The goal of this article is to teach you how you can expand your chords vocabulary. I want to show you how you can fill your guitar fretboard with many different chords, so when the situation calls for it, you are ready to go.
To keep things simple, we are going to work on blues in E, since most guitar players are familiar with it, but you can use this system when working on any style or tune.
My intention is to show you a framework that you can use anytime you need to expand your knowledge of chords. This is not the only system that’s out there, but this one works very well for me so I thought I would share it with you. Hopefully you will give it a try and find it helpful.
Many guitar players get stuck in certain positions of fretboard, not knowing that there is a whole bunch of other chords that would make their playing much more interesting and exciting. Not only that, their songwriting skills would massively improve as well.
Knowing all the different shapes and inversions of chords will also help you when soloing. Outlining chord changes is much easier once you see the chords on the fretboard.
What we are going to do is to look at those same three chords (E7, A7, B7) from different angles. Exploring these chords from different perspectives is very good because it helps our brain to build many associations between the information – in this case different shapes and inversions of chords. Don’t get surprised when some of the shapes will repeat in different exercises – the goal is to build a strong foundation, repetition won’t hurt you.
If you are not into blues, just take the system and apply it to any style that you are working on. There is no style of music where rich knowledge of chords would be counterproductive.
Some of the shapes and inversion may be useful only in certain musical situation but that’s ok. Maybe you’ll find out that you cannot use triads in your rhythm playing since they lack volume, but you may want to apply them to thicken your lead lines.
Right at the start I want to say that you don’t need to go through all of this chords and exercises in one sitting. That would be a little too much to ask. I want you to choose just one type of chords that you are not familiar with and work on that. Don’t get overwhelmed and frustrated. I want to show you possibilities but you don’t need to learn them all in one week. Rather, try to explore different ways how you can play the same chords in different positions on the neck.
Be playful and make music.
Here’s what we will cover in this study:
- E, A and B chords in five positions
- E7, A7 and B7 chords in five positions
- E6, A6 and B6 chords in five positions
- Inversions of E7, A7 and B7 on set of four strings
- 9th chords (I am leaving 11th and 13th chords since they are more typical for jazz than blues)
First I am going to show you all the different chords, shapes and inversion, then I will show you how to practice them. As I said before, just pick one type of chords and work on that until you can freely use it in your playing.
Here’s a little example of how it may look like once you are done:
I have also created four types of backing tracks that you can download at the end of this article. If anything is unclear or if you have any suggestions for improvement, shoot me an email.
Enjoy and have fun!
12 bar blues in E
Here’s basic 12 bar blues form that we are going to use for our study:
Triads are the simplest chords, consisting only of root, third and fifth. Even though we usually play seventh chords in E blues, we can also use major chords for different color. You wouldn’t probably use triads for rhythm playing, but they can be great for embelishment of your lead playing.
Since triads consist only of three notes we can play them on any set of three strings. I will show you triads on highest three strings e, b and g. ( I encourage you to explore also possibilities on other sets of strings and also behind 12th fret). Because triads consist of three notes, we can have three inversions. Here they are:
Five positions of E, A,B and E7, A7 and B7 (CAGED system)
CAGED system is a very good way of organizing fretboard. Instead of dealing with the whole fretboard all at once, CAGED system divides fretboard into five positions and therefore it makes memorizing much easier. If you know your E minor pentatonic in 5 shapes, that’s basically CAGED system even though you have never thought about that.
If you are not familiar with CAGED system, there is lot of good articles online that you can check out. Here’s from one good example from Premier Guitar.
Here are five positions of E and E7 chords. Play through them very slowly and pay close attention what you need to do in order to change between E and E7 chord. You want to be able to see and hear the connection between them. (If you need a visual diagrams, my friends at GuitarTricks.com created this chord chart, so you can check it out there: E chord and E7 chord)
3. 6th chords in five positions
6th chords may not be so often used as seventh chords but I find them really useful and very good sounding. Give them a try! Again, observe the connection with major and seventh chords
Five positions of E6 chord: (chord diagram: E6 chord)
Five positions of A6 chord: (chord diagram: A6 chord)
Five positions of B6 chord: (chord diagram: B6 chord)
Inversions of E7, A7 and B7 on set of four strings
Here’s yet another approach there I really like to use. Many times in band situation there is no need for us guitar players to play bass notes of chords. And therefore playing chords only on high four strings can be really useful.
If you want to get a little bit more jazzy sound in your blues playing, you should definitely try out 9th chords. These very nice sounding chords can really spice up your regular blues progressions. Again, we are going to examine these chords only on high four strings and we are not going to play root notes for reasons that I mentioned earlier – there is no need for that in band situation.
E9 chord: (chord diagram: E9 chord)
A9 chord: (chord diagram: A9 chord)
B9 chord: (chord diagram: B9 chord)
How to practice?
Now that you’ve seen how many chord choices we have in a simple 12 bar blues form, we will look at different ways how to approach practicing these. For each chord type we are going to use the same exercises and that’s why I put this section at the end of this article – I didn’t want to repeat it all the time.
Whatever chord type you’ve choosen, just follow the instructions below and everything should be clear. In the instructions below I am talking about 7th chords (and also in the musical examples you are going to hear I am using only 7th chords) but the same approach is valid for all the other chord types.
Counterintuitive, we will start with B7 chord.
If you wonder why, check out my previous article on How to learn guitar solos faster. In that article I’ve introduced “DF technique” (difficult first technique). Even though technically there is no difference between E7, B7 and A7 other than different position on the guitar neck, many guitar players know E7 and it’s inversions very well, but when it comes to B7 they are not that confident. The key takeaway is to always start with what you find the most difficult so you’ve got plenty of time to master it.
- Play all the inversions of B7 chord up and down. No rhythm, very slowly.
- Once you are little bit familiar with these inversions (you don’t need to know them perfectly – we are not going for fluency yet), download the backing track (at the end of the article) and start playing them rhytmically. Listen to the example:
As you can hear, I am going up and down the fretboard and on the first beat of every bar I am switching between different inversions.
- Once you can change chords every 4 beats, we are going to change them every two beats. We will play on beat 2 and 4. Here’s the example:
- Now we are going to make it little bit more musically interesting. Instead of playing on 2 and 4, we will play on two and three-and. Here’s the example:
- Now we will add slides to make it even more interesting:
- Now mix all the approaches. Experiment and have fun.
- Repeat with chords A7 and E7.
Now that we are little familiar with all those inversions, we need to take it to the next level and practice them in two chord progressions. Since blues in E has only three chords, there are three possibilities: E7 to A7, E7 to B7 and B7 to A7. We will start with B7 to A7 since that is the common problem among many aspiring guitar players.
Here’s what we are going to do:
- Download the B7 to A7 backing track. (If you listen to the backing track you can hear that we have 4 bars of B7 followed by 4 bars of A7. The reason is to have enough time to think where is the next inversion when chords are changing.)
- Now we will repeat all the previous exercises. We’ll start with playing the inversions on every first beat of the bar. When switching between B7 to A7 always try to find the closest inversions and avoid big jumps if possible. You will sound more fluent and smooth. Here’s the example:
- Play inversions on beat two and four or two and three-and.
- Add slides, change rhythm, experiment.
- Repeat with E7 to A7 and E7 to B7.
Now that we are done with previous exercises, you can apply your chord knowledge into the whole 12 bar blues form. I guess by now you are pretty familiar with all the chords and shapes that you’ve been working on and based on previous exercises I encourage you to come up with your own drills and exercises. The key is to identify what you are struggling with and then design your exercises to solve those problems.
E blues backing tracks:
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