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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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Hey, what do you know…this blog ain’t dead after all! Well, yes it is. Hard to find time to write about guitar stuff when I got the school and employment stuff happening. But ain’t no one taking me away from the music, so I got a cool electronic-rock thing with a bit of jazz cooked up…

Bad Mood

I posted this on Soundcloud. I used to hate posting my songs on all those band sites, a holdover from the MP3.com/Garageband days where every site was promising the best following as they cashed in on all the content being sent to them for free. And who has time to monitor all those pages? But if you wanna hit that like/heart button on the bottom of the tune so I can attract some groupies I’d be obliged.*

This song took me 18 months to finish. Pathetic, no? I didn’t actually struggle for for 540-some-odd days. More like I worked up a few minutes of sweetness, gave up on it for a few months, listened again realized I liked it enough to continue…then sat on it for months more…repeat cycle until I realized it’s time to COMMIT!

I love the guitar tone of the main riff, cooked up with Logic’s Space Designer and one of the Rammfire patches in Guitar Rig. Along with my beat up Ibanez Jem = CRUNCH! Probably a bit much–and I don’t know how I’ll pull that tone off live. Whatever…I ain’t gunning for awards here.

Terry Bozzio handled most of the acoustic drums here, aside from the intro and bridge. Yeah, seriously! But jeez, if you’re gonna nitpick that it’s actually his drum sample library and wreck my fantasy. Hey, fun TRUE fact…I actually hired Bozzio’s brother-in-law to play on my OOOG! EP years back. Vince Littleton, great drummer, versatile! I gotta his smoking drums on my “One Thing Leads to Another” back into the Interwebs. Point is, in my twisted universe I have family connections…

*Does my wife read this blog? πŸ™‚

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Warning: Another very basic guitar lesson post–nothing fancy here! So if you’re all ready comfortable with playing in 3/4 time sorry I wasted your seconds clicking on this post. πŸ™‚

But as I’ve introduced students to the concept of odd time signatures I’ve noticed their comprehension is blocked by a very straightforward roadblock…what’s the difference between odd time and common (4/4) time when the building blocks (quarter notes, eighth notes, etc.) are the same? For example, if you’re simply playing a quarter note groove is it in 3/4, 4/4, 6/4, 1,000,000/4 or what? The roadblock is something along the lines that odd time signatures should have, well, ODD rhythms!

And they can, but they don’t have to.

Check out the top example the PDF I put together. A repeating measure in 3/4 followed by the exact same quarter notes in 4/4. Close your eyes and you can’t tell which time is being played. It’s all about how you’re counting in your head. Are you counting “1-2-3, 1-2-3…” or “1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4…”? That’s it.

Now you’re disappointed. Odd time grooves sound so cool when Rush/Tool/Dream Theater use them. How come mine sound dumb? Because you’re just learning them, duh! Learn every easy rhythm your ears can find and suddenly those complex riffs aren’t so complex.

The second row on my PDF is basically the same riff twice except the second measure in 4/4 has an extra note the 3/4 measure doesn’t. Simple, eh? But now you’re starting to hear the difference.

The first measure of the third row was one of the first I learned where the concept of 3/4 first clicked for me, perhaps because it’s two dotted quarter notes that completely fill a 3/4 space. There’s a smoothness (in my opinion) that has a distinct 3/4 feel without feeling odd to play. The second measure of that row is the same thing with the added note on the fourth beat, a helpful way to compare the feels of similar riffs.

Tip of the iceberg with this stuff. There are so many resources to learn just about anything on this I wouldn’t know where to start. Oh, wait…this link has some cool tips on it.

Not to mention the odd time lessons and other cool chordal tips found my rhythm guitar poster.

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Dude…SERIOUS man crush on Victor Wooten! No…that didn’t come out right. SERIOUS love for his playing (though I’ve never met the man… πŸ˜‰ ) He’s got this killer instructional video where he gets all serious about groove & stuff. There’s this one freakishly brilliant chapter where he talks about getting in tune with the groove that you’re locked in no matter when the beat starts, stops or slows down. Here’s the video.

Badass! Say it out loud–I did.

Lots of ya have drum loops via your drum machine, ProTools, Logic, Garageband. So you don’t need what I’m offering here. But I know lots of ya (including my students) who don’t use any of that stuff–it’s all about the practicing. So I made this simple mp3 to help practice Victor’s concept. The first minute is a four measure drum loop at 95 BPM. The second minute is the same loop except I removed every fourth measure. Next minute I removed the last two measures. Next minute, the last three measures. Then the final minute is simply the first beat of the first measure.

It’s up to you to find the grooves. You’ll notice some rhythms are pretty easy to keep your place in, while some really force you to concentrate. Then you get to Victor’s idea of improvising the embellishments to the groove and you’ve got your work cut out for you! But my opinion is to always work on the simplest stuff first, let natural boredom guide you to the more fancy riffs.

Extreme time mp3.

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This is for the advanced beginner or intermediate players out there. So all you cats comfortable with diatonic harmony can spare me the rants about how easy this is. Besides, you sould be practicing right now!

I often get the student questions about how to play in a particular key or how to make your chord progressions more interesting. They know a bunch of bar chords, maybe even dabbled in the ones with the fancy names like 9ths, 11ths and 13ths. But bouncing around the shapes randomly doesn’t satisfy, so how do you lasso the chords into something decent? Tricky question to the less experienced, compounded by the experience level of the player and how much music theory they have under their belt. But to get the ball rolling I’m going to start with a straightforward outline that will get you making the music first. Then you can tackle other questions later with your teacher…or give ME a call if you’re in Marin County and could use a few more lessons. πŸ˜‰

Let’s focus on the key of C Major. You’re pretty much restricting yourself to the following chords (for starters):

I = C major

ii = D minor

iii = E minor

IV = F major

V = G major

vi = A minor

vii = B diminished

That’s it. If you restrict yourself to playing just those chords anywhere on the neck you’ll be playing in the key of C and it will sound pretty smooth as you switch them around. Get to work, you’re done here.

Or perhaps you’ve come back wondering why things are better than you started, but not quite what you were hoping. Going from B diminished to F major doesn’t cut it for your ears or whatever. Over the years (or more likely the centuries) certain progressions in a key have become so popular to certain styles of music that they’re practically rules of engagement. Arguably the most popular progressions in a key are…

I-IV-V (C-F-G in the key of C). The vast majority of blues uses these changes, not to mention a significant chunk of most of styles of music.

ii-V-I (Dm-G-C in key of C). A HUGE part of jazz, though quite useful in other styles too.

What’s that…you haven’t dealt with Roman Numerals since the second grade??? Then welcome them back, as you’re going to find them useful in music theory. Ya see, it’s a pain in the butt to talk about chord changes with your band in terms of all the chord names. “We’re going C major, D major and G major in the verses, then we’re going to switch to B major, E major and F# major in the bridge.” The brain doesn’t like that, so we’ll typically say, “I-IV-V in C for the verses, then I-IV-V in B for the bridge.” Assuming you’re comfortable doing this in all keys, such a direction is pretty easy to absorb.

What’s that…you’re sick of playing just major and minor chords? Well hey, I never said you were restricted to them! I, IV and V are always major-TYPE chords, so you can start putting those major 7 and major 9 chords to use as substitutes. ii, iii and vi are reserved for minor-TYPE chords, which means minor 7ths and such will also give you the variety you seek.

The V chord is also cool because it’s often (ALWAYS to many players) reserved for dominant 7th chords and other chords in the dominant family. So you’ve got one more option to play with.

Oh, but there are some many other options, so many things to try, rules to break! All in due time. I gotta get some practice time in myself… πŸ˜‰

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Buy Keith’s Rhythm Guitar Poster on Etsy.

In case you’re not down with using Paypal or whatever I’ve put my poster up for sale through Etsy, that cool site devoted to various artist creations. Check it out on the link above!

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One of my students was asking about this, so I created a quick audio file where I play the differences between swing 8th notes and 8th note triplets with the middle 8th left out (a quarter note/8th note grouping as I explain it in the audio). Playing these two examples sound exactly the same; they just look different on paper.

I was going to write up a few examples of what the notation looks like in these cases, but I got some Christmas shopping to do and the SOUND is more important in this case. Shoot me an email if you’re confused and I’d be happy to explain, point out another link, etc.

Keith’s 8th Note Swing Audio Lesson.

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