Basic Chord Theory

In this video is all the basic theory you’ll need to understand why chords work and sound as they do. I’m focusing on guitar, but the theory remains the same for all instruments. Learn and enjoy.

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Basic Barre Chords: Roots on E & A Strings

      Barre Chords are the same as Open Chords, in that they contain any amount of three or more different notes. The difference is that Barre Chordsdon’t make use of any open strings. With these chords, your first finger will do the same job as your guitar’s nut, and your other fingers will play notes above it. One reason for this is to play chords that simply wouldn’t exist in the open position, (without using an alternate tuning, that is). You may also choose to use Barre Chordsto achieve an alternate voicing of a chord, or because it’s more suited to your genre. For instance, you’re more likely to play Barre Chords in a reggae or indie outfit, as the longer decay produced by open strings is not really wanted – you’d want a short, sharp and staccato sound.Barre Chords allow this.
As with the Basic Open Chords lesson, I’ll colour-code the notes so you know what “job” they’re doing:
            Root = Red;
            Perfect 5th = Green
Maj 3rd
= Light Blue
            Min 3rd= Dark Blue
The thick, grey line here represents your first finger – the Barring finger. This is the one which is now doing the job of your guitar’s nut. The coloured dots along this line are the notes you should be hearing. The number next to this line indicated what fret you are barring on.

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Barre Chords rooted to the E & A Strings

When playing these, be sure that your first finger is pressing down on the strings, hard enough that each note clearly rings-out, without any fret buzz or premature decay.

Also, try to think about how similar these shapes are to the Open Chords. The Maj chords rooted on the E string are the same shape as the EMaj, likewise with the Min shapes and Emin. Similarly, the chords rooted on the A string are the same shape as AMaj and Amin.
These are Moveable shapes. This means that, provided you keep the notes in that order, you can move them freely up and down the neck.

Once you’re happy with these chords you might want to try using them in between open chords, which you should already be comfortable with. Example Song #1 would be a good place to start.

Standard Chord Progressions 2 – The II V I

In Jazz we like to say that each chord plays a particular role within a scale. The job of the I chord is pretty clear  – it’s what we want to hear the most, no matter what comes before it we need this to feel satisfied at the end of a piece. The V, (or Dominant as it is often called), is expected before the I – it sets it up. The II, sets-up the V which in turn sets-up the I.

You could say that the II V I does for jazz what the I IV V does for blues, and there are some short jazz pieces that consist entirely of that, (in one form or another). The II V I is used more often, however, as part of a piece of music, perhaps at the end to gently wind-down to the root chord. In any case, most of the jazz lessons I present to you will either include or entirely rely on the II V I, and there’s many interesting ways it can be adapted, so you’d best get used to it.

We’re going to learn the pattern in C Major, using 7th chords. The chords are shown below, followed by the phrasing we’re going to use.

Standard Chord Progressions 1: Maj & Min I, IV, V Chord Patterns

The I, IV, V chord pattern is a very common progression, and it is for that reason I will be focusing on it for several lessons. If you have an interest in blues, rock or jazz music, this will form the basis for many songs you will learn, (especially in the case of the blues). By the end of this lesson, I hope you will be able to play a Maj or Min I, IV, V chord pattern, and understand the theory behind them.

I believe these progressions are so common largely because they are simple to learn. If you want to play a Major I, IV, V pattern, you only have to know Major chords. Similarly, if you want to play a Minor I, IV, V, you will be playing only Minor chords.
The second reason they are common is that you will be using every chord of that type available in the scale. For instance, the Major version will contain every Major chord of that given scale. Likewise, the Minor I, IV, V will contain every Minor chord of that scale. To reiterate, if you play a I, IV, V pattern in either Major or Minor, you will be using every chord of that type in the scale.
A further advantage of these progressions is that you only need to know the root note of the song. Most of the time, when playing a I, IV, V pattern I’m only thinking about the root note of the scale, because it’s not necessary to know the names of the other chords, provided you know you’re sticking in the right key.

First off, I want you to play a G Major scale, and take note of the first, fourth and fifth notes are, (this only works with the full scale, so if you’re only familiar with the Pentatonic scales, now would be the time to go and learn the full ones). The first, fourth and fifth notes are going to be the root notes of your I, IV, V progression.
Now, I want you to play the following chords separately, then try swapping between them a bit:

Once you’re comfortable playing these individually, try these various structures, (I’ve written out the chords, but titled each exercise as the scale degrees you’re using).

Here are a few things I want you to try now:
Play the same chord progressions above as open chords instead of barre chords.
Play these barre chord patterns as minors instead of majors, (the pattern stays the same, it’s just the chords that need to change)
Play these patterns in different keys. Shifting the entire pattern up 2 frets will give you A Major I, IV, V patterns. Shifting it down to the first fret will give you F Major I, IV, V patterns.

Examples of songs using a Maj or Min I, IV, V pattern:

          Pride & Joy by Stevie Ray Vaughn
          Louie, Louie by … I forget, but the most famous version was by The Kinks
          Crossroads by Cream
          Wicked Game by Chris Isaac

Example Song #3 – 7th Barre Chords in Gm

This track is intended as an exercise for students who have recently been introduced to 7 Barre Chords. Once they are familiar with the shapes this track is a good way of learning how they’re used in practice. You’re playing mainly 7 barre chords.

The Basic 7 Barre Chords lesson will be a useful reference if you need to remind yourself of the chords used below. (Use the Bm7 shape with the roots on the 5th and 3rd frets for Dm7 and Cm7 respectively. Use the F#m7 shape with the root on the 3rd fret for the Gm7. The F#7 shape on the 1st fret give you F7. Lastly, the BMaj7 shape on the 1st fret will give you BbMaj7)
You may also want to review the first Basic Barre Chords lesson. (Use the Bm shape, but with the root on the 5th fret to get your Dm barre chord).

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This can also be used as a backing track for solo guitarists. The key is Gm.

Example Song #1 – Open & Barre Chords in F#m

This track is intended as an exercise for students who have recently been introduced to Barre Chords. Once they are familiar with the shapes this track is a good way of learning how Barre chords can be used in a song. Students will be playing Barre Chords along with the Open Chords they’re already familiar with.

You can remind yourselves of the chord shapes by referring to the Basic Open Chord and the first Basic Barre Chords lessons.


It can also be used as a backing track for solo guitarists. The key is F#m.

Barring 7th Chords

This lesson focuses on Maj, Min and Dom 7th barre chords with roots on the E and A strings. Dim and Aug 7ths will be covered in another lesson, (although in the Open 7th Chords lesson, you will find one barre chord for the Dim7 rooted on the A string), as will roots on other strings.

Compare the following chords to the Major and Minor barre shapes you have already learnt. Seeing the physical difference in what your fretting hand is doing, and noticing what notes are being replaced or altered will help you get a better understanding of music theory in general. It also serves as a good starting point towards altered chord theory as the sound of 7ths is so easily recognized.

The chords in the Open 7th Chords lesson were all diatonic within the scale of C Major. Differently, here we will be examining chord shapes with no real regard to a specific key. You may want to refer back to that lesson to remind yourself where these chords lie within a diatonic scale. You could also try playing the barre open 7th chords you already know as barre chords. It may also be useful to refer back to the first Basic Barre Chords lesson, as some of those shapes are used and altered here.

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Here are some tips to help you fret each chord.
F#Maj7 – There’s 2 ways to fret this chord. The first option assumes you have an especially large thumb, in which case you fret the 2 middle strings with your 2nd and 3rd fingers, then the B string with your 1st finger, using your thumb to fret the root on the E string. Option 2, you use your first finger on the root note, your 2nd finger to get the B string, and your 3rd and 4th fingers on the middle strings. You also need to try and mute the A string, whichever fretting you choose.
F#Min7 – Here you can use your 2nd finger to get the root note on the E string, and your 3rd finger barres the other 3 notes. You can use a combination of both fingers to mute the A string.
F#7 – This is the easiest 7th chord of all. Play the F#Maj barre chord, then simply release whatever finger is fretting the D string. Done.
BMaj7 – Use your first finger to fret the root on the A string, then your 3rd finger to get to the D string. The, use your 2nd finger on the G string, and your 4th finger on the B string. Take care not to play either of the E strings.
BMin7 – This is pretty simple. Play the Bm barre chord that you already know, then raise whatever finger you have f the G string.
B7 – This is also really easy. Play a B barre chord, and raise whatever finger you have on the G string.