You don’t need me to tell you that chords are an essential part of learning to play the guitar well, and I’m willing to bet you probably don’t spend as much time with them as you should. So apart from having a solid teacher, what else can you do to improve your chord knowledge and vocabulary?
Here are three solid resources that have given me a great insight into chords over the years:
1. Chord Chemistry by Ted Greene
This is an absolute essential and will most likely blow your head off for a few years but keep going back to it and you’ll be rewarded with a deepening insight into chords and their inner workings. Ted leaves no stone unturned in this chord book and despite the sheer amount of wisdom there is here, it’s communicated in a logical, straightforward way. Here’s a quick lesson on one of the very first concepts I remember learning from this book. It’s incredibly simple but it at the time I remember it was like a chordal epiphany. Download my lesson below.
2. The Guitar Grimoire: A Compendium of Guitar Chords and Voicings
If you’re going to learn something as expansive as chords then you’re going to need a reference book. This is to be used in a way you would use a dictionary to check the meanings of new words when learning a new language. You won’t want to sit down and try to learn everything in this book cover to cover, unless you’re a complete masochist, but what you will want to do is take the chords and voicings from the songs you’re learning and see the possibilities. Chords tend to stick in the mind when they have a musical (memorable) context so use this exhaustive reference to find alternate voicings and ways of playing progressions you already know.
3. Al Di Meola - A Guide to Chords, Scales and Arpeggios
Although this book also includes scales and arpeggios, what I really love is the chords section. It’s very well thought out and the clever sequencing of chords aids the memorization process. There are also precise lesson plans to follow and even a strict order for learning the chords (more than you’ll ever need) and it’s surprising how quickly they start showing up in your playing.
The Big Idea
I mention the above three resources because they all help to build up the bigger picture which is how chords work. Learning a ton of shapes certainly won’t do you any harm but there will come a point when you get stuck and will need to transition into learning how chords work and how they are constructed so that you can also leverage this perspective and incorporate it into your playing. The big idea then is not to learn thousands of chord shapes, but to learn the tools to be able to access and come up with thousands of chord shapes on the fly.