In this lesson we'll take a look at constructing different chord shapes to add colour to our playing, and enable us to play in different keys. We'll also start to incorporate some minor chord shapes into these patterns and play along with a tune.

The Three Chord Trick

The three chords of G, C and D that we looked at in the previous lesson enable us to accompany tunes in the key of G Major, which is a good starting point for learning to accompany tunes in G. The order of these three chords is applicable to different keys as it follows a pattern sometimes referred to as the 'three chord trick'. This means the first chord establishes the key, and the second and third chord lead us harmonically in a circle to create tension, that then resolves back at the tonic and we start over again. Many songs and tunes follow this general principle, and even share exactly the same chord progressions. What's useful is we can apply this to accompany tunes in different keys by building a larger vocabulary of chords, which follow this same pattern and principle.

 

For example let's now look at the key of D Major:

D

1               2

G

           1   2

A

1   1  3   4

Two of the chords here are in common with the key of G, with the addition of an A chord which /placesbarres your first finger across the second fret on the G and D strings, and uses the fourth finger on the fifth fret. This is a tricky chord when starting out, but opens up the potential for playing chords all over the neck so is worth getting used to. Practise these changes now:

1           2           3           4

1           2           3           4

1           2           3           4

1           2           3           4

D

G

1           2           3           4

1           2           3           4

1           2           3           4

1           2           3           4

A

D

Now we'll add on two more common sets of chords, in A Major and C Major. Keep an eye out for the chords which require barring across two strings.

A

1   1  3   4

C

     1   2

D

1               2

F

1               2

E

2   1   1   3

G

           1   2

Minor Chords

So far we've been looking at major chords only, so let's include a few minor chords. These chords have a darker sound, and if we add them into the mix we can begin to add more options to our accompaniment. You'll notice that there are two different shapes that are being used here, which change depending on their location on the neck:

Am

 1  1   2   4

Em

 3  1   1   2

Bm

 1  1   2   4

F#m

 3  1   1   2

Now each of these minor chords has a relationship with one of the sets of chords we've looked at already. Any one of these can be used to replace the tonic major chord in it's related chord progression. These are related as follows:

G and Em

D and Bm

C and Am

A and F#m

Let's put this into context by playing through the same chord progression covered in the previous lesson, but swapping out one of our tonic chords for the relative minor chord for that key. In this instance, the G chord is swapped for the relative minor chord of Em.

1           2           3           4

1           2           3           4

G

C

C

1           2           3           4

1           2           3           4

G

D

1           2           3           4

C

1           2           3           4

Em

1           2           3           4

C

D

1           2           3           4

G

Have a go at playing through this progression, but swap out each of the chords depending on key you're playing in. So D G A Bm, A D E F#m and C F G Am.

Chord Theory

Let's briefly take a look at some chord theory. In order to construct most chords they need to include some or all of three notes; the root/tonic, third and fifth. So a G Major chord would include the notes G, B and D, a C Major chord the notes  C, E, G and a D Major chord D, F#, A. They don't need to be positioned in this order, so for example here's where they are placed in the first chords we already looked at:

G

           1   2

G  D  B  G

C

     1   2

G  E   C  E

D

1               2

A   D   A  F#

As you play through each set of chords, consider the names of the different note combinations you're using.  When we change the order of these notes to play the same chord, we also change the position of our left hand on the neck. These alternative chord shapes are called inversions. Let's briefly take a look at this for our G chord:

G

           1   2

G

 4  3  1   2

G

1   2   2  4

G

  2  1   1   3

G  D  B  G

R    5th   3rd   R

D  G  B  G

5th     R    3rd   R

B  G  D  B

3rd   R    5th   3rd

D   G  D  B

    5th     R     5th  3rd

The second G chord shape here will challenge you to stretch about as far as you're likely to need on the mandolin, so work up to it over time!

Minor Chords (...again)

A final and brief note on those minor chords. What specifically makes them minor, and what's their relationships with their cheerier major cousins? If we take our root, third and fifth combination, and 'flatten' the third note in this triad, we end up with the minor equivalent of that chord. So for our G chord the combination is G B and D for a  G Major chord, and G, Bb, and D for a G Minor chord. When we flatten the note, we slide it back a fret/semitone. This applies to all the chords we looked at before, but let's illustrate it once again with our G chord here:

G

           1   2

G  D  B  G

Gm

           1   2

G  D  Bb  G

There are copious resources out there with hundreds upon hundreds of chords listed for your enjoyment (or despair!). As ever, we're striving to keep things 'simple' here, or at least bite-sized enough that you're equipped to be let loose on the nearest thousand-page chord anthology with more of a sense of what each of the chords might contain.

​The Right Hand (...again)

That's enough number and dots for now. Let's shake out by looking at our right hand and adding to our previous pattern. Start with the pattern of four beats in a bar, and alternate with the bass note on the first and third beat. If we consider the gaps between the beats as '&' offbeats, these can be played played as upstrokes similar to how we would pick. So we can continue to add notes in on these upstrokes to give a little more variety to our accompaniment options.

 

For starters, take the fourth beat of the bar, and just before coming to rest on the first beat of the next bar add in an upstoke as you bring your pick back up again.

© Nic Zuppardi 2020