Lesson 1d: Basic Chording Techniques
By Mickey Cochran
are the building blocks of songs...and, lay down the harmonic structure
of a song with harmony notes that support the melody. Chord playing
also is required when playing back-up to vocalists or other
Chords are built from musical intervals...that in turn, create a harmonic structure which denotes the key of the song.
instance, a major chord is built on 3 tones called a major triad. In the
key of C this consists of the scale intervals of 1 3 and 5. Or C, E
and G. With these three notes you'll have a C chord...with this type of
knowledge, you can build your own chords. For the G major chord, you
would have G, B and D...again the 1, 3 and 5 of the G major scale. This
is only the surface of how chords are built. I highly recommend that you
purchase a music theory book and do your own research...having music
theory knowledge will greatly enhance your learning process.
discussion of building chords, we'll also want to consider what are key
structures...this way, we'll be better able to determine which chord is
played within a song's context. Once you know the key of a song, you can
better find the chords yourself. For instance, in the key of C, there
are three common major chords: C, F and G...and, 90% of the time, these
chords will be all that comes into play. In genres such as rock, country
and bluegrass you usually only find that the 3 common chords, to an
individual key, would be all that you need to know. In jazz or
classical, there are many more passing chords. This type of music theory
will give you far more flexibility when you find yourself in a jam
session...where songs are called up out of the air of which you may have
never played before...with this music theory within your reach, you'll
find yourself easily adapting to most any musical setting.
Note from Paul: There is more information about how chords are made and how chords go together in songs in the following two pages:
Some of the information in those two resources "jumps" ahead of what Mickey is presenting in this lesson, but please consider bookmarking them as a reference as you proceed through this training.
In learning to play chords, you'll want to follow a few points of reference:
1. Take your time, and learn one chord at a time...
Memorize the pattern of where the chord falls into place on your
fingerboard. You'll want to be able to quickly put down the fingers all
at once...you do not want to place one finger at a time.
careful to use the very tips of your fingers...the fingers should come
down straight on the fingerboard so that you're not touching adjacent
strings. If you're touching adjacent strings, you'll have some dead
notes when strumming or picking the chord.
each chordal note directly behind the fret with the tip of your finger.
Do not play in between the frets...move your fingers all the way up
behind the fret being played. This ensures a clear note with good pitch.
5. Do not
add too much pressure when playing the note. If playing directly behind
the fret, you'll find it doesn't take too much added pressure to create
a clear note (if it does, your action may be too high).
Note from Paul: Our article Beginning Five-String Folk Banjo - Part One - Introduction to Banjo Chords explains some of this content as well, with a few more illustrations and a video you may find helpful.
Here are some major keys and the chords required to learn within that key:
Key of C: C - F - G Relative minor chord: Am
Key of G: G - C - D Relative minor chord: Em
Key of D: D - G - A Relative minor chord: Bm
Key of A: A - D - E Relative minor chord: F#m
chord positions will be taught in future lessons...this is only to give
you an overview of the many chordal positions ahead of you. By
memorizing one key structure at a time, you'll find it becomes easier
and easier as your progressively advance in your lessons. Notice above,
that once your memorize the key of C chords, that you've already learned
one chord for the key of G...and once you've learned both the keys of C
and G, you'll have two of the chords already memorized for the key of
D. Hence, do not become discouraged with what's ahead of you...you're
going to find that the learning process is cumulative and becomes easier
as you advance.
Some further Questions and Answers:
Date: Sat, 20 Mar 2004 09:49:54 -0800 (PST)
Subject: banjo chords
My name is Norm Bird, and I live in Indiana. I recently purchased a
five string banjo and am like a beginner again, as I had one 15 years
ago but gave up on it. Now, older and some wiser, am hoping to be able
to play it this time. I am having a terrible time with chords. D7
especially as I keep getting dead sounds and have read about hitting the
strings with fingertips only and not touching the others but still do
it. Any easy fix?
Chording can be quite difficult without personal instruction...there
are many things to consider in right hand placement before attempting
to play a chord on the banjo:
1. Make sure your thumb is placed behind the neck...not riding on the top...
2. Use only the very tip of your fingers when fretting...this will
help you avoid touching adjacent strings which gives a string a dead
3. Only push down the string, with the tip of your fingers, directly behind the fret...this ensures a clearer tone...
4. Practice playing one string at a time while chording to assist
you in isolating problems...each string should ring loud and clear...if a
string sounds dead, or is not ringing clear, focus on why...if you're
fretting the string, you may not be pressing hard enough and you may not
be playing close enough behind the fret...if it's an open string, one
of your fretting fingers may be touching the string which stops it from
emitting a clear tone...
From: "Notley, Mark E." <email@example.com>
Subject: Subject: banjo chords
Date: Wed, 9 Jun 2004 11:35:48 -0500
Hi, My name is mark. I live in Oklahoma & recently purchased a 5
string Banjo. I am having trouble getting my fingers to hit the fret
board at the same time when making a cord change. I visualize where my
fingers need to go before I ever start to make the change, but still I
place a finger on the lowest string first & kind of roll my hand
until the others are in place. No matter how much I concentrate on
trying to place them all at the same time, it just doesn't happen. Do
you have any suggestions on how I can teach myself to do it the correct
Yes, this can be a challenge when first starting out...there are a
few methods and exercises that may assist you in being better able to
grab a chord without losing meter...if you're attempting to teach
yourself, this can be an even further challenge to pursue...with a
personal instructor, this hurdle is easier to jump:
1. Visualize the chord in your mind...imagine yourself playing the
chord with all fingers in correct placement. This is part of developing
your mind to hand coordination. And, the best thing about this exercise
is that you can practice this anywhere at anytime. My suggestion would
be to consider a chord progression such as G to C to D...with four beats
each and then a shift to the new chord. With correct visualization, you
will be reinforcing your ability to play it physically later. This
exercise can be become a part of your future practice for other
progressions as you advance on your banjo.
2. This exercise would involve dissecting the chord without playing
it...in other words, you'll want to try playing the chord partially
building up to using all fingers at once. For instance, take the C chord
and play the E note only by placing the third finger on the 2nd fret of
the high D string. Now, repeat this over and over without placing any
other fingers. Once you're comfortable with this process, then start
with the first finger on the 1st fret of the B string and place it at
the same time as the third finger on the 2nd. Now, we're performing this
exercise without picking any notes...you now have a partial C
chord...and if you're performing this exercise correctly, you should be
placing the two fingers simultaneously repeatedly...over and over until
you do not even have to think about the process. Remember, in the effort
of performing this exercise, you'll also want to pay close attention to
the position of these fingers...of which should be as close to the fret
above them as possible. This will ensure a nice clear tone when picking
the chord. To finalize this exercise, we want to add the second finger
on the 2nd fret of the D string. Now, we have the entire chord
involved...and, we'll again want to repeat the exercise over and over
until it becomes natural...you will be focusing on placing on the
fingers in their respective positions simultaneously. Be careful to use
the tips of your fingers and to place the fingers directly over the
fingerboard as you perform this exercise. When placing these fingers,
you will not be rolling your hand...you will be essentially hammering
down directly above the frets...all fingers should hit their positions
at relatively the same time. Now repeat this exercise with other chords
within the progression you're working on...
3. After completing the above two exercises, you'll now want to
apply the right hand strumming pattern. Now, keep in mind, we're not
picking any notes individually yet...we only want to strum four
downstrokes on each chord. This is part of establishing meter and
ensures that you're not hesitating between chordal changes. Let's take
the G chord progression and strum four downstrokes with each
chord...moving on to the next chord after four downward strums...from G
to C to D. The focus here is to achieve this exercise without any
pauses...you will be keeping an even tempo counting to four on each
chord evenly and slowly. The idea would be to start as slow as would be
necessary to ensure that your chords are changing without any pauses.
Once you feel comfortable, you can speed up the tempo accordingly to
your facilitation with the chordal changes.
4. Now, the trickiest exercise of all: You now want to look away
from your banjo while practicing exercise 3 above. The goal here is to
become so comfortable with your chording hand that you do not even have
to look at the fingerboard while making changes. Once you can accomplish
this, you will be ready to apply banjo rolls to the chord progression.
Be sure to check out our Roll exercises, with the G chord progression, on the following page:
Keep on Pickin', Mickey
Copyright ?1999-2004 Mickey Cochran