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Beginning Guitarist's Guide To Extended Chord Voicings

By Edited Apr 11, 2014 0 0

You're here for one of two reasons.  Either you're bored to tears with major and minor chords and are looking for some new sounds.  Or you're looking at a chord progression and wondering what the heck Bbm7(#11) means.  Let me show you how to read those symbols and give you some simple fingerings for the most common extended chords.

Chord symbols and music notation in general are just the instructions of how to play the music.  Right now you're learning to read this stuff a little bit at a time, just like when you learned to read books in second grade.  Take it one step at a time and you'll be able to master it quickly.

All chord symbols follow this format: Root - Quality - Extensions

That first letter is the root note of the chord.  It's simply one of the regular 12 musical notes we have.

Next you'll see a quality marking.  A lower case "m" means minor.  If there's nothing then it means the chord is major.  You might also see "dim" which means it's a diminished chord or "aug" which means it's augmented.

Examples:
Gm = G minor
G = G major
Gdim = G diminished
Gaug = G augmented

The last part of the symbol will be the extensions.  It can contain a sharp or flat, and the numbers 6,7,9,11, or 13.  The numbers are the interval above your root note.  So if you need a 9th above G, simply start on G and count up 9 notes, arriving at A.  Make sure to count the G, your root note, as "1".

Try a few examples:
6th above C
11th above E
9th above F
13th above A

Answers: A, A, G, F

7ths are rather important, so let's discuss those by themselves for a minute.  A "7" by itself means a minor 7th.  "Maj7" means major 7.  I bet you figured that one out.  Using G as the root, your minor 7 is F and the major 7 is F#.  The easiest way to remember is that the major 7 is a half step (one fret) below the root.  The minor 7 is a whole step (2 frets) below the root.

Example:
G7 = G major, minor 7th - G B D F
Gm7 = G minor, minor 7th - G Bb D F
Gm(maj 7) = G minor, major 7th - G Bb D  F#
Gmaj7 = G major, major 7th - G B D F#

The other extensions - 6,9,11,and 13 will be the note that naturally occurs in the scale according to the key signature. 

Example - Key of G Major
6 = E
9 = A
11 - C
13 - E

Example - Key of E Major (which has 4 sharps in the key signature)
6 = C#
9 = F#
11 = A
13 - C#

Notice that the 6 and 13 are the same.  If your chord includes a 7th, then the extension will all be above that: 9, 11, and 13.  If there's no 7th in the chord, then it will use 2, 4, and 6.

In addition to the regular extension note, as in a chord like Dm9, you'll sometimes see additional extension notes inside parentheses.  Take the big ugly example of F#m7(#11).  That is an additional note added on to the chord and sometimes modified with a sharp or flat. 

Let's pull apart this example of F#m7(#11) and figure out the notes as we go:
F# - root note - F#
m - quality of the F# triad (regular 3 note chord) - F#  A  C#
7 - adds a minor 7th - F#  A  C#  E - remember the minor 7th is a whole step below the root
#11 - adds a sharp 11th - F#  A  C#  E  B#

It's also common to see this chord written as F#m7(b5)

A simple fingering for this chord is
-----
--1--
--2--
--2--
--x--
--2--

You'll notice the C# was left out of that voicing.  In extended fingerings the 5th is often left out.  Particularly here as the B# and C# would be very clashy.

Here's some simple fingerings for some common extension chords you'll run across.  Though I'm giving you a fingering with a specific root, these are all moveable chords, just like your regular barre chords.

C9 - root note on the 5th string
--3--
--3--
--3--
--2--
--3--
-----

C6 - root on 6th string
----
--8--
--9--
--7--
--x--
--8--

C13 - root on 1st string
--8--
--8--
--7--
--7--
-----
-----

C7b9 - root on 5th
-----
--2--
--3--
--2--
--3--
-----

Remember that your chord symbol is a set of directions to play the chord.  Take it one element at a time and you'll be able to construct any chord you need.  Good luck!

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