Getting Through The Gig – Negotiating A Chord Chart Part 1

In the previous surviving the gig post, I talked about some memorization skills that can help get through gigs that require learning a lot of tunes.  In this series of posts, I want to focus on how to get through gigs that may have unfamiliar chord changes.

In this post, I’m going to be discussing how to interpret chord symbols and then developing some short cuts for how to generate chord voicings on the bandstand as it were.  If you are already familiar with how to read chord voicings – you may want to skim this and just go to part 2.

There will be a lot of detail over these posts for how I’m doing what I’m doing, but once you get the concept under your belt.  It should be something you can do on the fly if need be.

As an example, I’ll be look at part of a chart Rough Hewn touch/stick/Warr guitarist Chris Lavender sent to me, called 232

(232 © Chris Lavender 2011 used with permission)

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First Step – Know what notes the chord symbols are asking for.

It’s not that hard to figure out chords if you know what the symbols mean.  Here are some general shortcuts for chord types beyond triads.  There are only 3 basic categories that we’ll look at: Major, Minor and Dominant:

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Major

(Sometimes designated by “major”, “maj” or a triangle)

Any type of major chord always has a major triad (Root, 3rd and 5th) plus a major 7th in the full chord voicing unless it states otherwise.  If a chart has any type of C Major chord variation (C Major 7, C Major 9 or C Major 13)  –  the voicing has a C, E, G and B.

Note:

When removing notes from any voicing the 5th is usually the first to go (unless it’s altered like #5, or b5).

The initial short cut is: any major type chord starts with (1,3, 7) or (C, E, B) in the key of C.


Minor

(Sometimes designated by “minor”, “min”. or “-” )

Any type of minor chord always has a minor triad (Root, b3rd and 5th) plus a b7th in the full chord voicing unless it states otherwise.  If a chart has any type of C Major chord variation (C minor 7, C minor 9, C minor 11 or C minor 13)  –  the voicing has a C, Eb, G and Bb.

Note:

When removing notes from any voicing the 5th is usually the first to go (unless it’s altered like #5, or b5).

The initial short cut is: any minor type chord starts with (1,b3, b7) or (C, bE, bB) in the key of C.


Dominant

(Sometimes designated by “dominant”, “dom”. or no designation

i.e. “C7”, “C9” or “C13” refers to a dominant chord unless otherwise stated)

Any type of dominant chord always has a major triad (Root, 3rd and 5th) plus a b7th in the full chord voicing unless it states otherwise.  If a chart has any type of C dominant chord variation (C 7, C 9, C 11 or C 13)  –  the voicing has a C, E, G and Bb.

Note:

When removing notes from any voicing the 5th is usually the first to go (unless it’s altered like #5, or b5).

The initial short cut is: any dominant type chord starts with (1,3, b7) or (C, E, Bb) in the key of C.


Beyond this, you just need to add in additional pitches based on what the voicing indicates.

Here’s a chart that relates all of the potential chord tones that you might see to a scale degree for quick reference.

Putting the chart to use:

The first chord in the 232 chart is a C major 9 #11.  As a reminder – any extended C major chord will have C, E, G, B in the full voicing.  Since it’s a C major 9, a 9th – which in the chart above is a D – will have to be added.    The #11 means an F# will get added to the voicing as well.  This brings the full voicing to (C, E, G, B, D, and F#).

Again, the only time you would probably play a full voicing is for a solo guitar or perhaps a duet performance.  In the next post, I’ll discuss how to extract what you need to get through the chart.

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Second Step – Know some chords

When I went to Berklee, I was advised that I should learn at least 2 chord voicings for any chords that could be put on a chart in front of me.  These stock voicings are typically low E or A string rooted (as it helps with visualization) and are the default voicings that you would use if you were sight-reading a chart.  These typically include triads, Major /Minor / Dominant chord 7th, 9th, 11th and 13th chords.

While this is, generally, useful advice, I should state for the record that while I did the initial memorization required for school proficiencies – I quickly forgot the majority of voicings I wasn’t using all the time. Learning every inversion of every possible 7th, 9th, 11th and 13th chord on multiple string sets will take YEARS.  For some people, it’s the best method, but it never worked that well for me.

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Once I understood how chords worked, I never bothered to memorize many specific voicings above a 9th chord because I found some shortcuts to get the sounds I needed.


Note:

This is not to say that you should be lazy.If you follow through on the suggestions that I have – you should plan on learning triads and 7th chords at a very deep level (i.e. you should have the goal of being able to play any triad or 7th chord in any inversion in any position).

(more on how to do that in a future post)


I hope this helps!  In the next post – I’ll simplify the 232 chart with some harmonic shortcuts.

While digesting this – I’d recommend you take some time to work on your chord inversions.  If you’re unfamiliar with them you may want to check out the D major inversions I’ve posted below, and adapt this process to minor triads (just flat the third – F# and make it F in the examples below), and 7th chords (major, dominant and minor).

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(The following is adapted from another post (Recycling Chords Part II: Triad Transformation).

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Thanks for reading!!

 

-SC

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Note:  D major is used in the following examples instead of C major because the original post dealt with transforming triads.  Each note of a 1st position D major chord can be lowered to another note on the fingerboard, without using open strings.  In other words, each chord is a moveable voicing on the fingerboard. The following should be adapted to C major and other keys as necessary.

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The first step to adapting voicings is to make sure you can visualize triads both horizontally and vertically across the fingerboard.

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Horizontal (i.e. positional) Visualization

Here’s a series of  D major chord inversions in the 2nd position.

Helpful Tip

As you play through these voicings pay particular attention to which chord tone each finger is on (i.e. for the first D Major chord voicing – the first finger is on the 5th of the chord (A), the third finger is on the root (D) and the second finger is on the 3rd (F#). More on this later.

Here are the D major inversions in the 5th position

and in the 10th position.

Vertical Visualization

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Note:

the important thing with both the horizontal and vertical voicings is knowing where each chord tone is located in the voicing.

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One way to practice this is to play through the chords and stop at random points and ask, “where is the root?” “where is the 3rd?”  “where is the 5th ?”  This has to be full internalized to be able to realize the goal of instant chord tone identification.


4 thoughts on “Getting Through The Gig – Negotiating A Chord Chart Part 1

  1. What a beautifully designed and extremely helpful lesson you’ve provided for guys like me. I can play enough jazz to play at a wedding but certainly not enough to play a gig with jazzbos. I’ve only skimmed over part I of negotiating a chord chart, and have already learned some valuable info on playing chords that look like a math equation.
    I’ll continue to check out this valuable source for players who can play some sophisticated changes, but could use some help in navigating through them much more quickly.
    Thank you for providing this help!

    Rick Gordon

  2. Thanks Rick!

    When posting anything – I approach it from the standpoint of information I wish someone would have presented to me. So I’m glad it’s helpful. Part 2 will likely be of good use to you as well.

  3. This is extremely helpful. Thanks so much for this lesson. There’s a couple other symbols I come across – a small circle, and that same small circle with a diagonal line through it. I think those are diminished and half-diminished, respectively, correct?

    • Hi Scott,

      Yes you are correct. I prefer to see m7b5 in a chord chart rather than the circle with the line – but to each his own.

      Here’s a neat trick I copped from Pat Martino (An the whole thing that got me thinking about the transforming triads approach I posted on –

      If you have a diminished 7th chord and flat any note by 1 fret – that note is the root of a dominant 7 (i.e. 7th ) chord

      If you have a diminished 7th chord and sharp any note by 1 fret – that note is the 7th of a 1/2 diminished (i.e. min7b5 ) chord.

      Really useful tips for voiceleaing a I-IV-V blues.

      Thanks for reading. I’m glad this helps!

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