How to Play Chords Like Jeff Buckley, Part 1: Sixth Chords

The first look into playing fancy chords like Jeff Buckley.

How to Play Chords Like Jeff Buckley, Part 1: Sixth Chords
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Although upon first listen Jeff might not sound like the most technically impressive player, he uses a diverse and interesting choice of chord shapes which contribute to his unique sound. He is fond of sixth chords, moving shapes around the neck to ring against open strings, slash chords, open tunings, and even jazz-influenced extended chords. Over the space of a couple of lessons I’ll try to get inside his head and work out some common techniques to work out how to we can get a bit of his sound into our own playing.

For this lesson I'll be concentrating on sixth chords. I've split the lesson into 3 parts:
  • Theory
  • Shapes
  • Using 6th chords.
Feel free to skip the theory section if you don't know anything about music theory!

Theory

Sixth chords come in 2 varieties: major 6th and minor 6th chords. Major 6th chords are written as D6, A6 or Eb6; and Minor 6th chords are written as Bm6, Gm6 or C#m6 etc.

The theory behind these chords is simple, they consist of a triad (the 1st, 3rd and 5th) with the 6th added. Thus the chords formulas are:

Major 6th: R 3 5 6
Minor 6th: R b3 5 6

Some examples of 6th chords written out are therefore:

G6: G B D E
Am6: A C E F#

Some people will point out that 6th chords are also an inversion of 7th chords (C6 = C E G A, Am7 = A C E G, same notes in both chords). However I found that thinking of it this way can actually be a little confusing at first as 6th chords and 7th chords have very different sounds. For now we'll treat 6th chords as just 6th chords!

More information can be found here.

Ok so that's the theory all done! Don't worry if you didn't understand everything, you can still play with the examples below. Onto the fun stuff!

Shapes

Here are chord shapes for 6th chords:

Root on the E String
G6 Gm6
- 3 - - - - - 3 - - 3 -
- 5 - - 3 - - 5 - - 3 -
- 4 - - 4 - - 3 - - 3 -
- 5 - - 2 - - 5 - - 2 -
- x - - x - - x - - x -
- 3 - - 3 - - 3 - - 3 -
Root on the A String
C6 Cm6
- 5 - - 0 - - 5 - - - -
- 5 - - 1 - - 4 - - 1 -
- 5 - - 2 - - 5 - - 2 -
- 5 - - 2 - - x - - 1 -
- 3 - - 3 - - 3 - - 3 -
- - - - - - - - - - - -
Root on the D String
F6 Fm6
- 5 - - - 4 - - - - - - -
- 3 - - - 3 - - - - - - -
- 5 - - - 5 - - - - - - -
- 3 - - - 3 - - - - - - -
- - - - - - - - - - - - -
- - - - - - - - - - - - -
Practice moving these shapes about to other positions to get all other 6th chords. Some of these chords sound different from others, for example some have the 6th interval as the highest note in the chord wheras some have it lower down. Experiment with all of them and work out which ones you like the sound of the best.

Using 6th chords

Why use 6th chords? Although there's nothing wrong with regular chords, 6th chords just contain more drama, something that definitely suits Jeff’s music and voice. The major 6th has a pleasant warm sound and the minor 6th has a darker haunting sound than the regular minor chord.

Example 1 is from the chorus of "So Real" at 00:36. The chorus simply alternates between the chords C6 and Am6, with the voicings below. The chords are strummed for 4 beats each.

C6 Am6
- - - - - - 
10- - - 5 -
9 - - - 5 -
10- - - 4 -
- - - - - -
8 - - - 5 -
Listen to the recording and play along. After you've got the C6 and Am6 under your fingers, try playing just C to Am and notice how much more dramatic the 6th chords sound.

Example 2 is the arpeggios played in the intro of "Mojo Pin," which are C6 to Am (00:21). This time the chords are played in the open position.

C6
- - - - - - - - - - 3 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 3 - - - -
- - - - 1 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 1 - - - - - - - - - -
- - - - - - - 2 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 2 - - - - - - -
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
- 3 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 3 - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Am
- - - - - - - - - - 0 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
- - - - 1 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 1 - - - - - 3 p 1 - - -
- - - - - - - 2 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 2 - - - - - - - -
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
- 0 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 0 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
His choice of using a C6 instead of a regular open C chord gives the song the vibe that it has.

Example 3 is from "Lover You Should've Come Over." The key of this song is D Major and the chord I'm focusing on in this song is the Gm6 he uses. This is a classic use of the minor IV chord. The shape for Gm6 is:
- - -
- 3 -
- 3 -
- 2 -
- - -
- 3 -
He uses this chord for the fantastic build up to the outro at 05:03. It is also the second chord in the outro itself, which I’ll look at in more detail in the next lesson. Again, he uses the Gm6 chord because it has more tension than a simpler Gm triad.

Example 4 comes from the song "Grace," where he uses an ascending sequence of 6th chords in the pre-chorus at 00:49. The chords are Em - F#m6 - G6 - A6:

Em F#m6 G6 A6
- - - - - - - - - - - - -
0 - - - 4 - - - 5 - - - 7
0 - - - 2 - - - 4 - - - 6
2 - - - 4 - - - 5 - - - 7
2 - - - - - - - - - - - -
0 - - - 2 - - - 3 - - - 5
Note that this song is originally played in drop-D, however the chords above have been changed to be played in standard tuning

Example 5 is from "Dream Brother," which features the ascending chord sequence Bb6 - Cm6 - Dm7 - Ebmaj7 at 01:49. He uses 3-note chord fragments here and utilises voice-leading to link the chords together. I have included the root notes on the 5th string in brackets; Jeff doesn't play them on the album but it always helps to mentally know where the root note is, and there is nothing to stop you playing the full shapes in your own songs.

Bb6 Cm6 Dm7 Ebmaj7
- 3 - - 5 - - 5 - - 3 -
- 3 - - 4 - - 3 - - 3 -
- 3 - - 5 - - 5 - - 3 -
- - - - - - - - - - - -
-(1)- -(3)- -(5)- -(6)-
- - - - - - - - - - - -
Later in the song (3:45) the same chord progression is played but Jeff moves the chords to a higher position to create a build-up. He is playing the same chords but uses the following shapes:

Bb6 Cm6 Dm7 Ebmaj7
- 6 - - 8 - - 8 - - 6 - -
- 8 - -10 - -10 - - 8 - -
- 7 - - 8 - - 7 - - 7 - -
- - - - - - - - - - - - -
- - - - - - - - - - - (6)
-(6)- (8) - -(10) - - - -
You'll notice the top-3 string shapes for Bb6 and Ebmaj7 and exactly the same. The notes in each chord are:

Bb6: Bb D F G
Ebmaj7: Eb G Bb D

Both chords share notes G Bb and D, which is actually a Gm triad. This is called a chord fragment. This means that to play a Bb6 or an Ebmaj7 chord you can just use a Gm shape. However this really only works with smaller 3 notes shapes like the ones shown above. This is called chord substitution is used a lot in jazz.

Conclusion

That concludes our first look at playing chords like Jeff Buckley. We found one particular type of chord, 6th chords, and looked at how he uses them in 5 of his songs. He uses a lot of different shapes but don't feel overwhelmed, it's ok to just pick one of two shapes and get comfortable with using them in your playing. Try using 6th chords in your playing and songwriting and see if they can inspire you and give you a new sound to play with.

This has been my first article and I hope you learned something! If you enjoyed reading then please rate and leave feedback! Part 2 will be coming soon.

About the Author:
This article was written by Dan Carr, a professional musician and guitarist from London, England.

14 comments sorted by best / new / date

comments policy
    velez.pedro
    You sir, are awesome! I have been waiting for something like this for so long. Keep it up and thank you so much!
    agnish
    A very nice and well explained lesson.I always was fascinated by Jeff's unique sound and thanks to you I got a better insight into it.
    badfish_lewis
    This is great, Jeff is my favorite artist and he's highly under-appreciated (probably due to his untimely death). Great job!
    Dec32
    This was a great help!! Thanks! Looking forward to the next one!
    jrucks01
    Excellent lesson, and looking forward to more breakdown of Jeff Buckley's outstanding, under appreciated guitar style.
    stereosmiles
    What I got from this lesson is that you really ought to go and look at music from around the 1940s - they used a load of chords that are almost forgotten now in popular music, but listen to what they can do for you! Jeff's version of "Lilac Wine" is a great example of this kind of thing - I feel like a genius every time I play it, or at least try and remember how to play it Good lesson BTW, thanks.
    happysad
    Just one minor mistake, first chord in the chorus of So Real is actually this : --- -10 -9 -7- -x- -8- Still a pretty nice lesson.
    RoseofPain13
    you are most likely correct, there's only note different from the one I put in the lesson above, and both chords sound really similiar. I put the shape that I did because it's a standard 6th voicing and I didn't want to confuse people new to this. The shape you mention is a C6 chord but looks more look an Am/C (the top 3 notes are an A power chord). Nice catch though, and thanks!
    S-Gsus
    So I started reading this lesson and thought awesome! I pulled out my strat that I haven't played in forever and found that I had super heavy gauge strings on it O_o yeouch.