I thought I’d share something I call The Capo Common-Tone Chord Concept with you in this month’s article. This is something I use with great success to get new guitar students ready to play music quickly. In my role as worship director at my church it’s been an indispensable tool in getting new guitar students up and running on the worship team. The first chords most guitarists learn are G, C, D, and Em. In the key of G, these chords cover the 1 – 4 – 5 – 6m chords that are found in most folk, pop, and rock songs.
After I teach these basic chords, I usually teach my students a special voicing concept for G, C, D, and Em that is used more widely in the music they really want to play. After that, I show them how to use the capo and suddenly they’re able to play a lot of music in a lot of different keys! One of the things that used to frustrate me as a guitarist is when I would buy a piece of sheet music only to discover later that the guitar chord diagrams don’t show that actual chord voicings that are being played on the original recording of the song! That frustration worsened if the song was in a non-friendly guitar key like Ab, Bb, or B. Even if I learned how to play a Bb barre chord, it never sounded like the guitar in the original recording. I knew something else was going on that the sheet music wasn’t telling me. It was only when I discovered this common-tone chord concept that I learned what was actually happening! Here’s how the Capo Common-Tone Chord Concept works:
- Place your 3rd and 4th fingers (fretting hand) on the 1st and 2nd strings at the 3rd fret as shown in the diagram below (circled in red). These two notes (D and G) are the “common tones” that will remain the same for all 4 chords.
- Since the 3 & 4 fingers stay in the same place for all 4 chord shapes, the 1 & 2 fingers are the only fingers to that move. Look at the 1 & 2 fingers in the G chord. Notice how they move one string over to create the Cadd9 chord. Very simple movement!
- To make the Dsus4 chord, the 1 & 2 fingers split on either side of the 2nd string (like they do in a regular D chord).
- Finally, the 1 & 2 fingers land on the 5th & 4th strings to make the Em7 chord.
How to apply this concept: Let’s say your chord progression is Em – C – G – D. Try playing the common tone voicings instead of the basic chord forms. For instance, if you see a C chord in your chart, play the Cadd9 voicing instead. When you see D, play the Dsus4 instead. If you come across a C2 (Csus2), the Cadd9 is going to sound great. This approach might drive a music theory purist crazy – but to most ears all these voicing are going to sound great. Try it! In the diagram below, I show you how to easily change the G chord into a G5, a.k.a. G(no3), by removing the 1 finger. (The 5th string gets muted by the 2nd finger.) Now, move the 2nd finger over one string and your Cadd9 becomes a legitimate Csus2 because the 3rd of the chord (that was previously played at the 2nd fret of the 4th string) is now muted. I love the jangly sound of those treble strings! But wait! There’s more! Arming yourself with a capo, the guitarist’s top accessory (behind a tuner of course), enables you to use these common-tone shapes to play in at lease 5 more common keys! No more going into cardiac arrest when you’re called upon to play a song in Bb (or Ab, B, etc.)! Just slap your capo on at the 3rd fret and play your common-tone shapes! Try this experiment: Play the following chord progression using the basic open Key of G shapes - C – G – Em – D. Try playing the same progression substituting the common-tone shapes. Now put your capo at the 3rd fret and play those same shapes. You’re playing C – G – Em – D shapes, but sounding Eb – Bb – Gm – F. I’m betting both you and your students will love the sound of the common-tone chords and find the concept very, very useful, especially when transposing. When first learning this concept, it may help to write your transposed chord shapes over the existing chord names in your chart. After a while, you’ll begin to recognize them and you’ll no longer need to write them in…you’ll be able to transpose in your head! In my next post, I’ll expand this concept to include some inversions. Read more…