Non-Standard Guitar Chords: How to Not Get Stuck With the Same Old Chords

Tired to play the same old chords on your guitar? Here is an easy trick that will allow you to create original chords even if you do not know any music theory.

Non-Standard Guitar Chords: How to Not Get Stuck With the Same Old Chords
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Your knowledge of chords is limited to the same old "cowboy chords"? Would you like to have more artistic freedom with chords without having to spend years studying harmony? I have a fast and easy solution for you. Keep reading. Many players spend all their musical life knowing only few chords. If these few chords allow them to express themselves, that is good of course... but how do you know if the chords you know actually allow you to express what you want to express? It's my experience that when I show a few "non-standard" chords to my students, then they get immediately interested in learning them, no exception. For this reason, it seems to me that players who say that they are happy with the few chords they know are not in fact that satisfied with what they can do harmony-wise. Before I hear the cry of protest, note that I'm NOT advocating learning all the NAMES of the chords: in fact I'd really prefer you know the SOUND of chords. Sure, knowing the names of chords is useful if you want to communicate with others, but don't gorge yourself trying to learn everything about flat 9ths and sharp 11ths. Not only this, but there is also another problem. Chords do not really work alone: they work in progressions. In order to compose a meaningful song you need more than one chord and they need to work together well. You need more than just "knowing chords": you need to know how they can fit together. The WRONG solution to this problem (and sadly the one that most people follow) is to get a book with lots of chords diagrams and plunge through it. Again, chords do not work alone: even if you find the "perfect" chord, then you are left with the problem of finding other chords that will work with it... and this is even more frustrating! (been there, done that). Also, in my experience it is really difficult to remember these chords if the only thing you do with them is to play them once or twice before you pass to the next diagram. In the video below I explain how to create a whole SET of original chords that work well together. The system I explain is easy and can be used to find chords that match your "perfect chord," if you have one... or you can just use it to create completely original chords from scratch. There is practically no formal theory involved, as you will see.
Of course, like many other things, what I just showed will work for you only if you make it part of your daily practice routine. 5 minutes of it a day for few weeks are definitely enough, and it may take a few days to get used to it. Personally when I'm doing it I get lost in the sounds I am discovering and once I come back to my sense it's few hours later and I have recorded a song... but your mileage may vary. One of the side benefits of this exercise is that you are going to become much more familiar with your fretboard. The ones among you who are less familiar with your notes on the fretboard may find that it takes a bit of time to adjust and get the system I talk about in the video under their belt. If this is the case, let me know in the comments (or with a pm) and I will make the next video about an easy way to visualize your notes on the fretboard. About the Author: Tommaso Zillio is a prog rock guitarist and teacher with a passion for Music Theory applied to Guitar.

28 comments sorted by best / new / date

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    Andy2k64
    I enjoyed this. Love messing around with chords I font even know the names of. All about experimenting and getting the right feel in a progression.
    Sign of War
    Man that sounded so pretty, I'm totally going to use this idea, thanks for the lesson.
    rockerwannabe
    Okay, I will step forward and admit that I need to know the fretboard better. I'd love to see the next video for an easier way to visualize the notes on the fretboard.
    Iommianity
    I like playing what I call 'half' chords, where I'll play a familiar chord shape on the lower 3-4 strings and let the G, B and hig E ring out. It's cool for all kinds of chords (major, minor, etc), and it's a very unique sound that can be anything from a sus4 sound to an augmented/altered feel. The only problem is when I record myself jamming and then scramble to figure out what the hell I played afterwards.
    stereosmiles
    I'm a big fan of what I amateurishly refer to as "dominant 3rd" chords like 87x9xx or 42x4xx. It's hard to hear them in records, but I think Bluetip might use them. If not then I'm claiming them right now as my own
    Macabre_Turtle
    I know you're acknowledging that you're not using a proper name for them, but where are you getting 'dominant' from at all? They're just diads. You have a root, with a minor or major third, and the octave of that third.
    Chris Zoupa
    Great lesson. 10/10! I'm always looking for more writing tools! Thanks for the vid. I might as well subscribe to your Youtube channel too!
    stoic
    Fantastic lesson - one of the better ones I've seen on UG. Thanks!
    smell:the:glove
    This was a really interesting video. I've often wondered how strange chord progressions are put together, especially with alternate tunings, so this lesson really helps me think about that.
    rich420
    What a great lesson. I had no idea of this concept of moving chords up a scale like this. Thank you!
    Guns N' Chains
    Awesome stuff. Can't wait to try them out for myself. Don't ever want to limit yourself with your playing, otherwise you may never progress.
    Sir_Taffey
    I use this a lot in improv too. I use them as fillers between melody ideas. It flows a bit more naturally for me like that but 10/10!
    Iommianity
    I like playing what I call 'half' chords, where I'll play a familiar chord shape on the lower 3-4 strings and let the G, B and hig E ring out. It's cool for all kinds of chords (major, minor, etc), and it's a very unique sound that can be anything from a sus4 sound to an augmented/altered feel. The only problem is when I record myself jamming and then scramble to figure out what the hell I played afterwards.
    Artturi
    If playing guitar becomes a sport, learning out the perfect techniques and patterns, it... well. Becomes a sport. I've written songs for some 5+ years on the guitar and the way they are usually born is that I play something that already exists, or some chord I know __wrong__. Wrong in a new and interesting way. I build my songs around mistakes . I strongly recommend just trying out random finger patterns and then, if it sounds good, variating that single chord by moving your pinky or changing the bass note.
    Calymos
    I've had problems with some of your older lessons, but this is quite an improvement. Keep up the good work, sir.