22 October 2008

Easy Chord Memory Exercise

This week's not playing guitar exercise helps you to build your note and fretboard knowledge. It's an idea I got from Intermediate Blues Guitar, a tutorial book and CD I started working on last week. This neat exercise is in the chapter on musical theory, and I extended it to help learn the fretboard as well.

The exercise requires a little knowledge of the major scale and how chords are built from it. You should at least know how chords are constructed using the root, third and fifth notes of the scale.

I don't have space to explain all that here, though. The Intermediate Blues Guitar book does a sound job of demystifying this if you want to learn. You might also like to check out Music Theory for Guitarists which is a good reference for all your questions on music theory. You can also get a brief introduction to chord theory from this Cyberfret article.

So, on with the exercise...

The Basic Exercise

You can do this one with a scrap of paper and pen. If you don't have those handy you can do it in your head, too, but it's harder to check your answer later. You'll have to trust yourself not to cheat.

1. Choose a chord, I'm going to use A major as an example.

2. Write down the chord name and follow it with 1, 3, 5. Leave a little space between the digits you're going to write in there at the next step.

3. Write in the names of the 1, 3 and 5 notes in the spaces you left at step 2. Here's what your piece of paper looks like now:

A 1 - A, 3 - C#, 5 - E

4. Return to step 1 and repeat for other chords.

Each time you do this exercise you help to reinforce your knowledge of chord notes. If you keep it up for a while you should be able to name the root, third and fifth notes of any chord instantly without thinking about it.

Going Further

The basic exercise is already helpful, but you can take things further. Once you've identified the three notes at step 3, try to find them on your guitar fretboard.

Use the chord shapes you know to help you and identify where the notes occur in that shape. Note that often one or more of the notes may be repeated. Pay attention to which notes occur on the bass string, the highest string, and how the notes in between are arranged.

You can identify where the notes occur for all the forms of the chord that you know. If you don't know different chord forms yet then now is the time to discover some for yourself by finding where the three notes occur close together on the fretboard.

I'm sure you'll find this very simple exercise helps to effectively memorize chord notes and locate them on the fretboard. Of course you don't have to stop and the root, third and fifth. You can do the same for all those exotic chord extensions, 6, 7, 9, 11, 13, etc. chords so you learn even more notes and their fretboard positions.

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