More than a power chord

We all love power chords, those chords that an be easily formed by two fingers on two strings. The good news is, that all chords (from A to G) can be done with the same fingersets. The bad news is, that your chords don't have any timbre, no color or shades, no sadeness or happiness in your sound

First of all: don't be afraid! I'm not going to take you away your beloved power chords. But I'll give you some ideas to think about.

Let's take a random chord, e.g. The A chord. It's easy to build the power chord for an A. Just put your index finger on the 5th fret of the 6th string (E string) and the ring finger on the 7th fret of the 5th string (A string).

Actually we're not playing a chord when strike those two strings. That is because A chord always exists of three notes, while we only have two of them. If you know the notes on your fretboard, you'll find out that we use an A (5th fret on the 6th string) and an E (7th fret on the 5th string).

Now let's look at the chromatic scale. There are 12 notes in our system and I marked those 3 notes that are needed for building a proper Major C chord.

As I wrote above we always need three notes to build a chord. The first note ist the key. This is the same note as the chord, e.g. an A note for the A chord. There's always a note that sounds very harmonic with the key note and this is the note that is seven steps away from the key. In this case it's the E. Since this two notes together sound so harmonic, it's already enough to build the power chord.

But we can (should) add another note and that is the note that is 4 steps away from the key. In this case it's the C#. Now our chord is complete. And furthermore: it's a system with which you can create the three notes of any major chord, because a major chord is always build from the key note, the note 7 steps away from the key and the note 4 steps away from the key.

Listen to the following MP3. I first play an A power chord and after that an (proper) major A chord. There's a difference, since the proper chord sounds more complete.

Building chords on the fretboard

Now, as we know which notes are needed to build a chord, we'd like to learn how to play these on the fretboard. Really? Ah, no. Not really.

The reason why you'd not like to do that is that on the one hand there already exist a lot of chord tables. So why to do all thework, that somebody has already done? On the other hand, there is more than one way to build a special chord on the fretboard. Some ways are easy to play, others are not and finally there are some chord constellations that are good in theory but impossibe to play.

But if you want to to it by yourself, here's how to.

First of all: if we want to play an open chord, we'd like to play it in the lower frets (not above 4, if possible). Second: we want to play as many strings as possible without muting any string in between. A chords becomes nearly impossible to play, if it consists of the 1st, 3rd and the 6th string while the 2nd, 4th and 5th string have to be muted.

Okay, having this in mind, let's try to build a major A chord. We know that we need to have three notes: A, E and C#. We start at the 1st string (E string), and hey: that's already an E, so we can play this a an open string in our chord.

The 2nd string is a B. Bot good for our chord. Let's see, if we can find any note, that matches better. The 1st fret is a C. Also not good. The 2nd fret is a C#. Gotcha! C# is exactly that note we need to build a major A chord. So we can use the 2nd fret of the 2nd string.

Okay, the 3rd string is an G. Again we walking up the frets until we find a note that matches our needed notes. So we have G, G#, A ... match. The A in the 2nd fret of the 3rd string is our candidate for a harminic sound.

The 4th string is a D. 1st fret is a D#, 2nd fret is a E. We take that.

When reaching the 5th string, we don't have to do much work. It's already an A and so we should play this as an open string, exactly as we do with the 1st string.

And the 6th string? Well... in theory we could play it, since it is an E, but we won't, because this E is depper than our deepest key note. In this case the E (of the 6th string) would become too dominant so that our brain could not decide if the A or the E is the key note. Therefore we skip the 6th string and mute it.

That is always a good idea: the deepest note always should be the key note.

So, now let's watch our chord diagram:

That's exactly the diagram we find in all literature for a major A chord. And we did it all by ourselves. This is how chord diagrams are always made. You gotta find the notes that belong to teh desired chord and then find the correct frets on the strings to play this notes.

Above we built the major A chord. But you could easily do that with any other chord, e.g. major C#. First find the notes. You'll use the chromatic scale and look out for the notes 4 steps and 7 steps away from the C#. Those are: F and G#. Now you just have to find the proper notes on your fretboard and there you are.

Maybe you're asking yourself, why you should use the notes that are 4 and 7 steps away from the key note. The answer is: if you don't, you'll not get a major chord, bute something else. In the next chapters we will look at this "something else". In many cases these are other chords.

Minor chords

In the last chapter we were talking about major chords. Major chords always sound kind of friendly. The opposite case occurs, if we play minor chords. They always tend to sound a little bit sad. I demonstrate this in the following sound sample, where I first play a major A followed by a minor A (both of them as open chords).

So what is the difference? Easy: do you remember, when I told that a major chords consists of three notes, the key note (note 0 in the chromatic scale), the 4th and the 7th note? A minor chord is quite the same, but we do not use the notes 0, 4 and 7, but instead of the 4th note we use the 3rd note. Like this:

Related to a minor A chord that means, that we use the notes A, C and E - while we use a C# instead of a C when playing a major A chord.

That's it. The whole magic beyond major and minor chords is a half-tone. As an exercise you could try to find out how to play a minor A on the fretboard.

Augmented chords

A chords that is related to the major chord is the augmented chord. There are several notations. If you want to refer to an augmented A chord, you usually write Aaug, A+ or A+.