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Invaluable Robben Ford Guitar Lessons on Chord Selection and Comping

These 7 free guitar lessons are from Robben Ford’s Chord Revolution: Foundations. Don’t let the “Foundations” word in the title fool you into thinking this is a beginner course. It’s far from that and in many ways, it may very well be the most advanced course you’ve ever studied. Yet, so simple to grasp and start applying immediately. It’s here in Chord Revolution: Foundations that Robben reveals the underlying logic — the Foundation — of his signature approach to chord selection and comping.

Thirds (Overview)

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We are looking at a G major triad and the scale that runs through it. We’ve learned that we can harmonize that major scale, and we have all these chord voicings within the context of a major scale. They have names. Tonic, two chord (second chord), three chord, four chord, five chord, six chord, seven chord, one chord. So we have G major scale, all these wonderful triads. Now we don’t have to play all three notes of the triad at once to define the chord. We’re not locked into it. I want to talk to you a little bit about thirds. It’s referred to as thirds because we’re playing tonic and third, and we keep that relationship between those two notes.

Throughout the major scale you can play thirds. I’m just playing a vamp, G to E minor. There is so much you can do with just those two notes. Also, basically, with just a G major scale. Everything is flat out G major and you want to learn how to play these all over the guitar. This is something that should not be difficult for you – To learn how to play these little third voicings all over the guitar. There are certain things you really need to know how to do. You should really learn how to do this. Just like you should learn how to play the pentatonic scale all over the guitar, just walking all over the guitar. You really need to know about thirds. They are a simplified version of a triad. It’s the same activity, just broken down.

Thirds (Demonstration)

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I’m going to play for you a vamp that we’ve created based on the four chords that are used in the solo section of a song of mine called “Freedom”. It is a series of four chords. C major 6, E minor 7, A minor 7, and B minor 7. We just play those over and over again. Now this is the four chord in the key of G. This is the six chord, minor six chord. Key of G. The two chord in the key of G, the three chord in the key of G. It’s the G major scale. That is our harmonic information.

Now we’re going to be playing in thirds. Basically, I’ll just use thirds throughout in a comping manner, a supportive role. Not soloing, and I’m not going to play bigger chords. They’re being covered by the acoustic guitar. So I’m just going to be doing nice little thirds throughout and so you have the basic scale. Play it in thirds. You want to be able to play these thirds all over the guitar. So you’ll see me moving around the guitar a lot playing thirds in different positions. Nonetheless, I’ll slip every now and then and play something else, but all the thirds of the G major scale. Even though there’s four different chords here. C major, E minor, A minor, B minor. I can play straight through all of those chords with the G major scale and I’ll do that in thirds.

Major Triad Inversions on Low Strings (Overview)

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I will now talk about chord inversions. Basically what we’re doing is inverting the notes of a fundamental triad. These are all triads. We’re going to move now to the key of E and we’re going to invert the three notes of a basic E triad. Triad is tonic or root, third, and fifth. That’s your basic triad. First step of the major scale, third step of the major scale, fifth step of the major scale. I’m going to play this voicing, for E. This is root, fifth, and third. Some of you might find this a little bit awkward, because I am indeed damping the D string, and I’m not playing the two above. We’re going to invert those three notes. I’m going to put the third in the root, the tonic here, the fifth above. Now we’re going to put the fifth in the root, third, and the tonic above.

Now all three of these are E major triads. The notes are not changing, they’re simply being inverted, moved around and displaced. They’re a little further apart in certain cases than they were with your basic triad, they are still E chords. This allows you to do things differently than whatever else is happening around you. You want to move up, so this is the function of different chord voicings. You have a different voicing, because it’s appropriate for a certain situation. You want to hear the fifth in the root. You want to hear the third in the root. These things are important to create a sound and give you a whole other dimension to the pallet of the music that you’re playing. I’d really like to ask you to learn how to play these things. Those are your basic chord voicings. Start on the low open E string, moving up to a third, fifth, and the root, then I play the octave above that. These will expand and can be played all over the guitar in many different ways. Just understand the concept that you’re not playing a different chord, you’re still playing E. You’re just playing it with a different root note chosen from your basic triad, displacing the notes. And again, you want to learn how to do this all over your instrument.

Major Triad Inversions on Low Strings (Demonstration)

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Let’s just take those first two chord voicings. Takes you very nicely to the key of A. That chord voicing is serving a function. It’s taking you some place. The bass note is moving up, and it leads you, beautifully to that A triad. You could do that. This is a perfect way to move around the guitar. You are your own bass player, basically. Particularly that E to A thing should serve you pretty well. We’ve also included all of the other chord inversions in chart form with all the string groups. You’ll be able to see all these triads played in myriad different ways all over the fingerboard.

Sixths (Demonstration)

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We’re going to do a vamp now on the chords for “All Along the Watchtower” as performed by Jimi Hendrix. I’m going to demonstrate the usage of sixths in this particular example. The song is in B minor, but the chords being B minor, A, G, B minor, A, E minor. What we’re playing here is the six chord of the key of D, five chord of the key of D, four chord of the key of D, two chord of the key of D. Technically this song is in the key of D. That’s your harmonic information, the D major scale. We just happen to be playing this song beginning on the minor six chord. Five chord, four chord, two chord, are the only chords we’re using out of the harmonized D major scale. It has a particular sound to it that way. It’s still the D major scale, but we’re using it in a different way. I’m going to try to demonstrate to you the use of sixths doing this. I have a tendency to be all over the place when I play the guitar, so it’s hard to rein myself in. Every now and then I might play something that I didn’t mean to play. Here we go. Once again, it’s all D major information, harmonized D major scale, all over B minor.

Creative Comping Choices

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Here’s an example of some creative comping choices.

Dig these Chord Revolution: Foundations guitar lessons? Download Robben Ford’s Chord Revolution: Foundations for much more including tab, notation, and jam tracks!