Today I am going to introduce you to a particular type of chord that covers the entire range of the fretboard, is easy to play, and has your guitar playing sound advanced. In addition, you can create solos using these chords, and best of all, you'll have access to the three main chord types in music which are major, minor, and dominant.
These chords fall on the top four strings of your guitar and are known via a few different names. The one I like to use is "block chords." Another name you may hear them referred to as are 4, 3, 2, 1, voicings because of the strings they fall on.
There are many creative things we can do with block chords, both in a solo and rhythm context once we have them under our fingers. They have the power to totally transform the way you see the fretboard, and the way you play your guitar.
There is no need to understand these chords from a theory point of view to be able to use them. We will focus on the visualisation and application of block chords in today's article. The theory behind them is best kept for another day.
Avoid What I Did. Start Working on Your Chords Now!Yes, for too long I ignored my chord playing on guitar, focusing more or less on my solo skills only. I had my open and bar chords down, but beyond that I was pretty clueless. Sure, there were different chords I would come across in songs and pieces I'd play, but outside of the context in which I found them, I had no idea how to use them in my own guitar playing. The result was a great in-balance between my solo and rhythm guitar skills.
It wasn't until 1998 when I started studying jazz, some 8 years after I first started playing guitar, that I came across block chords. These were a total game changer for my playing, opening up the entire fretboard with a series of chord shapes I could use in so many different ways.
While I learned block chords in a jazz context, they certainly aren't exclusive to this style. Block chords can be used in many varying styles of music and are great for your acoustic guitar playing.
Block Chords And VisualisationHave you ever bought one of those chord encyclopaedias that have thousands of different chords in them thinking, right, I'm going to learn all these shapes starting at page 1.
I have, and let me tell you it doesn't work out too well. These books are a great reference, which is exactly what an encyclopaedia is, but useless if you are going to try and go through it from front to back attempting to learn, memorise, and integrate all the shapes into your own playing.
The key to learning and sustaining any chord in your own playing is to see the relationships each has with the other. In other words, when learning a new chord ask yourself "How does this shape relate to any other chord I may know on my guitar."
There are several ways you could answer this question, especially as you learn more and more chords. Let me illustrate one way with our first block chord shape, a major 7th chord in root position:
It's very easy to convert the shape above into a dominant 7th chord by altering just one note, like this:
Between a major 7th and dominant 7th chord there is just one note difference. In this case it was the note on the 2nd string of the major 7th shape that had to move down a fret.
As I mentioned previously, don't get caught up in the theory of these chords, or chords in general for now. Just focus on the fact that all you had to do was change one note to convert a major 7th chord to a dominant 7th chord.
Furthermore, to convert our dominant shape to a minor 7th chord, again just alter one note, like this:
In this example all we had to do was move the note on the 1st string of our dominant shape down one fret.
Now isn't that so much easier than learning your major, dominant, and minor chord shapes in isolation. This is how to visualise block chords on your guitar.
More Block Chord ShapesThe shapes above are in root position, however we can also play the inversions of these shapes to really open up the fretboard and maximise the use of these chords in your playing.
Remember, don't get caught up in the theory of these chords. If you don't know what chord inversions are, not to worry, you don't need to know right now. Just focus on how to visualise and apply these chords to your guitar playing.
Below are the four major 7th block chord forms, root position through to 3rd inversion, that will cover the entire fretboard:
In the diagram above we have each of the four major 7th block chord forms you get when including the inversions.
As you can see, they run right up the neck of the guitar. I have highlighted the root note in each shape, as identifying the root note, and where it sits in relation to the shape, will help you find the particular block chord you are after.
As I demonstrated earlier, changing just one note will convert all these shapes into dominant 7th chords, and in turn, changing one note of the dominant 7th shapes will convert them into minor 7th chords:
Practice the shapes above in the following two ways:
Working through them vertically, one column at a time. This highlights the similarities between each chord type.
Working through them horizontally, one a row at a time. This gets you playing each chord type up and down the neck, opening up the entire fretboard to you.
Creating Awesome Music Using Block ChordsHaving a lot of chord shapes under your fingers on the guitar, but not knowing how to use them musically is a big waste! Thankfully this won't be the case with your block chords, as I am now going to give you an example of applying them musically.
There is so much you can do with these chords.
Think about it.
You have four different positions you can play the three main chord types in music of major, minor, and dominant.
Let's use a II V I progression to apply our block chords.
This is a good example because a II V I progression uses major, minor and dominant chords. The roman numerals refer to the chords we are pulling out of the key, the II, the V, and the I chords.
Don't understand this?
Not to worry as we don't need to. Just focus on the application.
The following is a II V I chord progression in the key of G major:
Let's apply some of our block chord forms to this progression:
The progression above repeats four times. Each time I am purposely sticking to the one area of the fretboard to illustrate to you just how much these shapes have in common with each other. In many cases there are notes shared between them, and knowing four positions for each chord means there is always one nearby.
The third and fourth times I play through this progression, I am changing between block chord shapes over the static chord.
For example, when the Am7 is happening, I am shifting between two different block chord shapes, as I am with the D7, and four shifts between block chords occurs over the GMaj7 chord. This creates great movement within our II V I progression, and is a tiny glimpse into the possibilities block chords provide for your acoustic guitar playing.
About the Author:
Running his own guitar school out of Melbourne Australia, Simon Candy specialises in the acoustic guitar. Covering styles including rock, jazz, blues, and fingerpicking, Simon also offers online lessons for acoustic guitar.