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Mobile Chord Forms for guitar I

Prepared by Alan Humm

Once you are familiar with the general run of root level chords, it is time to move on the mobile chords that can be played anywhere on the neck. These are sometimes called 'orchestral forms,' presumably because guitarists who played in the big bands had to be able to handle any key. If you are stuck on the nut, you will have a problem with that.


notes on the fingerboard
Notes on the guitar fingerboard.

The truth is, if you have been getting familiar with your nut-position chords, you already know most of the orchestral forms. But there are two hurdles you have to get past. First, you will need to get comfortable with full barre chords, if you are not there already. I gave alternate fingering on the regular nut position of the F chords that require full barres. This is just a matter of practice and building your strength, but it is an essential step for your future on guitar. At this point, you should just pick a fret and run your index finger behind it completely. Press hard and try to get all the notes to sound, one at a time and then all together.

1 If you already know your notes, or at least how to figure them out, you can go ahead and jump to the next page now.

The second major hurdle is that you need to learn the notes on the neck,1 particularly the bottom two strings (of course, if you learn the sixth string, you will have the first string under your belt as well). To the left is a chart of the neck with the note names labeled.

2 Actually, my guitar doesn't have any dots below the fifth fret. Classical guitars usually don't have any dots at all!

The green dots should correspond to the dots on your guitar neck (although sometimes the first dot is behind the second fret, rather than the third).2 Already thinking about giving up? It is not as hard as it looks, you just need to learn the pattern. At first you will be just using that pattern to find the notes; later you will be familiar enough with them jump to them without thinking. Baby steps.

Let's start with a piano keyboard, because it is easier to see what is going on there (you don't have to be familiar with the piano, and you definitely do not need to be able to play it). Once you see what is going on there, it should be pretty easy to translate it to the guitar fingerboard. Just remember, that musically, it is the same thing.

notes on the keyboard
Notes on the piano keyboard.

The piano keys are connected to note names, just as with the frets in the guitar chart above. But you probably noticed a couple of things. First, there are only seven note letters, repeated over and over. Second, it isn't a simple arraignment of white-black-white-black all the way up. There are no black keys between the Es and the Fs, or between the Bs and the Cs. Now look at the guitar fingerboard. You can see the same pattern. Most note names are two frets apart, except the Es and Fs, and the Bs and Cs.

When you do get the black keys (or the fret locations that are left unlabeled on my chart), we name those notes with reference to the notes around them. The black note just to the right of F is called F♯ (F-sharp). That corresponds to the fret just above the F on the guitar fingerboard. The same note is just to the left of the G on the keyboard, and just below it on the fingerboard, so we also call that note G♭ (G-flat). So, if someone tells you to find C♯, you start by finding C, and then slide up one fret.

If you can't find C, you start at the bottom (you know that's an E) and count up, remembering to jump a fret between most notes, but not between the Es and the Fs or between the Bs and the Cs. That will get you to the seventh fret, then you slide up to the eighth fret for your C♯.

3 You can read my discussion of the physics of harmony from my Music Theory series if you are anxious to get a more technical explanation.

No surprise, the next string over works the same way, except that you start counting from A rather than from E (after all, it is the A string). As for there only being seven letters, the distance from one letter to the next one with the same name is called an octave. If you play two notes an octave apart, you will immediately hear that they sound like the same note (kind of); it's just that one note is higher than the other. That is why there are multiple notes with the same name-they are the same(ish).3

Looking at the fingerboard you should observe that the notes start this octave repetition on the twelfth fret (where the two dots are). This always the case. You should also notice that most of the notes on the sixth string are also on the fifth string (exactly the same notes. If we count octaves, then both strings have all notes). I told you to look for a C♯ on the E string. If you do the same thing on the A string, you get to it sooner (the fourth fret).

At this point, we want to move on to the next page to figure out how this is going to help you with the mobile chords.


© 2013 Alan Humm