Harmony - Thinking Out Of The Cage
Published April 8th, 2008. © Chris Juergensen/chrisjuergensen.com. All Rights Reserved.

Thinking Out of The Cage - Most of us learn the guitar around the C-A-G-E-D system. The C-A-G-E-D system is based on the five open position major chord forms. These chord forms and their corresponding major scale patterns can all be moved up the fretboard and can be altered to accommodate other families, such as minor, etc. It is a very useful system and gives the novice the tools to expand his knowledge of the guitar a great deal. I think it is a good place to start but there comes a time when the advancing guitarist must break away from the system somewhat or run the risk of being caged in (forgive my pun). This lesson is dedicated to thinking out of the box, or thinking out of the cage in this case. I have to warn you however, giving up the old security blanket is not easy but if you are at the stage in your studies where you have begun saying; "I'm tired of what I play," or "I just repeat myself all the time," or "I sound like everyone else," this book is for you. You should find this exercise challenging but not complete. I want you to use your head.

Teachers do a great disservice to students when they tell them that; "This is how you play a Cmaj7 chord," and show him a garden variety voicing (which is usually 1-3-5-7 or 1-5-7-3-5 from the 5th string). As we learned in THE INFINITE GUITAR, there are 24 different ways to voice the chord, why would the most common one be the best? Why would you want to play it the same as 99.9% of all guitarists when you have 23 more choices? And believe me; you would be surprised what beautiful voicings there are for a simple major 7th chord. Remember when someone asked Jesus to give him food and he told the man that if he gave him a fish he would eat today, but if he taught him how to fish, he would eat everyday? That is exactly how I feel about chords. If I show you how to play a Cmaj chord, you will know one chord, but if I teach you how to build chords, you can make any chord your heart desires.

The following harmonic brain teaser will:

  • Help you to see the relationship between chords and scales better
  • Make you think up and down rather than across the fretboard
  • Expand your knowledge of chord voicings
  • Teach you to stretch you fingers
  • Give you a headache

We are going to start with a simple Gmaj7 chord voiced 1-3-5-7 from the 4th string:

There is nothing too challenging regarding this chord yet, but wait and see what happens. First we are going to move the notes on 3rd and 1st string down in scale steps (the G lydian scale) while keeping the notes on the 4th and 2nd strings the same, so B on the 3rd string will move down to A and F# on the 1st string will move down to E. Now we have a 1-9-5-6 voicing or a G69 chord. We turned a plain major 7th chord voicing into something pretty hip sounding.

Let's continue on by moving the notes on the 4th and 2nd strings down in scale steps. We'll be using the G lydian scale to do this. Here it is for reference.
By moving the G note on the 4th string down to F# and the D note on the 2nd string down to C#, we get a 7-9-#11-13 voicing, if we are considering our root G, we have a Gmaj13(#11) chord (imagine a bass player, playing the root).

Next it is the notes on the 3rd and 1st string's turn to move down in scale steps:

Are you getting it? Continue on then. Number 12 and 13 are left black. See if you can do it without my help (answers at the bottom):
All these chords are diatonic to the D major scale. In this case we used G lydian as our tonal center but any of the modal centers will work. Try these chords over an A bass note (mixolydian) or an E bass note (dorian) and see what happens. How about trying this technique over a diatonic progression in G.


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