By Ryan Mueller
When many guitar players think about playing chords in areas of their fretboard other than open position, they usually resort to 5-string/6-string root barre chords, and basic power chords. While these chords are handy when playing rhythm guitar all over the neck, few guitar players realize that you can take the hand shapes that you make when playing your open chords, and move them up and down to create brand new chords that are exotic and sound beautiful to the ear. The best part? They’re very easy to do – all you need to know beforehand are your open chords, and some basic music theory knowledge. ☺
Let’s see an example of this with our open D Major chord, pictured below:
If we were to move this entire shape up 3 frets – so that our index and middle fingers are now on fret 5 and our ring finger is on fret 6 – and strum it in the exact same way (with the open strings included), we now have an F Major 6th chord (F Maj 6). It sounds totally unique, and yet we didn’t have to change the shape of our hands!
Let’s take it one step further – from the F Maj 6 chord, if we move our hands up another 2 frets, we now have a G Major chord that is played in a completely different way compared to our usual G Major in open position, yet has a totally different character to its sound – how cool is that? ☺
This concept of moving your open chords to different positions on the neck is so easy to do and yet so many guitar players never think of doing it – you can be one of the few who do! This is something I’ve often used in my own song writing, and it helped me discover sounds that I can make out of my guitar that I might not have thought of otherwise.
Keep Track Of The Cool New Chords
As you start moving your open chord shapes around the neck, you’re going to find that some of the new chords will sound great, but some will sound terrible – this is okay. Not every new chord you find will sound good, and not all open chord shapes are as maneuverable as each other. The important thing is to keep track of the new chords that do sound good.
This is quite easy to do – once you’ve found a nice chord, make note of the shape being played and the lowest fret being played (excluding the open strings) – whatever fret number that is, is the position that you are playing that chord. For example, if we move our open C Major up 2 frets, the lowest fret being played would be fret 3 (since no other strings would be held down on any frets lower than that). This would mean that we’re playing our C Major shape in the 3rd position (Important – this is NOT the name of the chord. This is simply a guide of showing you how to play it). If we move our D Major shape up 3 frets (to play the F Maj 6 chord described earlier), this means we’re playing our D Major shape in the 5th position, since the lowest fret being played is fret 5, and so on and so forth.
Now, let’s look at how we can actually USE these new chords effectively.
Application: Chord Swap
The best way to apply this, is to swap a regular open chord for one of these new chords. This involves some basic music theory knowledge, and some problem-solving skills. First, we must look at the new chord we’ve discovered at a micro level, and determine what individual notes are being played. For the swap to sound good, you need the new chord to have more than one of the 1st degree and at least one 3rd degree of the open chord you intend to replace.
For example, if we move our C Major chord up 2 frets, the notes being played (from the A string to the high E) would be D, F#, G, D, and E. We have two D notes along with an F#, and since these notes are (respectively) the 1st and 3rd degrees of our D Major, we can conclude that this new chord would be a nice substitute for D Major.
In another example, if we move our C Major up 5 frets, the notes being played (from the A string to the high E) would be F, A, G, F, and E. In this case we have two F notes along with an A, and since these notes are (respectively) the 1st and 3rd degrees of our F Major, we can conclude that this chord could easily replace a regular F Major.
From here, all we need to do now is create a chord progression involving a D Major and/or an F Major, and then swap them with the new chords we’ve created. They won’t sound 100% identical to the old chords, but that’s not the point – the point is that they resemble the old chords enough to fit in nicely, while conveying different emotions and adding new life into our guitar playing.
About The Author: Ryan Mueller is a guitar teacher and music school owner, dedicated to giving the best guitar lessons in Etobicoke.