How To Make Chords Fit Together (Without The Theory) - Part 1

Whether you have ever tried to pen a catchy chorus or been handed an acoustic for some good old fashioned strumming and felt unable to busk out something dependable; developing a solid awareness of which chords are friends with each other can get you out of many sticky musical situations, plus open up other previously untapped playing avenues. Previous attempts to learn about this stuff have generally started with a generous dose of music theory and scale harmony, right? Let’s see if we can get you navigating some killer basic chord progressions without going back to school!

1. The 3 Note Map

Before we find out which chords are best friends, let’s begin with a really easy starting point - one finger and 3 notes. This will create a mini map on the fretboard which we will use throughout this blog.

In the first example we are simply playing fret 3 on the E string, then 3 and 5 on the A string. This pattern gives us the essential map for playing our 3 main chords.

If we turn each of these into a major barre chord, then we have an instant set of chords (1 on the E string and 2 on the A string) which should sound very familiar when played together.

What’s more, we can take this map anywhere on the fretboard and find 3 chords which work together. We don’t even need to know the names of the chords or notes at this point!

2. Who Ordered The Minor Chord?

So, 3 very happy sounding chords. For balance, let’s find a minor chord to throw in with these.

If we travel 3 frets down from the first chord in our set and play a minor barre chord, we have a valuable addition to our chord tool set. This gives things a little more variety.

Ever wondered what is meant by a song’s key? Our group of 4 chords are all related to a single key - if you are wondering - that first major chord on our E string tells you which key (thats about as theoretical as we need to go!).

3. Putting Them Together

Played in any order its hard to go wrong with this set of chords and you can strum away until your heart’s content.

There are, however, a few tried and tested ways of ordering these chords, which will give you that familiar sound found in 1000s of well known songs.

The first example is simply: chord 1, our minor chord and then our two A string chords. Our video example shows this pattern/progression moved around the fretboard in different keys. As you can see, regardless of where the pattern is played, it looks the same and is therefore super easy to transfer around the neck.

The next winning combination comes from playing chord 1 followed by the highest of our A string chords, our minor chord and then our lowest A string chord.

Here it is in a variety of different keys. Again, stocking to this map makes this easy to shift around the guitar and play in any key.

One more - This is kinda the same as our first progression, with the last two chords simply swapped around: chord 1, minor chord then high to low on our A string chords.

4. That Songwriter Trick

Ready to sound sophisticated? A little tweak to that first A string chord and we can harness a powerful trick every songwriter has in their arsenal. Simply changing this chord from a major to a minor barre chord will conjure up the familiarity of countless famous songs; making you sound like a master song writer! This works best when placed at the end of your progression.

Here it is in the first key we looked at:

Sound familiar? So it should - this trick has been employed by … well … everyone - if its good enough for The Beatles, then its good enough for us, right! Just wait until we start adding some expensive sounding chords like 7th, add9s and the likes!

Now, a disclaimer - the thorny area of music theory will come in handy when progressing further with the topic of chords and how they relate to one another. This article serves as a soft opener, helping you put your ears, your curiosity and your experimentation first. Traditionally, the 4 chords we have looked at here would be described via a number system - 1, 4, 5 and 6, gleaned from harmonising the major scale (see, you’re falling asleep already!). This information, and the study of the theory attached to these chords, only makes sense once you become familiar with their sounds and had some fun playing around with them, so strum away and enjoy yourself before tackling the theory.

Strangely enough, knowing the rules of music theory shows you, more often than not, how much those conditions can be bent and broken!

Ready to ride that theory train? Check out these lessons to get you started:

Hero lesson Theory For Guitarists Part 1
Stuart Shields - Theory For Guitarists Part 1 - Note Name Cheats
Hero lesson Theory For Guitarists Part 2
Stuart Shields - Theory For Guitarists Part 2 - Understanding & Visualising Intervals

Thumbnail course EGPT Harmony And Theory Basics RDR0242
Danny Gill - Essential Guitar - Pure Theory: Harmony & Theory Basics

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