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Chord Harmony Basics (Guitar Lesson)


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Chris Liepe

Chord Harmony Basics

Chris Liepe demonstrates how to take a key signature (the set notes within a key) and stack 3rds on top of a root note to form chords. With the help of a modulating backing track, this should be a fun and interactive lesson that will further your music theory training.

Taught by Chris Liepe in Basic Electric Guitar with Chris seriesLength: 30:02Difficulty: 2.5 of 5
Lesson 17:Chord Harmony Basics
This lesson covers how basic chords are formed: Take the key signature (the set notes within a key) and stack 3rds on top of the note. Then play the notes at the same time, or harmonically. These 3rds must be diatonic to the key signature. This determines whether a certain 3rd is a minor third or a major 3rd.

There's a vocab word: diatonic. This means that the notes that are played belong in the primary key signature of the song or line being played. So, if you are playing the notes G, A, B, C, D, E and F# while the song is being played in the key of G, you are playing notes diatonic to the key of G. The note "F" would be considered NON-diatonic, because it does not exist in the key of G.

When building basic chords, you must use ONLY notes that are diatonic to the key you are working in.

Quick One String Scale Review:
Take the key of G major. Stack a 3rd on top of G and you get B...a third on top of B and you get D. Play these notes together and you have a G major chord. There are other examples shared in the lesson. We go through the entire G major scale harmonization so you can see the shapes and process that is gone through to generate each chord.

After going through this lesson, you will find the supplemental article: "The Nashville Number System" very helpful. This article dives deeper into chord harmony and explains other common chord progressions in basic major keys.

Click here to view the article

About the backing track:
During the lesson, we discuss how to "number" chords for transposition and other purposes. I have provided a backing track that plays a I vi IV V progression in the keys of G, C, F, and D. The track modulates to each key.

There are a number of ways to use this track after you have gone through the lesson:

1.I have purposely NOT provided the chord names or TAB for this backing track. Since you know the keys that are being played in, and you know the number progression, you should not need any. Practice playing along with the chord progressions in the different keys throughout the track. You may have to use some barre chords, but for the most part, you should be able to use standard chords...nothing we haven’t worked on yet! It may take you a few times, but you’ll figure out the chords. When you do, this track becomes a great, musical chord workout. You can choose to play with the full track, or just do drums and bass so that you can provide all of the rhythm.

2. Again, since you know the keys and the progressions, practice playing your basic one-string scales over the track. Maybe use the version without any lead on it so your guitar becomes the "lead." Over the "G" section, play a G major scale. Practice playing the notes in different orders and develop simple melody lines using those scales.

3. When you listen to the full track, you’ll hear a "lead" guitar in your right ear. This lead stuff has been created using the material that was taught in my "Triads" lesson earlier in this series. This was played as an example of how to use those triads over this chord progression in various keys. Go back and review the "Triads" lesson and see if you can play each progression with only triads. You'll get a similar sound to my lead.

Have fun with this one, and let me know if you have any questions!

Video Subtitles / Captions


Member Comments about this Lesson

Discussions with our instructors are just one of the many benefits of becoming a member of JamPlay.


BradleyABradleyA replied on February 9th, 2017

FINALLY got through this lesson. Turns out I was making it harder than what it should have been. I had a lot of trouble seeing the 'new' triad shape (the 7dim) even afte stopping the video a number of times, but I was finally able to hear it as a b3 and b5. And learning the triads has been amazing. It's opened up the whole fretboard to me. Also, I'm now seeing the CAGED shapes, too.

BradleyABradleyA replied on February 11th, 2017

It would be helpful to show the tab for each of these harmonized chords in the supplemental content so everyone could see each type of shape, especially the dim7.

mookwaarmookwaar replied on May 4th, 2014

Nashville link not working for me either. Guess its meant to point to this http://members.jamplay.com/articles/read/92-the-nashville-number-system

AaronMillerAaronMiller replied on May 5th, 2014

I updated the link in the writeup section.

crosstourcrosstour replied on January 10th, 2014

The link to the Nashville Numbering System is broken and it doesn't seem possible to search articles.

haqzafhaqzaf replied on December 9th, 2012

Hi,Chris, I'm here on Lesson 17,important lesson learn chord formation.You said,"If you have two notes play simultaniously,Technically , it is called Harmonic Interval.In Power chords two notes are played and still it is called Power Chords.Is this a distorted mistake over time and no one correct it to call, Harmonic Interval. I'm repeatedly watching this lesson.

Chris.LiepeChris.Liepe replied on December 17th, 2012

yeah, you nailed it. Technically speaking, a power chord isn't truly a chord, but everyone calls it that anyway. I guess a power chord still has three notes but only two unique notes.

serlichmanserlichman replied on November 19th, 2012

Great lesson. Cleared up alot for me.

qubaquba replied on October 17th, 2012

Hi Chris, Thanks for a great lesson. I have some question though. So in a key of C why we called the IV chord F (constructed with F,A,C) as a major chord even though C is a diminished 5th interval of F? I could have understood it wrongly but I thought that for a major chord all thirds should be major 3rds?

BradleyABradleyA replied on February 7th, 2017

You're looking at the interval backwards. Intervals are based on the root, so the F is the perfect 4th of C (root). In a major chord progression, the IV and V are always major. In the key of C (which is the tonic or i), F and G are the IV and V, so they are both major.

harry9000harry9000 replied on July 24th, 2012

This was superb. This answered so many questions. A very valuable instruction. Great job explaining that. Now I have a better understanding about different keys and how they relate to each other.. Thanks Chris.

harry9000harry9000 replied on July 24th, 2012

This was superb. This answered so many questions. A very valuable instruction. Great job explaining that. Now I have a better understanding about different keys and how they relate to each other.. Thanks Chris.

3deeder3deeder replied on March 17th, 2012

Great lesson. Answered a number of questions that I was wrestling with.

jerseyfrankjerseyfrank replied on January 30th, 2012

Nicely explained.

hemantsachdevhemantsachdev replied on December 7th, 2011

Damn, I didn't think I was going to, but I think I get it..... Will probably have to watch the lesson a couple of times again, but thanks for making it understandable Chris. A lot of things make sense now from a theory point of view.

baileywbaileyw replied on March 2nd, 2011

thxx chris

tshipptshipp replied on November 30th, 2010

Question about the backing track. G, C, and D are all sharp keys but F is a flat key correct? Can you mix like that and have it still sound good or does it not matter?

Chris.LiepeChris.Liepe replied on December 3rd, 2010

it doesn't matter. it will sound just fine.

lewraylewray replied on December 1st, 2010

Another piece of the puzzle fell into place. Good lesson!

kantokanto replied on November 29th, 2010

Thanks for this great vid! I've finally understood the chord progression! Keep on good work!

Basic Electric Guitar with Chris

Found in our Beginner Lesson Sets

Chris will guide you through the world of electric guitar in this series.



Lesson 1

Introduction to Your Electric Guitar

Chris Liepe talks about the absolute basics of the guitar, including tuning, the guitar parts, and proper technique.

Length: 23:21 Difficulty: 0.5 Members Only
Lesson 2

Playing Your First Chords

Chris Liepe introduces you to your very first 2 chords, E and A. Since this is your first chord lesson, Chris also introduces a backing track for you to slowly play along with. Practicing in this manner...

Length: 28:54 Difficulty: 0.5 Members Only
Lesson 3

3 New Chords: Complete the CAGED Method

Here in lesson 3, Chris teaches the C, G, and D chords. Once you have mastered the chords taught in this lesson and the previous lesson, you will have learned the CAGED method of remembering open chord...

Length: 12:22 Difficulty: 0.5 Members Only
Lesson 4

The Basics to Tablature, Chord Charts, and Musical Notation

Chris is back with his most information packed lesson to date. In this lesson, you will learn how to read tablature, chord charts and musical notation. All of these tools will drastically help you in your...

Length: 25:38 Difficulty: 1.0 Members Only
Lesson 5

Introduction to the Concept of Scales

Chris Liepe is back in lesson 5 with an introduction to scales. In this lesson, you will learn how to play up and down simple scale patterns.

Length: 13:55 Difficulty: 1.0 Members Only
Lesson 6

Barre and Minor Chords

In this lesson, Chris introduces minor chords and barre chords.

Length: 25:23 Difficulty: 1.0 Members Only
Lesson 7

Strum Patterns and Time Signatures

Chris Liepe lays down some grooves in this lesson! He provides instruction on rhythmic strumming patterns and time signatures such as 4/4, 3/4, and 6/8.

Length: 21:12 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 8

All About Intervals

Intervals, Intervals, Intervals! Chris Liepe explains what they are, where they are found, and how to play them in this lesson.

Length: 14:07 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 9

Intervals Pop Quiz

Sharpen your pencils and grab your guitar. It's pop quiz time. Chris Liepe adds to his beginner lesson series with a quiz on intervals. This is a hands-on lesson that will undoubtedly improve your ears....

Length: 15:39 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 10

Triads: Everything You Need to Know

Chris Liepe breaks through his 10th lesson with a detailed discussion of triads. Dig in and take these triads for a ride!

Length: 24:14 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 11

Effect Pedal Mini Series

This lesson begins a mini-series on effects pedals. Chris breaks down routing and how effects work with each other.

Length: 8:20 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 12

Effect Pedal: Compression

The compression effect pedal is one of the most misunderstood pedals around. Chris Liepe finally sheds some light on the subject. By explaining all the different options and sounds this pedal can create,...

Length: 14:12 Difficulty: 1.0 Members Only
Lesson 13

Gain Stacking with Overdrive and Distortion

Chris Liepe is back with the 3rd installment in his Effects Pedal mini-series. He explains the concept of "gain stacking" by combining an Ibanez Tube Screamer and a Boss DS-1 Distortion pedal.

Length: 7:54 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 14

Effect Pedal: Delay

Chris Liepe adds yet another lesson to his effect pedal-mini series. Here he covers the delay pedal. This effect that operates on the principles of time and rhythm. Use this pedal to add depth to your...

Length: 19:52 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 15

Effect Pedal: Chorus

Chris Liepe quickly demonstrates the chorus pedal with some 80's style licks. This pedal can create a deep and rich addition to solos or add the illusion of multiple guitars.

Length: 3:28 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 16

Understanding Key Signatures

Key Signatures! How do they relate to one another? Chris Liepe explains them in lesson 16 of his beginner series. Getting familiar with your key signatures will help pull everything together that has been...

Length: 15:21 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 17

Chord Harmony Basics

Chris Liepe demonstrates how to take a key signature (the set notes within a key) and stack 3rds on top of a root note to form chords. With the help of a modulating backing track, this should be a fun...

Length: 30:02 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 18

Technique Basics: Alternate Picking

Chris explains and demonstrates the very basics of alternate picking. He also provides simple exercises to develop the technique in your own playing.

Length: 16:03 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 19

Technique Basics: Legato Playing

Chris details and demonstrates the fundamental movements and suggested left hand position for legato playing -- specifically hammer-ons and pull-offs. He also provides exercises for developing the technique.

Length: 16:11 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 20

Technique Basics: Palm Muting

Chris talks about proper palm muting and discusses potential snags when first attempting the technique. He offers a number of exercises and patterns to help palm muting become a part of your rhythm playing.

Length: 9:22 Difficulty: 1.0 FREE
Lesson 21

Technique Basics: Hybrid Picking

Hybrid picking can add a fresh dimension to your chord and rhythm playing. In this lesson, Chris briefly covers how to get started with hybrid picking and offers two exercises that you can use to apply...

Length: 6:27 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 22

Major Scale Positions in G (Part 1)

Chris talks about what it means to play in position and teaches three of the five "CAGED" major scale positions in the key of G.

Length: 12:44 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 23

Major Scale Positions in G (Part 2)

Chris continues in his teaching of the five basic "CAGED" major scale positions in the key of G.

Length: 11:39 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only

About Chris Liepe View Full Biography Chris Liepe was born on September 17th, 1981 in Portland OR. His first instrument was piano which he pursued until discovering his love for the electric guitar in high school. He became fans of such groups as Soundgarden, Collective Soul and U2 inspiring him to start singing, songwriting and helping others in their musical endeavors with teaching, co-writing and album production.

Having moved to Colorado with his family, he began gigging, recording and teaching in a number of music stores as well as out of his apartment until deciding to pursue music full time. He moved to Denver, CO to complete a Bachelors in Music Technology and was then hired on by Sweetwater Productions, a division of Sweetwater Sound and one of the largest, most successful recording studios in the Midwest.

Chris spent nearly 4 years at Sweetwater as a producer, recording engineer, studio musician and writer. During this time he had the privilege of working with many artists including Augustana, Landon Pigg, Jars of Clay, and Mercy Me. He also wrote for and played on numerous independent albums and hundreds of radio/TV commercials.

Wanting to get back to his favorite State in the world (Colorado) and feeling the urge to 'go freelance', Chris moved to Greeley, CO and opened his own recording and teaching studio. He continues to write and produce music for artists and agencies and is happy to be among the proud JamPlay.com instructors.

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