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Guitar Lesson: Improving Chords

I like to play acoustic without a pick, and these are two of the best songs from the 60s and 70s.

Guitar chords - 10th intervals

Some of the best sounding guitar pieces from the 60s and 70s can be played with 10th intervals. These are like mini chords, stripped down to the bare essentials:

  • Interval names are formed by counting up the notes of the major scale
  • In the key of C, notes 1 and 8 are C (root note and octave note)
  • Beyond note 8, the names repeat
  • Note 9 will be D, note 10 will be an E
  • So the notes C and E are a 10th apart
  • You can add the open 3rd string, G as a drone note that will work well with all the intervals.
  • Play only strings 5, 3, and 2 - the strings you have a fingered note on, and the open 3rd
  • Fingerpicking works best, thumb for the bass note, maybe first three fingers on the middle strings
  • Strumming is OK with care, and you can mute strings with left hand.

Guitar 10ths in the key of C


Playing the chords

Each chord interval has been named with the names of a C harmonised scale. My other hubs have more info on music theory and harmonised scales. Really, these are just approximate names, as chords really need a minimum of three notes, 1, 3, 5 for a major chord and 1 b3 5 for a minor chord. The numbers refer to intervals, the distance travelled between notes in the major scale. If this is new to you, check out the piano keyboard as it is easier to understand most music theory on the keyboard. The approximate chord names will help in using this info in other songs and different contexts.

  • It will really help you to remember the interval pattern if you know the following sequence, which works for all major harmonised scales:
  • Chords 1, 4, 5 are major
  • Chords ii, iii, vi are minor
  • Chord 7 is a m7b5
  • Chord patterns are generally in groups of 2 identical shapes, two frets apart.

A Case of You

One of the best songs written by Joni Mitchell, A Case of You works very well with 10th intervals. Originally the main part is on dulcimer - playing the guitar part this way retains some of the drone sound of the dulcimer. Essentially, it's an arrangement of the song, not the way it was originally recorded.

  • First line shows an example of 10th intervals in a chord progression
  • This is like Simon and Garfunkel's Feelin' Groovy, and any number of songs.
  • Then, starting on the second line, the shapes you can use for A Case of You
  • Last three chords on line 3 - after the ascending progression, just reverse the chords in a descending sequence.
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Chords for A Case of You


Guitar 10ths in key of G


Guitar 10th intervals in the key of G

These interval shapes can be used to play Blackbird, by The Beatles. Again, the open 3rd string (G) can be used to fill out the sound with a drone note.

Practical uses

These chords can be used in any other songs - the 10th chord C is often a lot better sounding than the standard first position chord, partly because of the sustain from open strings. If you play this shape with another guitarist playing the common-or-garden C it will really sound great. As a general rule, if you play with a second guitar, try to use different inversions and voicings of chords, for instant good results.

  • In general, three note chords will have more clarity than larger chords with 5 or 6 strings
  • Also good for connecting chords, partly because you can make the changes faster
  • Can be used to achieve a more classical music style on acoustic guitar, some voicings sound like J.S. Bach
  • Voice - leading is better, that is the chord progression will sound more coherent and flow better.

Joni Mitchell Complete So Far

This book is so good, it's virtually a musical education. Essential reading for guitarists, pianists, songwriters. Especially interesting for the multitude of special tunings used on Joni records. There are some inaccuracies, but in general you can learn so much from this book.

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