And Then There Were Five

“Guitar George, he knows all the chords. But he’s strictly rhythm; he doesn’t wanna make it cry or sing.”

Guitar players get a bad rap, especially beginners and those stuck at or near the beginner’s stage. Three-chord strummers. That term would refer to the three major chords (I,IV, and V for music theorists) that will get you playing many songs.

Shortly after I began playing the guitar, I discovered that there are really only five chords in all of fretdom. From the web site here they are, illustrated nicely:caged1.gif

The small case numbers are for your fretting fingers: 1-index, 2-middle, and 3-ring. (Actually, I quibble with the i-love-guitar people on forming the A and G major chords, where I’m a big promoter of using the pinky, but that’s fodder for another post.)

Every other chord is a variation on one of these five themes. Lower the third and you get minor chords. Playing barre chords is just moving the E and A up and down the neck and getting in the right key.

Take that nasty B7 chord, one of the first four-finger chords any good guitar player will need to learn:



It’s just a variation on the C major chord. Drop your fingers down one fret (lower a minor second) and add the 7th and 5th notes. Easy.

So if you’ve had to run home crying because those organ or chant bullies accused you of being a three-chord wussie, take heart. Be sure you know your five chords. Learn your music theory and how to add the extra notes you need to wow your friends with sus 2 and sus 4, diminished, augmented, major and minor seventh, ninth, thirteenth, six-nine chords, and all the fun stuff.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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4 Responses to And Then There Were Five

  1. Gavin says:

    Just get a C-A-P-O and you’re in good shape, I suppose!

    Reminds me of a poster I saw: “The Rammones Guitar Chord Chart” which had A, E, and D.

  2. cacofonix says:

    Good post.

    One might even argue that the A is a variant of the G, although that might be a bit of a stretch (in more than one sense).

  3. Cantor says:

    Todd, I gotta disagree here. The only resemblance between a B7 and a C major is two fingers, and only in relation to each other (i.e. not to the nut/capo).

    And especially when you get into diminished and half-diminished chords, augmenteds, 6/9 chords ….. guitar chording becomes something of an art unto its own.

  4. Hello. Jamey from I Love Guitar here. I built another page to show the linear cycle for C Major. Forms, indeed, share borders.

    The new lesson is here…

    I am also a fan of fingering G using 3, 2, and 4, yet not all beginners can get this at the start. Some can, others struggle, but once they get it, they tend to prefer it.

    It’s interesting that B7 is one of two MODS that sneaks in behind it’s origin. Yet, this is because of the flat 7, and the open B string. F# is the other one (behind the origin G form), but we have to add the 9 (G#), and you can leave the B open as a sus4.

    Scales work in a similar way, and I’ve lined them all up here…

    Scales wrap around (fill in) chord forms. Chords are hollowed out scales.

    Let me know what you think. Thanks, Jamey

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