How to know what chord goes where?

Discussion in 'Playing and Technique' started by docgorpon, Mar 21, 2015.

  1. docgorpon

    docgorpon Member

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    I am absolutely sure I will regret asking this. But...

    When I come apon a unique chord voicing, how can I tell where it can be used? Like, I don't know the name of the chord. I just stumble on it and think "that sounds cool". How would I analyze it to know what it could substitute (as in, I can use this instead of an Em in this progression)?

    Please keep in mind that I'm strictly a rock player and only learn things that I can use. So please give me the 'simple', shortest answer. If there is one...
     
  2. StanG

    StanG Member

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    If you know the names of the notes in your new voicing, you should be able to figure something out.
     
  3. guitarjazz

    guitarjazz Member

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    The simple answer:
    http://www.amazon.com/Chord-Chemistry-Ted-Greene/dp/0898986966
     
  4. ZeyerGTR

    ZeyerGTR Supporting Member

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    Does it sound "right" if used in place of an Em (for instance)? There are many voicings with the same notes, but the function varies depending how it's used. For example, GCE might be an A7 triad, or it might be a C major... depends on the song. Note that how well it works depends what came before and what chord is coming next. Harmonic tension might sound "bad" if just swapped for an E minor on its own, but in the context of the progression it might be perfect and lead somewhere. Find the individual notes of your chord, then figure out what the root is based on how it sounds in the song - it might not be lowest note. That's the place to start. Once you know the root, you can figure out the rest. At least, that's what I do when stumbling onto unique voicings. YMMV, my 2c, yada yada yada.
     
  5. stevel

    stevel Member

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    Trial and error.

    It can be both a help and a hinderance if you learned how to identify such chords (but to answer one aspect of your question, you learn your notes and your chords and keys).

    For example, if you played something and it turned out to be an an Am11 (A-C-E-G-B-D) it tells you it would work in place of an Am chord in any key where none of those upper extensions were altered (Am, CM, Em, GM) and it *may* work in keys where such alterations might produce common ones (like in Dm it would include a Dorian element).

    Where that's a hindrance is you might spend too much time worrying about the theory behind it and if it's "right" or not - IOW, as soon as you start using the theory to justify it rather than your ears, your selling yourself short. Still, even then, it you may get a great sound.

    Watch this video:



    It's clear that Guthrie doesn't know some of the names of the chords or hasn't taken the time to figure them out. He may have been using some theoretical ideas here - he may have known he wanted the sound of polychords (he hints at such) where you've got one triad on top and a different bass note, or two chords stacked up (the last Em is like a D triad on top of an Em triad in a beautiful voicing) and he may have known or understood that having the E note connect all the chords (as he points out so he's aware of that as well).

    So he may know that this is not in any one key, and that in the absence of a key and a traditional tonal chord progression, often some other musical ideas are necessary (or desirable for the composer) to "hold together" the sonic fabric.

    But he probably was just as likely playing with some chord shapes and simply moving them around (maybe intentionally keeping the E) finding sounds he liked and a progression he liked. Trial and Error (19 years worth apparently ;-).
     
  6. docgorpon

    docgorpon Member

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    Ah. That's what I was afraid of. Ha. Pretty much how I figure out everything, anyway.
     
  7. JonR

    JonR Member

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    :) Good questions always have long answers....
    1. Compare it with other chords you know. Which other chords contain the same notes? (You don't need to know note names, only string/fret places.) Obviously, as an unidentified voicing, it might contain notes from 2 or 3 other chords. But those are the chords it's likely to go with (sound good alongside).
    (If it's a shape up above 5th fret, it might help to trace the notes in open position, ie 5 frets down on the string above* - or if it's on the G string, 4 frets down on the B string. You can often find alternative shapes for your voicing this way, and help identify the chord. Sometime you'll find you've just got an unusual shape for a quite common chord.)

    2. Use your ear as well. (This is the trial and error bit...) Strum it alongside the chords it shares a note (or notes) with, see how it sounds. If it sounds like it goes - it goes!

    3. You will need to know some theory to identify the chord properly, and to get more ideas of contexts in which you might use it.
    Remember that any voicing you think sounds good will already exist as a chord (although maybe with a complicated name), and someone will almost certainly have found it and used it already.
    But none of that need worry you - and it won't help answer your immediate question.

    BTW, if you want to post an example of any chord you discover, I'm sure someone here will name it for you (if you want names...).


    * - just to clarify: "down" means nearer the nut and "above" means a thinner string (higher in pitch).
     
  8. guitarjazz

    guitarjazz Member

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