Category Archives: Theory

Ten Tips for Beginning Guitarists

Well I Heard There Was A Secret Chord.... (4/3...

Ten Tips for Beginning Guitarists

  1. Look at the sheet music, not your hands or the fret board.
  2. Watch your tempo.  If you are playing a song at 60 bpm in 4/4 time, this means that each beat gets 1 second.  So don’t strum your chord four times real fast and then find yourself waiting for the measure to end.  At 60 bpm you need to either strum four times with 1 second between strums, or depending on the melody, you could strum in eighth time; eight strums with 1/2 second between strums.
  3. On a chord change, it’s better to miss the chord than to hit it too late.  Hitting it too late throws off the rhythm of the song but if you just hold back because you couldn’t get your fingers there in time, hopefully all will still end well as your other instrumentalists (or vocalists) will carry the beat.
  4. Simplify the real tough chords; even change them into a two-note chord if you have to.  For example, you can play a Bb chord as x13xxx and just strike the A and D strings – this will sound just fine.  As your playing improves, expand this into a three note chord (x133xx), and then finally try the full chord (113331).
  5. Drop the slash notes on chords.  For example G/B can be played as a simple G chord and the D/F# can be played as a D chord, etc.
  6. If your fretting hand gets sore after one song, then you are probably gripping the neck incorrectly.  The clamping pressure in your hand is provided by the thumb.  The thumb’s position will vary from being wrapped around the top of the neck to sitting on the underside of the neck (in a pinching position) depending on the chord shape being played.  Watch other guitarists and work on playing notes with the minimalist effort and force possible.  If you play standing up, then you might also have to try a different guitar position by adjusting your strap length.
  7. Don’t sight read; even if you know all the chords.  You need to play through any song before you attempt to play it in a worship setting.
  8. Keep your guitar in constant tune.  Keep your strings clean and have them changed regularly.
  9. Watch your tone.  When practicing chords, play each string individually (while holding down the chord) and make sure that each string sounds clear and that it’s not muted or buzzing due to a misplaced finger.   Every note, including the open strings need to sound bright and clear.
  10. Keep going if you make a mistake because the song will keep moving on.

The Nine Chord

The Nine Chord

The nine chords have a real funky sound when strummed with a quick up/down motion.  You can memorize all the 9 chords by just knowing one finger pattern because they are almost always used in barred positions.  The formula for the nine chord is 1-3-5-b7-9.  Here are the finger patterns using the root at the fifth string:

Bb9 – x10111
B9 – x21222
C9 – x32333
Db9 – x43444
D9 – x54555
Eb9 – x65666
E9 – x76777
F9 – x87888
F#9 – x98999
G9 – x10-9-10-10-10
Ab9 – x11-10-11-11-11
A9 – x12-11-12-12-12

A photo of the fingering is shown below:

It’s a great chord to know because it uses five unique notes per chord, played with five strings, so there is no duplication. 

Image Source:

– – –

Our Set List for blended worship on August 14 (Pentecost 9):

Pre-Service:                 “A Mighty Fortress” by Christy Nockles
Opening Song:            “Holy Spirit” by Keith and Kristin Getty
Response to the Forgiveness of Sins: Te Deum (GIA)
Psalm of the Day:       Psalm 18 with “A Shield About Me” (BOB 2)
HOTD:                        “Your Kingdom, O God” by David Rogner (CWS 755)
Offertory:                    “Lord of All” by Kristin Stanfill
Closing Song:              “Peace Be Yours” by Blair A’Hearn (BOB 183)



(actually it’s I-IV-V)

Guitar Level: Beginner

You’ve probably heard that it’s easy to learn to play the guitar.  “Teach me three chords and I’ll play almost any song.”  This is obviously an exaggeration but many songs are based on a progression involving three chords.  The formula for these three magical chords is usually 1-4-5.

Take the key of C as an example.  The scale is C_D_E_F_G_A_B_C.  The first position is the C, the fourth is the F and the fifth is the G.  A simple song in the key of C will most likely include the C, the F and the G major chords.

You can do this for all the scales and come up with the following popular chord arrangements (only the major scales are shown):

Key of A*:       A-D-E
Key of Bb:       Bb-Eb-F
Key of B:         B-E-F#
Key of C*:       C-F-G
Key of Db:       Db-Gb-Ab
Key of D*:       D-G-A
Key of Eb:        Eb-Ab-Bb
Key of E*:        E-A-B
Key of F:          F-Bb-C
Key of F#:        F#-B-C#
Key of G*:       G-C-D
Key of Ab:       Ab-Db-Eb 

*denotes easy guitar keys

Now let’s take it up a notch.  Seasoned guitarists will be intimately familiar with these chord groupings and will have a few favorite finger patterns that they like to use, or perhaps some base runs to connect the chords together.  I’ll give you a few of my favorites as an example.

For the key of G, I like to move from the C to the D chord by sometimes just moving my 032010 C chord fingering up two frets to 554030 for a real nice sounding D/A.  You can even slide the chords while they are still ringing for a slurred musical effect.  Here’s another example, in the key of A, I like to change my D shape finger pattern by barring my first finger across the first four frets at the second fret to form xx4232 and moving it up two to form an E chord 0x6454.  This is actually moving a D/F# to an E/G# without the open low E string, or if you include the open low E it becomes a more fuller E chord with a big resounding base note balanced off nicely by the upper chord tones played around the forth, fifth and sixth frets.  I actually learned this one by watching Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones play.

Here’s a similar trick for the key of C.  Try playing the F chord like this: 13321x (use a thumb wrap to grab the F on the low E string) then move this pattern up two frets to form the G (35543x) but here’s the trick; practice pulling your fingers off the F chord before grabbing the G chord.  As you pull off, the open strings should ring before you grab the G chord.  This adds a nice affect; it’s kind of like getting a partial G chord or maybe an Em11 in between the F and G chord shapes.  You can also “pull off” the G chord which might resolve nicely to whatever chord you are going to next.

There are many other riffs and tricks but I don’t want to stifle your creativity.  Play around with the 1-4-5 chord patterns and see what you can come up with.  You will notice that all three of my examples are based on the fourth and fifth chords since these are only two frets away from one another which enables you to slide from one to another.

You should also know that the I-IV-V formula came from blues and rock;  other styles of music use other formulas.  For example, a popular jazz formula is ii-V-I and usually is based on the 7 chord so in the key of C, the progression would be Dm7 – G7 – Cmaj7.

Happy Strumming,


Guitar Friendly Keys

Guitar Friendly Keys

In a lot of church bands, the pianist/keyboard player picks out the music for the band. Most digital web-based music suppliers offer their arrangements in a variety of keys. The best way to select the right key for your band is to base the choice on your vocal abilities, but sometimes taking your instrumentalists capabilities into account is also a consideration. On behalf of most guitarists, this is the order of keys that we like:

Favorites: A, Am, C, D, Dm, Em, G and Gm

Acceptable: E, F

Can Struggle Through: Bb

Avoid if Possible: Eb, F#m

Say what? Ab, B, Bbm, C#m, Db, Ebm, Fm, F#, G#m

The above list is also helpful when it comes to transposing music, because a difficult key signature can become easily played if transposed into a friendlier key. Usually the guitarist will transpose down and then use a capo to bring it back into the original key.

Here’s some examples:

Transpose a song in the key of: Into the key of: And Capo at:
E D 2
F D 3
Bb A 1
Eb D 1
F#m Em 2
Ab G 1
B A 2
Bbm Am 1
C#m Am 4
Db C 1
Ebm Dm 1
Fm Em 1
F# E 2
G#m Em 4

Some Slash A Chords

Slash A Chords

Oftentimes in the key of A, you will come across a variety of “slash A” chords.  Here’s a neat way to play a few of them: 

D/A     x0777x
E/A      x0999x
F/A      x0 10 10 10 x
G/A     x0 12 12 12 x 

You will note that these are the open A chord shape played up the neck.  It’s the open A string that makes them sound beautiful as contrasted against the higher pitched notes.

Some Slash D Chords

Some Slash D Chords

Oftentimes in the key of D, you will come across a variety of “slash D” chords.  Here’s a sweet way to play a few of them:

E/D      xx0454
F/D      xx0565
G/D     xx0787
D          xx0 11 10 10

You will note that the first three chords are the open D chord shape played up the neck (recall the “CAGED” system theory).  The open D note contrasted against the higher chord notes makes for a nice sound.  You might even try using these even if the slash is not called for.

TIP – These smaller chords up on the neck are vitally important if your band has more than one rhythm guitarist because typically both guitarists will be stepping on each other’s feet by playing the same chords, in the same fret positions which can result in a muddy sound.  Using these chords up the neck will raise your pitch above your colleague’s playing and will allow for a better overall sound.

Next month we will look at similar slash A chords.

The Dominant 7Sus4 Chord

The Dominant 7Sus4 Chord

The Dominant 7Sus4 Chord actually has a familiar sound because I think that’s it’s fundamentally the chord that was used to start “It’s Been a Hard Day’s Night” by the Beatles.  It’s formed by replacing the third of a dominant 7 chord with a forth.  The formula for the chord is therefore 1,4,5, b7.  Here’s an example using the G 7sus4 chord shape:  353533.  Barr your first finger across the third fret then grab the other two notes with your ring finger and pinky and give it a downward stroke and you will instantly hear the beginning to the Beatles tune.


The beauty of playing the chord this way on the guitar is that it is moveable.  You can play every 7sus4 chord now as follows:


E7sus4             020200
F7sus4             131311
F#7sus4           242422
G7sus4            353533
Ab7sus4          464644
A7sus4            575755
Bb7sus4          686866
B7sus4             797977
C7sus4             8 10 8 10 8 8
Db7sus4          9 11 9 11 9 9
D7sus4            10 12 10 12 10 10
Eb7sus4           11 13 11 13 11 11
E7sus4             12 14 12 14 12 12

Image Source:


The Major 7 Chord

The Major 7 Chord

Guitar Level: Beginner

The major seven chord is one of my favorite sounding chords.  It’s one of the few chords that I can actually identify as I hear them.  They are jazzy, bright and jubilant, and clean sounding  .  The major 7 chord is built by adding a 7, to a major chord; so the formula is 1-3-5-7.

Here’s all the common finger patterns:
Amaj7 – 002120
Bbmaj7 – slide the Amaj7 up one fret and bar across the first fret with your first finger.
Bmaj7 – slide the Amaj7 up two frets and bar across the second fret with your first finger.
Cmaj7 – 032000
Dbmaj7 – slide the Amaj7 up four frets and bar across the forth fret with your first finger.
Dmaj7 – xx0222
Ebmaj7– slide the Amaj7 up six frets and bar across the sixth fret with your first finger.
Emaj7 – 021100
Fmaj7– xx3210
F#maj7 – xx4321 (Fmaj7 slid up one fret)
Gmaj7 – xx5432 (Fmaj7 slid up two frets)

Basically, you can create any major 7 chord by only knowing the open Amaj7 shape and the Fmaj7 shape. These two patterns move nicely up the neck to form all the other chords.