each note and the one right after it:


The first row below the header indicates what degree (scale note in relation to the root note) of the scale each note is. The next row shows the interval relationship from one note to the next; C to D, D to E, and so on. The bottom row shows the interval relationship between the root and each note of the scale.

“M” in front of a numeral refers to major, “m” is minor. (The delta (Δ) is also used to indicate major.)

So “M2” means a major second interval, “m7” would mean minor seventh. “P” (can be upper or lower case) means “perfect”; while second, third, sixth, and seventh intervals are always either major or minor, fourth and fifth intervals are always either perfect, diminished (half-step flat), or augmented (half-step sharp).

The augmented interval is also known as the tritone (TT), cornerstone of countless metal riffs, known in classical times as diabolus in musica (the devil in music), for its unresolved sound. The tritone is the halfway point in the 12-note octave.

So to recap the C major scale:

C     D     E     F     G     A     B     C’

The sequence of half-steps (H) and whole steps (W) for any major scale goes like this:


Check out the full-fretboard diagram from the previous post, the one with every note listed. When you apply the W-W-H-W-W-W-H sequence starting from, for example, G, you’ll get the sequence G-A-B-C-D-E-F#-G. That is the G major scale.

Let’s go back to C Major, and take a look at a standard 2½-octave, 3-note-per-string scale, starting from the the 8th fret on the E string.


Of course, there are plenty of areas and positions on the fretboard to play any scale, and we’ll take a look at several as this series moves along. But it’s really effective to work on the basics of the major scale in this position, because it uses all six strings, and is made up of just 3 fingerings paired across the neck.

Now the same scale, spelled out intervallically (again, the Δ denotes major):


Check the tab below for suggested fingering:


The 3-note-per-string setup makes it simple to play the scale in sextuplets:


Strict alternate picking, both down-up and up-down, ascending and descending. The formation is movable, with the first (lowest) note always being the root note, thus the name of the scale. So if you play this formation at the 3rd position, it’s a G major scale, 5th position is A major, etc.

In the next post in the series, we’ll take a look at a few other movable scale formations to use, as well as third intervals.

Scales and Intervals, Part 1

This is the first of a series of posts about scales and intervals, ways to incorporate them into your practice routines, and how to use them to build chords and learn more advanced melodic concepts, such as modes and arpeggios.

The interval is the most basic element of western music, regardless of style. Triads, scales, modes, chords, and arpeggios can all be expressed in terms of intervals, and all are constructed from various combinations of intervals. Getting the concept of intervals down and learning to apply them to these other musical areas will absolutely shorten the learning curve not only for theory, but for technique and composition.

The definition of an interval is simply the distance between any two notes. This series of posts will focus specifically on intervals contained within a major (diatonic) scale, from which you can then see how to construct all the aforementioned triads and chords. For those of you new to scales, we’ll describe that to you shortly, as this series progresses.

People can frequently be intimidated by these ideas, of having to learn and memorize a bunch of old Greek names and scale shapes and such. Folks, I promise you, it’s not a history exam; the advantage to knowing what a Mixolydian mode or a diminished triad is, isn’t to impress people with your esoteric knowledge of an ancient fifty-cent word.

All the terms for these concepts — major, minor, Phrygian, suspended, whatever — are just names for things. The reason the names and concepts are useful to know is simply to have a common terminology that enables you to quickly grab any new idea and run with it, because you know what the name means — and more importantly, what it sounds like. It takes some time to learn and internalize them upfront, but I guarantee you that the knowledge will save you far more time down the road, as your playing develops. It’s time well spent.

The very first place to start with learning music theory is probably the most obvious — learn all the notes on the fretboard. Seriously, learn the name of every single note. There are only 12 notes in an octave, 7 natural notes (no sharps or flats) and 5 accidentals (sharps/flats). Depending on the key you’re in, accidentals may use sharps or flats to indicate the note; these are called enharmonics.

The sequence of notes in a single octave goes like this:

A     A#/Bb     B     C     C#/Db     D     D#/Eb     E     F     F#/Gb     G     G#/Ab     A’ (next octave)

You can start from any note and cycle through the octave sequence, go higher or lower. A 24-fret guitar in standard tuning will have 4 full octaves, from the open low E string to the 24th fret on the high E string.

Notice that there is no accidental note between B and C, nor between E and F. For the rest of them, the sharp/flat pairs are identical. So A# and Bb are two names for a single note; again, the proper name will depend on the key you’re in at the time. On a printed score sheet, the sharps or flats on the left of the musical staff (next to the clef marking) will tell you the key of the piece.

Let’s keep it simple for now, though:  12 notes in an octave. Each note is a half-step (or semi-tone) apart. So it’s a half-step from A to Bb, a half-step from B to C, a whole step (tone) from C to D, 1½ steps from B to D, etc. If you aren’t already familiar with these concepts, take a few minutes and check out the entire line of notes in the octave indicated above, and consider the number of steps between various pairs of notes. This is the beginning of understanding intervals.

Now, find where each of those notes exists on the fretboard. Two ways to do this — systematically, where you just start from the low open E string, and start heading up the neck one fret at a time from there, F on the 1st fret, F# on the 2nd fret, G on the 3rd fret, etc.; and randomly, where you just call out (or set up a randomizing macro on Excel) a note, for example C#, and then find every C# on the neck.

Some of the notes you identify will be duplicates; for example, the C# on the 9th fret of the low E string is the same exact note as the C# on the 4th fret of the A string. The C# on the 6th fret of the G string is an octave higher, and the C# on the 9th fret of the high E string is yet another octave higher.

In standard (EADGBE) tuning, there will be more E notes than any other; a 24-fret neck will have a total of 14 E notes, covering 4 full octaves, so plenty of multiple locations for identical notes. The 24th fret of the low E, 19th fret of the A, 14th fret of the D, 9th fret of the G, 5th fret of the B, and the open high E string are all the same exact note. Play all of them, of course.

Use the diagram below for reference. All the accidentals are shown as sharps; keep in mind that they are also flats, so C# is also Db, D# is also Eb, and so on.

All notes

So, got all that? Knowing where every note is located on the neck may seem like a lot at first, but again, there’s just 12 notes in an octave, then you’re in the next octave. Five minutes at the start of every practice session, and you’ll have them all down in a week or two.

The next post in this series will get you started on scales and intervals. Stay tuned!

Basic Chord Progression Exercise

No doubt you’ve been working hard on all the power, open, and movable chords we’ve reviewed recently, and it would be nice to put them to use, right? Here’s a very simple (but effective) chord progression that you can put through the paces, and sharpen your chord chops at the same time.

The progression is in the key of C#m (relative major key is E major). The basic progression goes like this:


Just straight, even quarter-note strums. Couple of things to try once the basics are comfortable:

  1. Alternate strumming directions; strum upward on the downbeat.
  2. Take a look at all the different ways we’ve covered in how to play each of these chords. How many different places can you play an E or an A chord? Even with something like the G#7 chord, you really only need the root, major 3rd, perfect 5th, and flat 7th to get the dominant 7th chord, so the other movable forms we’ve reviewed can be used as well.
  3. Try out all the various different rhythms and beats you can think of, instead of just straight 4/4 quarter notes.

This lesson is much more about basic songwriting and chord progression concepts, than technique. So don’t worry too much about the usual suggestions of strict alternate picking, trying down-up and up-down picking, etc. Focus more on getting a good rhythm going, trying various chord voicings and positions, changing up the order of the progression (try the chords in reverse, or another order), and again trying different rhythms for the chords as you go through them, not just the same strums for each chord.

Let’s try the progression with a slight change in the last bar:


This is a really cool way to lead you back to the C#m to start the progression all over again. You can just go to the B chord if you want, but what’s cool about having the D# (which is the major third of the B chord) as the lowest note of the chord is that it becomes a leading tone.

A chord whose lowest note is not the root note is called an inversion; in this case, the B/D# is a chromatic inversion, because of the E leading directly to the D#, and then to the C# to go through the progression again.

Using the second example, let’s try running through it with a few rhythmic and strumming variations:


As you can see, none of the chords are complete strums anymore. The last halves of the 1st and 3rd bars are good examples of arpeggiated chords; the G#-E-C# ending bar 1 is an inverted C#m triad, while the A-E-G# form an inverted A major triad. The interrelation between scales, chords, and arpeggios is a vital one to understand, and seeing how an arpeggio is really just a broken chord is useful.

Play through the progression in this fashion a few times, and listen carefully to how the chord partials suggest, piece by piece, the same tonalities as before, but this time with more subtlety and nuance. Definitely try your own variations.

This is a very simple example of how you can effectively orchestrate a progression, suggesting pieces of things for the listener’s ear to put together, rather than trying to play everything at once.

If you write songs on guitar, and add keyboard or bass guitar accompaniment, think further about how those elements could be used in this type of progression. The bass could take a “walking”, leading-tone melody similar to what’s suggested by the chord inversion in the last bar, and not just hold down the root note. The keyboard could play partials while the guitar plays full chords (or vice versa).

Obviously, orchestration is an extremely complex subject, and beyond the scope of this post. But it’s a useful concept to keep in mind as you work through the third example here, and think about how breaking chords up into musically relevant pieces can arrange a progression in a manner that’s more interesting and pleasing to your ear.

Again, as far as pure technique, it’s not as important here, it’s more crucial to engage your ears in how things sound and flow together. The basic rule of thumb to alternate pick as much as possible applies as a general rule, but for example, if it makes more sense to you to pick some of the arpeggiated chords in the same direction, go ahead and do it. Or pick the lower notes and fingerpick the upper ones. Or fingerpick everything; for those of you who are unfamiliar with fingerpicking, or would just like to work on that important technique some more, we’ll be going over some classical fingerpicking studies during April.

Of course, experiment with all of the above ideas, first trying all of the chords in the progression in various forms, then with utilizing additional chords, then with completely new combinations.

5 Basic Pentatonic Licks Every Rock Guitarist Should Know

Many classic rock solos tend to be built up from various combinations and sequences of easy-to-play pentatonic licks. Let’s take a look at five powerful “stock” phrases, all based around the standard A minor pentatonic box. Each tab is accompanied by a .wav file, at two speeds (92 beats per minute and 160bpm), so you can hear how it should sound.

Here’s a two-string pull-off lick:


BasicPent01(slow) BasicPent01(fast)

For many two-string legato exercises using box shapes, it helps to use your index finger as anchor, similar to barring a chord, but just for the two or three strings you might be using for the lick.

The next one uses a hammer-on instead of a pull-off:


BasicPent02(slow) BasicPent02(fast)

No doubt you’ve heard similar phrases used in countless rock, metal, country, and blues lead playing. Definitely use a metronome and follow the picking suggestions until you get these licks internalized, then you can start putting more distinctive dynamics into it, and make them yours.

Let’s move to the middle two strings of the box, and try a nice four-on-the-floor alternate picking lick:


BasicPent03(slow) BasicPent03(fast)

Again, while these are simple phrases, your advantage is that you’re a guitar player, so there’s all sorts of cool dynamics you can incorporate into even the simplest four-note phrase. In the above example, you can use palm muting to get a percussive “chunk” sound, you can add artificial harmonics for a nice “squeal” effect here and there, you can make some or all of it into a legato phrase, whatever.

You can also play it in reverse, or with a different section of the box, or any of the other four boxes, or transpose it to another key.

Are we having fun yet?

This next lick is a fun and easy one, that will work out both your legato and picking chops. Zeppelin fans will probably note its similarity to the final phrase Jimmy Page plays in the middle (main) Rock and Roll solo:


BasicPent04(slow) BasicPent04(fast)

Don’t be afraid of the triplet-16th/eighth note phrasing; once you get it down you’ll appreciate the polyrhythmic quality. It’s a huge element of developing your own phrasing as a lead player.

All of these examples are shown as just simple repetitions, because that’s the easiest way to get it under your fingers. The idea is to build a nice arsenal of these “stock” licks and take a piece here and there to combine and sequence into a great solo.

The guitar is your voice. Everyone has something to say, what’s on your mind?

The fifth lick involves the use of the blues scale. The blues scale is the pentatonic scale, with a flatted fifth (the tritone or “blue note”) thrown in. Here’s the blues scale as it lays along the first two boxes of the A minor pentatonic sequence:

Am Blues Scale

Take a close look at the above diagram; there are only six notes in the scale, repeated throughout two full octaves: A-C-D-Eb-E-G. See where Box #1 and Box #2 border each other and overlap.

So we’re going to throw that blue note in the mix with this last lick. The first bar of the phrase will just take you through the first octave of the scale, with a little back-and-forth phrasing. The second bar features some easy bending, before moving up to the 2nd box for another bend (but this time no release) with a nice chromatic passing tone (the C#, E’ string 9th fret), before ending on the high root note A (B string, 10th fret), by sliding into it from the G note (8th fret) below.

Check it out, and listen to the .wav files to hear the phrasing and nuances. This is more of a “voicing” lick, in that you don’t need (or even want) to crank it up to too high of a speed; dynamics such as bends and slides really don’t sound all that great at Mach 1:


BasicPent05(slow) BasicPent05(fast)

While all of these licks are fairly simple to play and easy to master, the challenge is to make them sound unique. Use all of those dynamics (palm muting, harmonics, slides, legato, etc.) available to you to infuse the phrases with your voice and personality. Since the above exercises are in A minor, they should all sound pretty good over progressions in the keys of Am, Dm, or Em.

While it’s a rule of thumb to play any exercise in every key, not just the key it’s shown in, with pentatonic exercises there are keys that are advantageous to focus on, primarily because of the way the guitar is tuned. So while it would be great if you can transpose all of these into all 12 keys, the best ones to focus on for pentatonics are: Em (open and 12th positions), F#m (2nd and 14th positions), Gm (3rd/15th), Am (5th/17th), Bm (7th), Cm (8th), Dm (10th). The positions indicate where Box #1 will start, as shown on the cheat sheet.

When thinking about musical keys, think about how the relative minor/major factors into it as well. The relative minor key is always three frets (1½ steps) below the major key. So in your five interconnected pentatonic boxes, Box #1 is minor, Box #2 is #1’s relative major. That means the A minor boxes can also be played in the key of C major. The reverse is true as well; you will find some rock songs in the key of E major whose solos are played mostly in the C#m box at the 9th position.

The concepts are more important than rote memorization of every position and every box; once you learn the boxes in one position and get the hang of transposing, you’re most of the way there.

Stay tuned, we’ll have more intermediate and advanced pentatonic licks coming soon! Please feel free to drop a line in comments if there are any issues with playing the sound files.

If you’re ready for an in-depth exploration of the pentatonic/blues scales and boxes, and want to learn how to develop tasty, memorable licks and melodic runs with them, check out Pentatonic Licks & Sequences. Dozens of fresh licks, along with valuable tips and tricks to construct your own! Get some blues you can use with Pentatonic Licks & Sequences!

Movable Chords, Part 3

Let’s wrap up our series on movable chords with 4-string forms. As with the 5- and 6-string forms, we’ll be showing the major, minor, dominant 7th(7), minor 7th(m7), and major 7th(M7) chords. Examples are shown in fifth position, so starting on the 4th (D) string, that means these chords will all be in the key of G (4th string, 5th fret).

Here’s the movable G major chord:

G(barre) G(barre)

If you recall the open D position chords we worked with previously, then think of your first finger as taking the place of the open string in that form, serving as the root note in the movable form. There is some contortion of the other three fingers involved here, so you may want to alternatively try barring your 2nd (middle) finger across the G and high E strings, keeping the 4th finger on the B string. It’s still not easy to do, and still have all the notes ring out properly, but practice both ways and see what works better for you.

The good news is that the other four movable forms we’ll look at today are much simpler to do. Here’s the G minor chord:


Not saying it’s easy, but it should be easier than the major chord. Here’s the dominant 7th:


The m7 requires a bit of “bunching”, but not too bad:


It may be easier for some to play the m7 chord with the 2nd and 3rd fingers reversed. Try it!

The simplest chord form out of all of these is the M7, just two fingers:


As with the 5-string “flip-off” chord from before, the middle finger is raised off the fretboard here, you’re just using 1st and 3rd fingers. Even though the 1st finger is just playing the one root note, it’s a good habit to barre it anyway. This will facilitate switching to other chords more easily. Practice the 4-string forms up and down the neck until you’re comfortable with all five of them, then start combining them with the 5- and 6-string patterns.

Between the 5 open position chord forms and the 3 movable position chord forms that we’ve covered over the past couple weeks, probably around 80% of all rock, metal, blues, country, and even some classical guitar can be played. Naturally, there are plenty of chords and chord types that are not addressed in these series, and we will get to some of those soon (especially suspended chords). But getting the open and movable forms under your fingers will get you a long way toward not just learning conventional chord forms, but how chords are constructed in the first place.

Stay tuned, in upcoming posts we’ll go over chord progressions utilizing everything we’ve covered, as well as strumming and arpeggiation (picking) patterns to try on them. Good luck and have fun!

Movable Chords, Part 2

No doubt you’re having fun practicing your barring, getting that index (1st) finger anchored just right. Good news — moving on to 5- and 4-string forms, it definitely gets easier, as far as how much barring is required to make complete chords.

We’re going to stay in the 5th position, but we’ll be leaving the low E out for these chord forms. Root notes will be on the 5th fret of the 5th (A) string, so all chords in this post will have D for the root.

Here is the D major chord:

D(barre) D(barre)

Most people will find the “bunching” of the 2nd/3rd/4th fingers to be a hassle. This is one of those instances where bending the “rules” a bit is strongly encouraged. It’s still a good idea to practice your barring, and holding your other fingers so that none of the notes get choked out by inadvertent contact. But the note barred on the high E string is redundant, another A note, which is the perfect fifth (P5) of the scale. (Check the appropriate cheat sheet on the Free Resources page for more in-depth discussions on the interrelationships between intervals, scales, and chord construction.)

Especially if you’re using a lot of distortion, it can simpler and more effective to just play this chord as the classic Jimmy Page “flip-off” chord, barring the 1st and 3rd fingers:

D(barre)(alt.)D(barre) (2)

For this alternate formation, consider that A note on the high E string optional. It is possible to barre the 3rd finger in such a way that you can still play the A “underneath it”, with the 1st-finger barre, but it is difficult even for intermediate players to do it so that all five notes ring out like they should. Definitely try both styles, and in an actual playing situation, let the song determine which one to use.

The other four chords are more simple and straightforward. Let’s check out the minor formation:

Dm(barre) Dm(barre)

Should be no problems with this one, including shifting from or to another chord.

The dominant 7th chord requires a bit of stretching, but not too bad:

D7(barre) D7(barre)

The m7 chord is just like the minor chord, with the 4th finger lifted:

Dm7(barre) Dm7(barre)_

As with the 6-string chords, play back and forth between the m7 and minor chords, pressing and lifting the 4th finger, but not moving any other fingers.

Finally the M7 chord, which is the dominant 7th with the 2nd (middle) finger applied:

DM7(barre)_ DM7(barre)

You know the drill by now — play back and forth between the M7 and dom. 7th chords, moving only the 2nd finger. Practice shifting through various combinations of all five chords, in various positions along the neck, using different strum combinations. Except for the alternate major “flip-off” form, make sure all five notes ring clear.

On Tuesday we’ll wind up this series, and there will be several follow-up posts showing various chord progressions and picking (including fingerpicking) exercises to practice.

Movable Chords, Part 1

Hopefully by now you’ve had plenty of time to work on all the open position chords we’ve been reviewing over the last week or so. Those are great, and again, nothing sounds quite like an open string or two ringing in with several fretted notes in constructing a clear, resonant chord that you can build a song around.

But movable chord forms will give you maximum versatility up and down the neck, and all around the fretboard. We’ll take a look at the movable versions of the five main chord forms (major, minor, dominant 7th, major 7th, minor 7th) in three segments, using 4, 5, and all 6 strings. This post will cover the 6-string forms.

As with the open chord series, for this series we’ll assume that you have never attempted this sort of chord before, so we’ll start with some fundamentals. Barring is one of the more difficult things for beginners to do successfully, so follow the fingering suggestions closely, and be patient with yourself. Strum slowly through the chord, making sure all notes ring out clear and clean.

A good way to practice barring before trying one of these chord forms is to just use the index finger, barre it across all six strings (pick any position you like), and strum slowly and evenly, maybe a quarter to half a second between each note. By the time you get to the last note, the first notes should still be audible. If one or more of the notes can’t be heard all the way through, you may be slightly altering the pressure of your finger, and allowing the note to choke or deaden early. This is especially likely to happen midway beneath the finger, along the four interior strings (ADGB). Again, maintain even, consistent pressure throughout, and keep at it until you can hear all six notes.

You might be thinking that it would be easier to start with 4-string forms, and move on to 5 and 6 strings. However, it’s actually simpler to learn the concept of barring by starting with all the strings at once. If you can do six strings, five or four strings will be no problem at all.

All of the movable forms we’re going to be checking out will be done at the 5th position. So for 6-string chords, as the 5th fret on the low E (6th) string is A, these will all be A chords. Root notes are indicated in red. Here’s A major:


Try a variety of strumming techniques:  faster, slower, downstrokes, upstrokes, etc. No matter how you play it, you should be able to hear all six notes in the chord.

The interval that determines whether a chord is major or minor is the third, which is played here by the 2nd (middle) finger. So for this 6-string form, to change from major to minor just lift the middle finger:

Am(barre) Am(barre)

It may not be easy to tell in the photo, but the middle finger is actually lifted here, just the barest distance needed. An easy way to build your barring ability is to go back and forth between the major and minor chords, just pressing and lifting that middle finger, without moving the others. When you can play both chords perfectly, moving just the one finger, then you’ve got it nailed.

The dominant 7th form is the same as the major, with the 4th finger (pinky) lifted:

A7(barre) A7(barre)

Again, work back and forth between this chord and the major, this time pressing and lifting only the 4th finger. Work in the minor form also, as that gets more comfortable.

The minor 7th (m7) is the easiest of these 6-string chords to play:

Am7(barre) Am7(barre)_

The m7 may be easier than the others, but it can be deceptively simple. You still want to be sure that all six notes are coming through clearly. Work back and forth between the m7 and the minor, by pressing and lifting the 4th finger.

The major 7th (M7) chord is slightly more difficult than the others, but not too bad:

AM7(barre)_ AM7(barre)

The “bunching” of the 2nd and 3rd fingers in the middle there will probably feel unnatural at first, but stick with it. You may find it easier to switch the 2nd and 3rd fingers. Either way, this will definitely be the most difficult chord in this group to switch from or to another chord.

Try all five chords in various positions, up and down the neck, and in various combinations of chords and strumming patterns.

Stay tuned, we’ll look at 5- and 4-string movable formations in a few days.

Open Position Chords: D Position

The last open position shape in the CAGED sequence is the D shape. Here is the D major chord:

DD Major

For first-timers, this shape might feel a bit bunched or twisted at first, but shouldn’t be too bad. Somewhat more challenging is the D minor shape, which requires transposing the 1st and 2nd fingers:

DmD Minor

Here’s a great little exercise that will help with fingering and dexterity. Play the open D major chord, then shift to the D minor, without lifting the 3rd finger. Then go back to the major chord. Back and forth, back and forth. Keep the 3rd finger pinned down throughout. Feel the burn!

Here’s the D7 chord, very similar to the D major form, but mirrored:


You’ll be happy to see that the last two chord forms for this post, the DM7 and Dm7, are very easy to play and to move up the neck:


Another nice simple one-finger chord, at least for the open position. You can use pretty much any finger for the half-barre across the G-B-E’ strings, but it makes the most sense to use the 1st or 2nd finger there in the open position. For the movable version, use the 1st finger on the D string for the root note, and the 3rd finger for the half-barre.

Dminor7 Dminor7

I know this is a lot of stuff to go over all at once. Hopefully the chord diagrams and the photos help simplify things, and the text helps to explain the concepts effectively. Over the next few weeks, much of this material will be archived in a couple of different ways, with a PDF sheet on the Resources page, as well as a slideshow of the charts and photos for quick reference.

Also check out the Resources page for basic cheat sheets regarding intervals, triads, scales, and chord construction. The goal is not to make you memorize and recite all the names for things chapter and verse, but rather to show you how these concepts are interconnected, and how they collectively form the basic building blocks of most Western music. Don’t try to learn it all at once — take it a piece at a time, listen to how things sound, and work out some ideas of your own using these ideas.

We’ll finish up the chord series (for now) with barre chords on Friday, and on Sunday we’ll show you a few more useful exercises using chords. Good luck, have fun, and feel free to send any questions.