Throw Away Your Chord Book!

You’ve seen them in the music stores in the guitar books section:

“The Chord Encyclopedia”

“10,000 Chords For The Guitar”

“Over 2,000 Guitar Chords”

“How many friggin’ chords are there anyway?” you say as you leaf through the thick, heavy books. “How am I ever going to memorize all that?”

Well folks, I’m here to tell you that you really don’t have to! There’s an easier way to work out any kind of chord anywhere on the guitar.


stretched string

Let’s pretend we have a super long guitar string stretched between two points, tuned to the lowest note of a guitar. Pluck it and listen:

plucked string

Now shorten the string and pluck it again:

stopped string

The pitch is higher, right? You could conceivably play every note on a guitar this way if you really wanted to, but it wouldn’t be much fun. Let’s make things easier by “cutting” the string into sections, optimised for different pitch ranges:

string sections

Now line them up along side each other:

strings aligned

This way you can control a large range of notes within a smaller area. This is exactly how a guitar neck works.

Here’s a guitar fingerboard marked in standard tuning (24 frets). The flats and sharps are left out for clarity:

fret board

Notice how some of the pitches overlap? You could play exactly the same thing in several places on the neck. This confusing aspect of the guitar is actually what helps makes it so versatile. The notes you need are never too far away!

See how the pattern of notes repeat past the 12th fret? This is very handy when memorizing the fretboard (you are going to memorize the fretboard, aren’t you?).


Finding chords on a guitar is just a matter of collecting all notes you’ll need somewhere within the reach of your hand.

Let’s find some F minor 6 chords. Here are the notes you need:

F   Ab   C   D

First find all the Fs:


Then find all the Abs:


Then find all the Cs:


Finally find all the Ds:


Use different colors for each pitch. Now circle all the areas where you can physically reach all four notes:

Fm6 circled

You see? There’s only so many ways to do it. This is where those mysterious “chord shapes” come from. Some configurations are more practical than others. It’s not so much “How many chords are there?” as it is “How many ways can I play this chord?”. Instead of accessing a bunch of chords, you’re really just playing on one big one!

Let’s try another chord, a G minor 6 chord:


Notice something interesting?

Fm6-Gm6(Click on picture)

The only real difference between them is that the dots move up two frets. The relationship between the pitches stay exactly the same!

Think of this as a sort of “recipe” for making minor 6 chords. By “sliding” this layout up and down the neck you can make any kind of minor 6 chord you want.

Now try this with other types of chords in other keys. Make your own chord book! You’ll soon discover that it’s not so much the notes you play that determine the chord type but the intervals between notes that create it. If the layout is the same, the chord type is the same. Happy chording!

© 2015 Leo Bidne

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