Looking for a chord theory book that won't melt my brain...

popvulture

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389
In the continued quest for my own betterment as a guitarist, I've finally been digging deep into learning some theory after playing for 25 years. Naturally lots of stuff about scales, modes etc—I've touched on this stuff plenty of times before, but this time I'm getting a good bit more studious/academic about it. I've also been taking a few lessons to get the juices flowing.

I was wondering though... is there a sort of gold standard book on chords that's both helpful to someone who's breaking into this stuff as somewhat of a noob, but will want to go pretty deep/advanced? If not, is there a book that anyone could recommend that's maybe not a one-stop-shop, but nonetheless essential?

I have Ted Greene's Chord Chemistry, but it really, really melts my brain. I know it's very useful to some, but it's dryyyy.

Thanks, y'all.
 

popvulture

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389
I should expand a bit on what exactly I'm wanting to learn about chords...

I really want to dive deeper into inter-chordal relationships, chords' relationships to modes, transitional chords that help move progressions along (and exactly why they do so), yada yada.
 

popvulture

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389
I'd say one of my biggest problems as a guitarist... well, maybe not a problem but an area in which I'd like to see improvement... is that I've been playing advanced chords for years and have an understanding of how they work based on feel and rudimentary theory. I don't really think about why a chord does what it does, though; my fingers know where to go and I don't exactly think "oh, my pinkie is playing the flatted seventh in this particular chord." I'd like to be a bit more aware of that stuff, as I think it'd allow me to be a little more purposeful in my writing.
 

guitarjazz

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There is a reason why Joe Pass didn't label every single chord in his Joe Pass Guitar Chords book.
I'd venture you would learn more about chords by studying songs, progressions. It could be The Nearness of You, What's Going On, Tempted, or Sexy Sadie, Georgia.... Try to understand what is going on harmonically in the bigger picture rather than just focusing on 'a chord'.
 
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Clifford-D

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17,045
Jazzology, starts at the beginning and advances through theory, in a nice uncluttered way. The idea is to give you all the theory goodies with minimal words and not complicated, everything is pretty clear. Nice diagrams. And its easy to get through it. It's more of a reference not any method.
Just the simple facts.
 
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suckamc

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4,615
If it takes a whole book, someone's probably doing it wrong. It should be a PAMPHLET.

...albeit maybe a folded one, with multiple pages. (Granted, you could spend pages and pages showing great voicings and ancillary topics.)

Ditto for scales. Every scale book I've ever seen was drastically padded, apparently due to some mixture of ignorance of the subject matter and marketing (a book costs $20+...tough to sell a 4-pager). The better you understand either topic, the simpler it should appear, and the shorter path to understanding it for those you show it to.
 

guitarjazz

Gold Supporting Member
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24,219
If it takes a whole book, someone's probably doing it wrong. It should be a PAMPHLET.

...albeit maybe a folded one, with multiple pages. (Granted, you could spend pages and pages showing great voicings and ancillary topics.)

Ditto for scales. Every scale book I've ever seen was drastically padded, apparently due to some mixture of ignorance of the subject matter and marketing (a book costs $20+...tough to sell a 4-pager). The better you understand either topic, the simpler it should appear, and the shorter path to understanding it for those you show it to.
Ted Greene's Systematic Inversions sheet is one measly page but a treasure trove if you take the time to work through it. Free at tedgreene.com
 

JonR

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15,956
I'd say one of my biggest problems as a guitarist... well, maybe not a problem but an area in which I'd like to see improvement... is that I've been playing advanced chords for years and have an understanding of how they work based on feel and rudimentary theory. I don't really think about why a chord does what it does, though; my fingers know where to go and I don't exactly think "oh, my pinkie is playing the flatted seventh in this particular chord." I'd like to be a bit more aware of that stuff, as I think it'd allow me to be a little more purposeful in my writing.
This reminds me a little of how I was before I started taking jazz classes (around 25 years ago, around 25 years after starting playing). I knew lots of fancy chords, and quite a few songs with fancy chords in them. I was very interested in songwriting, in chord changes and they worked and kept trying to come up with unusual ways to connect them (usually ending up with things that either didn't quite work, or had been done many times before).

(I'm going to take it for granted that you realise that learning your fretboard more thoroughly may be something you need to do. E.g., would you know how to construct a 7#9 chord in several different ways, all over the neck?)

It wasn't the jazz classes so much that helped, but playing lots (and lots) of jazz standards. I started to see the common moves in those old tunes, and started to understand the role of 3rds and 7ths. I began to understand why those sequences of mine didn't work, and to be able to hear better what I'd been striving for. (A lot of the time, I was realising that the sounds I was after weren't new at all, but quite old-fashioned.)

One book that did help me crystallize a lot of this - to remove the fog and expose the inner workings - was William Russo's "Composing for the Jazz Orchestra". It's badly mistitled, because really it's about arranging, not composing, and is a much smaller and more concise book than you might imagine. A collection of handy tips for the (beginner) jazz arranger.
http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/0226732096/
That book explained that there were really only six chord types. All the rest came from those. He gave them his own, partly unconventional names, but they amounted to:
Major = Tonic or IV in major key, III or VI in minor key = maj7, maj9, 6, 6/9, etc
Dom = V in major and minor key = 7, 9, 13, 7alt, etc.
Min7 = ii, vi or (rarely) iii in major key, iv in minor key = m7, m9.
Dim = vii in minor key, often borrowed for major key = dim7
Half-dim (or what Russo calls LTS, Leading tone seventh) = ii in minor key (it derives from vii in major key, but is almost never used that way) = m7b5
Min(maj7) = Tonic in minor key = m(maj7), m(maj9), m6.

They're derived by adding two kinds of 7th to each of three kinds of triad:
Major triad plus major or minor 7th (maj or dom)
Minor triad plus major or minor 7th (tonic minor or min7)
Diminished triad plus minor or diminished 7th (m7b5 or dim7)
(Tonic chords can also appear as 6ths: major 6th added to maj or min triad.)

The aug triad is ignored, being considered part of the altered dominant family (a big sub-group in the dom7 type).

Every possible chord in functional harmony (major and minor keys) is covered there. And notice that the functions are critical: each of those types has a job (or jobs) to do, as shown. They're not just sounds in their own right, but cogs in a machine; links in a chain, in a progression.
Of course, jazz uses lots of subs - in particular the bII or tritone sub, but that's really just an inverted altered dom7. But stuff like 9ths, 11ths, 13th, alterations, that's all just embellishment. (Russo does cover all the possible extensions or alterations that each of those types can have.)

The book also had a page (in fact less than one page) with a chart showing all the possible moves and subs for a ii-V-I cadence. (And the ii-V-I is of course the heart of jazz harmony.)

The only type of jazz the book didn't cover - a big omission, but it's a small book - was so-called "modal" jazz, so chord types such as the various sus chords (quartal harmony, essentially), weren't covered.

Of course, the trouble is, this is still about JAZZ! :rolleyes: Dammit, not everything revolves around jazz!! Personally, I'm really much more interested in rock, blues, folk, almost any kind of music other than jazz. But one has to admit that when it comes to both improvisation concepts and harmonic theory, jazz has it pretty much covered: jazz has done the work, written the books. Other popular musics are kind of fumbling in the dark in comparison. Of course, fumbling in the dark is fun (right? ;)), but sometimes it's nice to have the light on. However you feel about jazz, it does tend to switch a few lights on. Break in, steal its concepts, then run away! :)

If you can stand it (it could be a brain melter...), I'd second the recommendation for "Jazzology" - a bit on the dry side, but a good comprehensive survey ("encyclopedia" even) of jazz harmony practices.
A better read - but more contentious - is Mark Levine's "The Jazz Theory Book". Just ignore that definite article, and treat it as "A" (somewhat opinionated) jazz theory book, and it's OK, well written, focussing more on controversial chord-scale theory and modal harmony. Beware: its examples from jazz recordings make it seem very authoritative, but it's usually easy to interpret that evidence in other ways. Don't believe the hype. ;) (Jazzology was actually written as a critical response to TJTB, to cover all the stuff Levine missed out.)

The seminal book on "rock theory" has yet to be written, but a good stab at it was made by Dominic Pedler in an appendix to this:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Songwriting-Secrets-%22Beatles%22-Dominic-Pedler/dp/0711981671/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1444723467&sr=1-1&keywords=songwriting+secrets+of+the+beatles
As with those jazz theory books, you'll get a lot out of this even if you're a little bit tired of the Beatles' mythology. Best thing I can say about the book is that, at a tad under 800 pages, I felt it was way too short! (What about all the songs he didn't mention?)

A more comprehensive survey of Beatles' song analysis (every song covered, but in less depth) - and free!! - is this:
http://www.icce.rug.nl/~soundscapes/DATABASES/AWP/awp-alphabet.shtml
 
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lifeinsong

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There's a guy named Matt Warnock that frequently posts lesson material in this section. He has a ton of stuff on his website that you'll probably find very useful. Check it out!
 

Clifford-D

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17,045
Op, When I'm playing Im not thinking #9 or b3rd. Thinking is for after playing, when analyzing your playing in a practice session.

You say you don't think, you just play. That is great, that's what I do as well as many people in this thread

Experience will fatten up that sort of knowledge.

Play in a big band, through the community college, or just a community band. My area has both. Those charts in real time will ratchet up your skills.
 

gennation

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8,041
You can use my tutorials at http://lessons.mikedodge.com

Work through the links in order under The Beginner to Advance Series (Intervals, Chord Construction, etc...). That will work on your foundation for intervals and chord construction. Then it gets deeper in to application.

It's a pretty comprehensive theory series, it's free, and many people have used it and helped me weed out corrections...so it's pretty solid.
 

derekd

Gold Supporting Member
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46,192
Already some great suggestions, and guys on this board who can lead you through the process.

I have most of the CM books out there. I've gotten the most out of Jody Fisher's stuff. Let me know if you want specifics. Good luck.
 

Clifford-D

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17,045
Creative Chord Substitution
A Journey Through Form and Analysis of Modern Harmony.
By Ed Arkin 1982 PMP

This is a great chord book for someone looking for clearly explained advanced chords.

What really stood out for me was the chapter on Quartal Harmony. Of all the 300 books I have this one stands above the others for its quartal harmony discussions.
I walked away from this book understanding so much about quartal harmony that I was up and using it right away, never looked back. This book was a great primer for college too.

It was a huge step forward for me back in the early '80s.

If its still in print its a gem find.

Yes it is available = )
 
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Clifford-D

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17,045
The more brain-melting the better, as far as I'm concerned
Harmonic Experience melts my brain
in a good way, but melted brains makes quite the mess, I just clean it up and jump back in. I'm about seven years into reading it. Not close to finishing it. And I love that.
 




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