A little bit of music theory for guitarists

Picking up from my post about learning to play a guitar, I thought I’d add some notes of some of what I’ve learned along the way.

First up, reading music. Not necessary. I used to be able to read music, back when I played classical guitar in the 1980s, but I’ve fallen out of practice now. FACE, EGBDF, treble clefs and their ilk are all a distant memory. These days I read chord charts and lyric sheets with a few strum patterns!

The three chord trick

I mentioned in my last post that the chords A D and E were useful for playing basic pop/rock songs. There’s a huge range you can play with these three chords. That’s because of something called the three chord trick.

Basically, for a given key, there is a set of three chords that will work together musically. These are the 1st, 4th and 5th. In the key of A, that’s A D E. For G it’s G C and D. (Musical notes only run A to G, then they start again for the next octave).

There are other things to consider – like major and minor keys; and subdominant, tonic and dominant seventh chords but the 1, 4, 5 is really helpful to know. Just play around and see what you can play/make up with three chords.

Using a capo

If you want to adjust the key, but don’t want to move away from simple open chords like A, C, D, E and G (Bs and Fs make things complicated on a guitar), then a capo comes in handy. Basically, it’s a bar that’s placed across the strings at a given fret and it effectively shortens the strings (acting in place of the neck of the guitar), adjusting the key without retuning.

Barre chords

I’m at the stage where I’m just starting to learn about barre chords. Basically, a barre chord uses a finger, laid across five or six strings in a similar manner to a capo. Add in an E shape (6 strings) or A shape (5 strings) chord and move up and down the fretboard to play all of the major chords.

Featured image by Thorsten Frenzel from Pixabay

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