Text by Jamie Humphries
Although in our last lesson we started to look at some funk rhythms, I felt it would be a good idea to look at extending our chord vocabulary. Although often we only play partial chords, with maybe only two or three notes being used to imply the chord extension, it’s always good to be able to identify full chord voicing. The best way to learn chords, to my mind is by using the CAGED system, which is based around the five major shapes of C,A,G,E and D. Although I have mentioned these previously, I feel that it would be a good idea to start with a brief recap of how this system works.
The idea of the CAGED system is that we turn each of the major open chord shapes into a movable shape and by using a barre, which allows us to move the shapes around, we can use each shape to perform any major chord we choose. We simply move the chord so that the root note, the note that gives the chord its name, is located on a desired note, resulting on the desired chord.
For example: the root note of an E shape is on the 6th string, the bottom E. If we wanted to play a C major chord using this shape, we simply shift the shape up until our first finger, our barring finger, is situated across the 8th fret. It’s possible for us to turn each of the five shapes into the same chord, allowing us to perform one chord in a total of five shapes, which will cover the entire neck. All we have to do is to apply the same principle, by simply shifting each shape until the root becomes that of the chosen chord.
Something else to remember is that the chords link up the next in the order in which the word CAGED is spelt. We start with an open position C, followed by the A shape, root at the 3rd fret, G shape, root at the 8th fret, E shape root at the 8th fret, and finally D shape with its root at the 10th fret. When practising this, you should notice how each shape links together, connecting all five shapes up the neck, dove-tailing them together.
Once we have our major shapes down, we can the turn our attention to the minor shapes and these are achieved by simply lowering the 3rd of the chord by a semi tone, or one fret. Most guitarists will know how to play the open position Am, Dm and Em shapes, but never learn the open Cm and Gm shapes. The Cm shape is quite tricky to play, and care should be taken not to play either the 1st or 6th strings. The Gm includes and partial barre across the top three strings, but one this is achieved you will produce what is to my ears, a crisp bright voicing, as opposed to the cluttered 3rd fret Em barre version of G minor that most people play. Once you have these two new shapes under your fingers, you can apply the same approach as with the major chords, and connect all of the shapes together covering the entire neck.
Our next chord type is the dominant 7th, which has the following formula of1, 3, 5, b7. Once again we take the same approach of simply moving a redundant root note, but this time we lower the root note by a whole tone. Once again be sure to watch my full explanation in the video, where I show my G7 movable chord variation.
Our final chord type is minor 7th, which has the following formula of 1, b3, 5, b7. Once again the same approach is taken when building this chord, except this time we lower the redundant root note of the minor chord shapes.
That’s all of our main major, minor and 7th extensions covered. Using this approach, if you now practice each of the five chord types, using all five shapes in all twelve keys, you would get a grand total of 300 chords. Now that’s not bad for one lesson! Be sure to download the accompanying chord diagrams.