Introduction

 

We take it for granted that a chordal instrument player – guitar, piano etc. should know all of the chords in all keys, with many different voicings.

However, I have noticed with many students, that most monophonic instrumental players find it difficult to play a wide variety of chords and chord sequences, by just outlining the chord shapes. They commonly have either gaps in their knowledge of chord types, or keys.

Possibly the reason for this is that generally, we are encouraged to learn all of the 7 or 8 note scales for all of the chords. This is a huge undertaking and understandably this is why the holes develop.

It is of course not an easy task, to be able to immediately recall a ‘unique’ set of 4 or 5 notes from hundreds of different combinations and then improvise melodies endlessly, all over your instrument.

I think one of the best set of recorded examples of this, is the album-set of ‘Giant Steps’ by John Coltrane. Especially on the title track, he shows how he has mastered the ability to play melodically over a sequence of quickly changing chords at breakneck speed. An analysis of this solo (readally available from many sources) shows that he is playing different permutations of the chord shapes, occasionally glued together with different 7 or 8 note scale types. As the title implies, this is a huge achievement, requiring a great deal of knowledge and physical virtuosity. It also, at least to my ears demonstrates that by learning the ‘basic’ chord shapes, we can create amazing results, and is by no means a limiting approach.

 

So, I am recommending this idea as the main core of your melodic/harmonic development.

 

 
 
 

How to construct 17 of the most commonly used chord shapes from FOUR, 5 note scales.

 Sounds like this is too good to be true, but it is, and this is how to do it:

 
 
 

This is the first of the 5 note scales:-

I. C D E G A

You may have identified this as a C pentatonic scale. That is a good starting point as a memory tool. However I would like you to forget that now and try to think of these combined notes as a variety of chord shapes and also their broken chord types (arpeggios).

Notes C D E G A
Number as Scale Tone 1 2 3 5 6
Number as Chord Tone 1 9 3 5 6

So, if we write this combination of notes as a CHORD SYMBOL, it will be: C²69.


Now we will use the same 5 notes, except we will add an F note as the root note of the chord.

How do these 5 notes relate to an F, and what is the name of the chord voicing?

Notes C D E G A
Number as Scale Tone (in F) 5 6 7 2 3
Number as Scale Tone (in F) 5 13 7 9 3

 

So, if we write this combination of notes as a CHORD SYMBOL, it will be: F²13 .


Now we will use the same 5 notes, except we will add an Bb note as the root note of the chord.

How do these 5 notes relate to an Bb, and what is the name of the chord voicing?

Notes C D E G A
Number as Scale Tone (in Bb) 2 3 #4 6 7
Number as Scale Tone (in Bb) 9 3 #11 13 7

 

So, if we write this combination of notes as a CHORD SYMBOL, it will be: Bb²13#11.

Now we will use the same 5 notes, except we will add an A note as the root note of the chord.

Notes C D E G A
Number as Scale Tone (in A) 3 4 5 7 1
Number as Chord Tone (in A) 3 11 5 7 1

So, if we write this combination of notes as a CHORD SYMBOL, it will be: A-( 11 ).


Now we will use the same 5 notes, except we will add a D note as the root note of the chord.

How do these 5 notes relate to a D, and what is the name of the chord voicing?

Notes C D E G A
Number as Scale Tone (in D) 7 1 2 4 5
Number as Chord Tone (in D) 7 1 9 11 5

 

So, if we write this combination of notes as a CHORD SYMBOL, it will be: D-11.


Now we will use the same 5 notes, except we will add a G note as the root note of the chord.

How do these 5 notes relate to a G, and what is the name of the chord voicing?

Notes C D E G A
Number as Scale Tone (in G) 4 5 6 1 2
Number as Chord Tone (in G) 11 5 6 1 9

 

So, if we write this combination of notes as a CHORD SYMBOL, it will be: G-69.

This is the second of the 5 note scales:-

I. C D Eb G A

This is a C pentatonic scale with the 3rd note flatttened to Eb.

This is a good starting point as a memory tool.

We will look at how we can create voicings for 3 more common chord types.

1. A-7b5

Notes C D Eb G A
Rearranged for this chord as A C D Eb G
Number as Chord Tone 1 3 11 5 7

 


2. Eb Maj #11

Notes C D Eb G A
Respelt and rearranged for this chord Eb G A C D
Number as Chord Tone 1 3 #11 6/13 7

 


3. B7 ( b13 b9 )

Notes C D Eb G A
Respelt for this chord C C## D# G A
Number as Chord Tone b9 #9 3 b13 7

 

Notice that this voicing does not include the root note.

This is the third of the 5 note scales:-

I. C D E G A#

This is a C pentatonic scale with the 5th note sharpened to A# (Bb).

This is a good starting point as a memory tool.

We will look at how we can create voicings for 3 more common chord types.

1. C7 ( C9 )

Notes C D E G Bb
Number as Chord Tone 1 9 3 5 7

 


2. G-69 ( 11 )

Notes C D E G Bb
Respelt and rearranged for this chord G Bb C D E
Number as Chord Tone 1 3 11 5 6

 


3.(i) E7 Alt ( b9 #9 b13 b5 )

Notes C D E G Bb
Respelt for this chord E F## Bb C D
Number as Chord Tone 1 #9 b5 b13 7

 

We can create another voicing of this chord type, in a different key, too.

 


3.(ii) F#7 Alt ( b9 #9 b13 b5 )

Notes C D E G Bb
Respelt for this chord G A# C D E
Number as Chord Tone b9 3 b5 b13 7

Notice that this voicing does not include the root note.

EXTRAS – This is another useful 5 note scale:-

I. C Db E G A

This is a C pentatonic scale with the 2nd note flattened to Db.

This is a good starting point as a memory tool.

We will look at how we can create voicings for 4 more chord types.

1. C13 ( b9 )

Notes C Db E G A
Number as Chord Tone 1 b9 3 5 13

 


2. Eb13 ( b9 #11 )

Notes C Db E G A
Respelt and rearranged for this chord E G A C Db
Number as Chord Tone b9 3 #11 13 7

 


3. F#7 Alt

Notes C Db E G A
Respelt for this chord G G## C C# E
Number as Chord Tone b9 #9 b5 5 7

 

 


3. A7 ( #9 )

Notes C Db E G A
Respelt for this chord A B# C# E G
Number as Chord Tone 1 #9 3 5 7

Did you notice that this scale can be arranged as 2 MAJOR TRIADS (min 3rd or major 6th apart) ?

C E G and A C# E