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Pfft…yeah, right.

As if a rock guitarist could explain the essence of the greatest guitar chord book ever written.

Then again, some would argue it’s one of the worst books written because of wildly unstructured layout. I mean, if I’d written an all encompassing book like this, I might have started with power chords, working my way into the jazz genius.

Man, the nerve of this blogger–thinking he knows how a chord BIBLE should be written!

I bought this book back in college. Let’s not mention dates, but I had hair back then. I got it because my teacher recommended it and seeing that I was logging in 4-6 hours of practice each day, why not invest some of that time into something besides Satriani solos?*

I think I skipped the first six sections (chord formulas? Polytonal chords?) and hit on Section 7: Essential Chords because with a title like that I had to take it seriously. But if you’ve seen those two pages you know what you’re in for; something involving lots of aspirin.

But I plowed through that list over several months, forgot most of it, but picked up some cool voicings that I use to this day. Then over the next five years I spent unhealthy hours pouring over all this chemistry, writing notes in the margins, writing progressions of my own to see if I understood the information. Many years later, I still find those papers in my drawers, and they don’t make a darn bit of sense!

I finally burned out on trying to make sense of Ted’s genius. I wasn’t qualified to handle it. I moved on to lessons in guitar magazines, “easier” books, exploring on my own.

At some point, long after college, I opened up a page of progressions in Chord Chemistry and played through them. Back in college these chords were just weird shapes I tried to memorize unsuccessfully. They sounded cool, but I was annoyed that I couldn’t unlock the secret as to why they sounded cool. But in this moment they suddenly made sense. The voice leading, substitutions, inversions–I GOT IT!

Well, not always to the point where I could be certified as a chord chemist, but I saw the connections between what Ted was teaching versus the “easy” stuff I’d picked up previously. Puzzle pieces came together so compositional riddles could be solved.

I have a few pointers for tackling the information in this crazy text. What makes me qualified to do so? Teaching guitar for twenty years, for starters. I probably lost students trying to force this material on them prematurely, so I learned what they should tackle FIRST before digging into Chord Chemistry.

  • Power Chords: Yes, the ones that let you play Green Day songs. If you can’t rock out and hold solid grooves with power chords you’ll have more fun licking dirty guitar strings** than reading Chord Chemistry.
  • Open Major/Minor Chords: Because…if I have to explain why you’re better off practicing on a couple rubber bands!
  • Bar Chords: Often called the Caged System. Learn these shapes in major, minor, major 7, dominant 7 and minor 7 FIRST!*** Get those down and all the crazy 13ths, #5/b9 chords will make WAY more sense.
  • Triads: Major and minor shapes all over the neck are a must. I’m tempted to say you should learn these before the bar chords, but greener players tend to get frustrated with such thin sounding chords, not to mention liking the freedom of hitting more strings that bar chords offers.

Hey, all this info is on my poster, getting the shameless plug out of the way. It’s also covered in Ted’s Essential Chord List, though buried with all the inversions you probably won’t need for awhile. So…practice this up to your threshold, then move on to non-Ted stuff so your brain can process it.

What’s valuable to you in Chord Chemistry varies on experience levels. Personally, I found Section 15: Triads to be mind blowing. I’d already been playing bar chords for many years, so learning how to create diatonic chord scales on the p.82 shapes opened my mind up to all sorts of ideas.

I also absorbed Section 10: Moving Chords a 4th early on. Something about being able to take a shape I knew on one set of strings and create the same chord on another group helped me come up with ideas faster than just memorizing a bunch of chord boxes.

Section 18: Blues Progressions should be closer to the front of the book, IMHO. For rock guys like myself, at least. Seeing how all these crazy chords can be used in a I-IV-V context is a lifetime of new doors opening. If you have a basic grasp of diatonic harmony concepts you’ll find another year or two of practice just absorbing the turnarounds on p.99. bIIIM7–bVIM7–iim7b5–V7??? I know…but it sounds awesome!

I could write at least a blog a month on new things I’ve learned from this book, but I’ll leave it with this: My biggest mistake when I first bought Chord Chemistry was approaching it like a method book to study front-to-back. Frustrating! Study the sections that make sense to YOU and inspire you to practice. If you’re confused by the concepts on a page move on to something else. Come back to the confusing chapter a few months (or even a few years) later and you’ll be surprised that it suddenly makes sense.

*Which I couldn’t play, anyway. I mean, I could play them, but not in any way a fan would recognize.

**Your own dirty strings, not someone else’s. That’s just unhygienic!

***But don’t beat yourself up if you learn a ninth chord before doing this. You’re supposed to be having fun!

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