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Difficult Guitar Chords Simplified

Apr 29, 2008
Many of the 7 chords and their extensions, 9,11,13 etc are seemingly very difficult to create with your fret hand. However, there are a few tricks that can help you create these beautiful chords without growing two more fingers.

Most jazz musicians use what are commonly referred to as "small chords" when playing. Jazz players do a lot of what is known as comping, the mixture of rhythm and bass runs; playing that requires quick changing of chords. Thus, playing the full voicing of chords is not always possible and actually, isnt always required.

We can get the essence of most chords with only four notes, as little as three if one is playing with a bass player. Before we look at the chord shapes, lets discuss playing technique.

When playing jazz rhythms, I do not use a pick. I use my thumb and four fingers on my pick hand instead. I can use them in unison when I want to play chords or I can use them separately when finger picking and playing a bass rhythm separately from the chords; comping. There are those players that can hold the pick between their thumb and index finger and use the remaining three fingers to play other notes.

The reason I bring this up will become apparent when we look at the chord voicings. The basis behind this technique is not playing all of the strings. Most of these voicings will require you to skip strings in the middle of the chord. Whatever method you develop to deal with this is up to you. Playing with just my fingers works wonderful for me. If you would like to develop the pick and finger technique, check out information on Bluegrass playing and flatpicking. You dont have to be interested in the genre of music, but the technique is well used in that musical style.

First we will look at the small style of the 7 chord shapes then move on to 6,9,11 and 13 chords. The nice thing about these chords is that they are movable up and down the neck. Thus, changing from a G7 to and A7 is just a matter of moving up two frets, much like barre chords. There really isnt too much more to talk about with these chord shapes. So, Ill just show you the shapes and you play them. Work with combining these shapes in progressions. If you have music around that you have been staying away from because these chords were too intimidating, pull out the music and start playing! I will show the shapes in either G or C dependant on the root string. Again, remember that these shapes are movable so just look at the bass note to get your chord name. Ill talk about different fingerings as we move through the lesson. However, I will offer fingerings in a traditional style and they will be shown as follows. First, the chord chart will indicate

G7 - Barre E,D and B strings with Index and fret G string with Ring.

Gmin7 - Barre E,D,G and B with Index.

First, the G7 and Gmin7. You can see how easily one could change from one to the other. Also, notice how the A string and the high E are not played, this is what I was mentioning above.

G7sus4 - Barre E,D and B with Index and fret G string with Ring.

GMaj7 - Barre E and B with Index, fret D with Middle and fret G with Ring.

The G7sus4 and the GMaj7. Again, only four notes per chord and easily movable.

Gmin/Maj7 - Barre E,G and B with Index and fret D with Ring.

G7b5 - E-Middle, D-Ring, G-Pinky and B-Index

Now were really getting into some jazzy chords. The G7b5 chord fingering can be tricky. I play in a style that is known as "thumbing the bass." Many guitarists have used this technique, Grant Green, Richie Havens and even Jimi Hendrix. However, the technique is stilled frowned upon by classically trained guitarists. The technique simply involves wrapping your thumb around the neck of the guitar enabling you to use your thumb to fret the bass notes. I can do this with bass notes on the E A and even D string when necessary. I have become very effective with the technique and my rhythm playing is respected in the circles in which I play. You can, however, simply fret the chords as barre chords or as four finger chords, as one would have to do with the G7b5. Work on different positions and find something that is comfortable and effective for you.

Gmin7b5 - E-Middle ,D-Ring ,G-Pinky and B-Index

GAug7 - Barre E and A with Index and barre G and B with Ring.

Again, were getting into some really jazzy sounding chords here. Try the different fingerings. The min7b5 will probably have to be played as a thumb bass or a four finger chord. The Aug7 could be played like a barre.

Gdim7 - E-Middle, D and B-Barre w/ Index and G-Ring

GMaj6 - E-Middle, D-Index, G-Pinky and B-Ring

Getting a little tricky here when it comes to fingering these chords. Also, we see our first new category, the Maj6 chord. This is where my technique of thumbing the bass really comes in handy (pun certainly intended)

Gmin6 - E-Middle, D-Index, G-Ring and B-Pinky

G13 - Barre E and D with Index, G-Middle and B-Ring

Okay, here are still more jazzy chords. The 13 chord is one of my favorites. This particular voicing of the 13 has the root, the b7, the 13 and the 3rd, just enough to make the chord sound like it should. The 5th can be added if desired, Ive indicated the 5th with *. Now, lets move on to some chords with roots on the A string.

C9 - A-Middle, D-Index, G-Ring and B-Pinky

Cb9 - Barre D and B with index, A-Middle, G-Ring

Okay, these 9 chords are fantastic for jazz and fusion. I find these have a great sound with some distortion or clean. One thing to point out, the Cb9 can be confusing. This is a C9 with a flat 9, not a Cb with a 9. As you know, Cb=B and is very rarely used. But, if this were shown as a Db9, then it could be confusing. Two ways composers will help with this. If it is shown as a Db9, you may assume it is a D9 with a flat 9. If the chord intended is a Db/C# 9, the composer will most likely call it a C#9 to avoid confusion. Also, if the chord intended is a Db9 with a flat 9, you will see either C#b9 or you may see Dbb9. You will come across these voicings once in a while and they can be confusing as you can see. Take the chords in context and the correct chord is usually quite apparent.

Cmin9 - A-Middle, D-Index, G-Ring and B-Pinky

CMaj9 - A-Middle, D-Index, G-Pinky and B-Ring

Okay, I think that is enough for now. We have 16 chords above that can be played with all 12 different roots, Thats 192 chords! Have fun with these
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