Reading Chord Boxes

Recently, I've been posting a series of chord boxes on my Instagram feed in a series I'm calling 'Chord of the Day'.  Go check it out if you haven't done so already.

I've had questions from a few people asking how exactly chord boxes are read, so here is an explanation.

  1. The title indicates the name of the chord.
  2. The strings are ordered (from left to right): 654321 or EADGBe.
  3. A thick line on the top of the chord box represents the guitar nut and indicates that the chord is played in the open position (frets 1-4).
  4. Black circles on the diagram tell you which frets and strings to play.
  5. Numbers inside the black circles indicate fretting hand fingerings.
  6. An 'X' on the top line indicates that a string should not be played.
  7. An 'O' on the top line indicates an open string that is played.
  8. Numbers may appear on the left of the chord box to indicate fret numbers to help identify where on the fretboard the chord is played.
  9. The notes within the chord may appear below the chord box.

I have a free PDF handout to download here.

Learning The Fretboard - Octave Shapes

Octaves are super useful when you want to learn the notes on the fretboard and they are used a lot in many different genres.  In the video I will show you all the octave shapes that exist on the fretboard. 

I cover the following:

  • What an octave is;
  • How many frets make an octave on one string;
  • An octave on adjacent strings (e.g. string 6-5) and how that changes across the string pairs;
  • An octave shape skipping over one string (e.g. string 6-4) and how that changes across the string pairs;
  • An octave shape skipping over two strings (e.g. string 6-3) and how that changes across the string pairs; and
  • A two octave shape between strings 6 and 1.

Chord of The Day - How to Play Loads of Different F Chords

In this week's Chord of the Day I wanted to present to you all the different grips we can use for the F chord and its possible substitutions in the open position, incorporating both additional fretted notes and open strings. 

An F chord is formed with the notes F, A and C. We can play a simple triad shape across strings 4, 3 and 2. If I replace the A note on string 3 with the open G I create what is called an Fsus2. Adding an open string 1 to these shapes creates an Fmaj7 (commonly used by beginners to replace an F chord) or Fmaj7sus2. 

I can fret notes on string 1 to create a mini-barre F chord when pressing into fret 1 with finger 1. Grabbing the G note on fret 3 with the pinky finger creates an Fadd9. I have another Fsus2 if I add the open string 3 to this grip. 

As you become comfortable with these shapes and your technique develops you can look to add extra notes to the lower strings. Adding a C note on string 5 creates a series of slash chords (in which F is considered the root note but the lowest note we play is a C).

The final stage is to try and add an F note on string 6 using the thumb over the top of the neck. This allows you to play chord grips with open strings, which will not be possible with a full barre F chord. 

Finally I'll show you how to play the barre F chord. I find it helpful to think about an E chord shape being formed in fingers 2, 3 and 4, with finger 1 acting as a capo to press across all the strings. This one takes time but little and often is the key to getting this sounding clean. 

How to Play 'Run' by Daughter

Here's a recent song lesson on 'Run' by Daughter.  This was the B-side of the band's single 'Smother', although the version I cover is an acoustic demo version that was suggested to me by a viewer.

This song uses the bass note strumming pattern that I introduced in my previous post. You can find the tabs below.  Click on the image for a .pdf to download.

How to Play 'Talkin' 'Bout A Revolution' by Tracy Chapman

Here is another classic strumming tune.  The opening cut to Tracy Chapman's debut album has a great tied strum and a repeating chord progression that sounds awesome.

The challenge here is when the chord change occurs on the 'up' strum in each measure (namely the G to Cadd9 and the Em to D).  Take your time with it, and make sure your strumming hand never stops moving! 

The chord progression and strumming pattern throughout the song.

The chord progression and strumming pattern throughout the song.

How to Play 'Hey Ya!' by Outkast

'Hey Ya!' is an absolute classic of a tune, and it's one that I often get out for students to work on a tied strumming pattern at a fast tempo.

It was presenting this to a student last week that prompted me to come up with the idea of a new series of videos for my YouTube channel, entitled (very unoriginally I know) 'Strumming Songs'.  This will be a series of songs that have one or two chord progressions with beginner chords but a great vibe to them.  There'll probably be lots of tied strumming patterns going on.

Below is a copy of the chord progression to download.  This is the progression throughout the song (although I still can't decide whether the E chord becomes an Em sometimes).

Good luck with it.

How to Play 'Sense of Home' by Harrison Storm

Here is my new song lesson on how to play 'Sense of Home' by Harrison Storm.  This was a request from one of my viewers, Danny.  This song has been added to my growing collection of fingerstyle songs that can be found on my YouTube channel.

You will find the tabs below.  Click on the image for a .pdf to download.

'Square Hammer' by Ghost Playthrough

I was asked by a Skype student to look at the main riff to the new song by Ghost, 'Square Hammer'.  I love the band and the song, so decided to transcribe the whole thing and upload a playthrough video.

The band has two guitarists, and so I wanted to perform what I think are the two parts, with solos.

The official video for the song can be found below.

How to Play 'Low Life' by Jamie N Commons

Here is my new song lesson on 'Low Life' by Jamie N Commons.  This was a request from one of my subscribers, Shaun Gimbitt.

There is a lot of chord embellishment in the original version with hammer ons and sus chords.  My lesson here presents the chord progressions and then a 16th note strumming pattern that closely resembles the feel of the song.

You will find the chord progressions below.  Click on the image for a .pdf to download.

How to Play 'Boulevard of Broken Dreams' by Green Day

Here's a lesson from my archives on how you can play 'Boulevard of Broken Dreams' by Green Day from their hugely successful 2004 album 'American Idiot'.

The main verse progression is particularly interesting as, with the chord fingerings I suggest, it allows us to work on the idea of anchor fingers.  This is when we are changing chords and one or more fingers stay in exactly the same position as we change chord.  With some focused practice, this can really help us with the speed of our chord changing.

You can find a song sheet with the chords and lyrics here.

How to Play 'Skinny Love' by Bon Iver

Here's a tutorial from my archives on how to play 'Skinny Love' by Bon Iver. Tabs can be found below.  Click on the image to download a .pdf.

I based my transcription on the original recording and this live performance:

The song is from Bon Iver’s 2007 debut album ‘For Emma Forever Ago’.  In the original recording (and when played live) the song is played on a resonator guitar.  I am using my trusty Yamaha folk guitar with steel strings.  I would definitely recommend steel strings for this.  Avoid doing it on a classical or electric guitar.

The guitar is tuned to an open C tuning (i.e. the open strings give the sound of a C major chord).  The tuning of the guitar though is slightly lower than the notes that I tell you to tune to.  That’s why it might sound pretty horrible if you tune to 440 Hz and try to play along to the song.  Have a listen to the song and reference the open C chord if you want to try and make the adjustment to play along to the original. 

To get into the tuning for the song, you need to do as follows:

E (string 6) tunes DOWN two tones/whole steps to C
A (string 5) tunes DOWN a tone/whole step to G
D (string 4) tunes UP a tone/whole step to E (always be careful when tuning strings up!)
G (string 3) STAYS the same :o)
B (string 2) tunes UP a semitone/half step to C
E (string 1) tunes DOWN two tones/whole steps to C

Note that both strings 1 and 2 are tuned to the same note.

There is a pretty consistent tied strumming pattern throughout the song, but we are in a shuffle feel here.  Simply put, if we are strumming 8th notes down and up, the down strum is longer in length than the up strum.  You can split the beat into a count of 3 (or triplets).  You strum down on the 1 and back up on the 3 count.

Win A Free Skype Lesson With Me

To celebrate a year of making YouTube videos and just passing 5,000 subscribers, I am offering three subscribers a free 30-minute Skype lesson.

To enter, click on the 'Skype Competition' page on my website menu and fill out the Gleam entry form.  Make sure you subscribe to my YouTube channel and give me a question for my upcoming Q&A videos.  That's it!

For more chances to win, you can follow me on Twitter and visit my other social media pages.  Also don't forget to share the competition with friends to further increase your chances.

Good luck and I'll be Skype-ing some of you very soon!

How to Play 'We Don't Believe What's On TV' by twenty one pilots

Here's my latest song lesson and it's another tune by twenty one pilots.  This is how to play 'We Don't Believe What's On TV' from the band's 2015 release 'Blurryface'.

You might know their huge song 'Stressed Out' but there's a lot more great music by the band to check out.  It's so difficult to place what genre the music is, but I like it!

This is a ukulele song so I'm using the capo very high up the neck, which can make some chord grips and changing tricky.  The real challenge here though comes with the strumming patterns.  We've got some fast, 16th note rhythms for the majority of the song, which is pretty demanding. 

I hope you enjoy it.  All the chord progressions can be found below.

How To Strum Your Guitar FAST - 16th Note Strumming

A strumming pattern can give a song its iconic sounds just as much as any riffs or chord progression.  In many cases the rhythm of the song is THE main hook for our ears.  For this reason it’s important that we’re confident with how we play and understand complicated strumming patterns.

I have introduced a lot of what I call 16th-note strumming patterns in my song tutorials without discussing the technique in any great depth.  This video lesson will hopefully correct that and help you understand more what I’m talking about.

I’m assuming that you are familiar with the basics of rhythm and the subdivision of a measure into its different rhythms, from whole through to 8th notes. 

To recap briefly, with 8th notes we are strumming down on the beat (which we call the downbeat) and up in the gaps between the beat (upbeats) and this rhythm was counted “1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and”.  From this we are able to create many different strumming patterns, but only on the basis that the strumming pattern does not contain any notes quicker than 8th notes.

8th note strumming (D = Down Strum, U = Up Strum)

8th note strumming (D = Down Strum, U = Up Strum)

Famous strumming patterns often have busier strumming patterns with more than 8 notes in the measure, so let’s consider what’s going on.

To add more notes to our measure we must strum the 8th notes all down.  This then creates an additional two up strums to every beat.  How we count these is with an ‘e’ and an ‘a’, so we are counting ‘1 e + a 2 e + a 3 e + a 4 e + a’.  We now have 16 notes to every 4-beat measure, and we name these notes 16th notes.  Note from the look of them that they are similar to 8th notes but we add a second beam between the notes to show them as 16ths.

16th note strumming - 4 strums per beat

16th note strumming - 4 strums per beat

The key to success with any 16th note strum is to NEVER let the strumming hand stop moving.   I cannot stress this enough.  To practice this you first have to be confident with strumming 8th notes all down along to a beat.  Then try strumming once on the beat but keep the strumming hand moving in the 16th note pattern.  This might feel odd initially but it is key to be successful with this technique.

Finally you can go ahead and strum all 16th notes along to a beat.  To ensure that you are not mindlessly strumming up and down, add a little accent to the first 16th note of every beat to make it clear to yourself and the listener where the beat is.

Once you’ve mastered this, you’re in a position to try some strumming patterns.  Like 8th note strumming, the exciting rhythms are creating by sometimes hitting and sometimes missing the strings, because remember…we NEVER let the strumming hand stop moving.

As with everything, you need to work with a metronome and take your time.  Perfect practice makes perfect.  The second your strumming hand stops moving stop and start again.  You can also chunk longer rhythms into one or two beat sections, building it up bit by bit.

How To Move Chord Shapes - My Awesome Chord Trick

Here is a guitar lesson on an idea so awesome in its simplicity.  Have you ever wondered why chords sound different as we move them up and down the strings sets?  Now I don’t mean the pitch, more the quality of a chord (major/minor etc).  Why if I have an E shape chord and move that down a string don’t I have an A chord?

We have a problem with the tuning of the guitar, but with a couple of simple rules I will show you how to get around that and be memorising your chords and learning new chords in seconds.

The first simple rule is, when moving a chord shape down towards the floor any note moving from string 3 on to string 2 must be raised one fret.  So looking again at my E chord, if I move that shape down my first finger is on string 2 and that note must be raised by one fret, and then I have myself an A chord.  If I continue down to try and play a D chord, I’m in the second fret on string 2 and that has to be raised a fret. It’s that simple!

Going in the opposite direction, the opposite will be true. and we have our second rule  So any note moving from string 2 onto string 3 must be LOWERED by one fret.  

This is how you can radically accelerate your learning of chord shapes on the fretboard.  This rule will also apply to scales, arpeggios, triads and any other pattern you find yourself playing.