I always enjoy taking simple ideas that students already know and framing it in a way that is useful and can be easily implemented. Most players know chords and basic shapes, as well, as triads but rarely ever think of using them as fuel for soloing ideas.

Sometimes when you view something as simple as chord shapes you may think that there are inherent limitations, but actually there is a gold mine of useful ideas. One would never just strum chords for a solo but by breaking up the notes and rearranging them or playing just one or two and connecting them on the fretboard can be a real eye opening experience

When I refer to chord shapes or chord runs you could also think of them as triads as well. Chords and triads share the same common core with chords having extensions beyond the root, third and fifth construction. Let’s look a four string chord shape structure for Major, Minor and Diminished. These are a triad with an octave root note.

Ex. 1. The best way to practice these would be in half steps, whole steps, minor thirds as well as around the cycle of 4ths and 5ths. Now let’s condense the structure but add a 7th to now make minor 7 and major 7 chord structures:

Ex. 2. The one way to connect these structure is through a shift on the 7th and then slide to the root to the next structure. This provides a gateway to mobility across the fretboard.

EX. 3. We can also take advantage of diatonic neighbor notes as a way to connect these structures and create a fluent line. This blurs the structures inside of a line but creates tensile strength relevant to the harmony being played over. In this example we can look at three different ways to apply this.

EX. 4. There are ways to also use pentatonic structures that are more like sus chord shapes as well giving you a more open and intervallic sound. The Structures here are Amin7 sus 4, Dmin7 sus 4 and the last form can be a C Major sus 9 inversion staring on the G.

EX 5. I have been a fan of stacking structures on top of each other and seeing what types of results I can get. In the next example we take D Min7, A min7, F Major 7 and C Major 7 structures. There is no limit to what structures you can stack together and experimentation can yield some interesting results. If you are looking for a way to get away from diatonic ideas this is one way to do so from structures that already may be familiar to you.

EX. 6. Of course let us not overlook the actual chord shapes that we all know and love! Major and minor 7th, and literally any other form can be used and makes a more interesting way to stay with the changes. It’s also easy to branch out into other ideas and resolve lines back to key centers or related harmony. This example outlines the chords C Major 7, F Major 9, D Minor 7 and resolves to a line based on G7.

EX. 7. There are so many other chord shapes that can be used. Try exploring with these various chord shapes and try them in different musical situations. Static and two chord vamps are great and then building out to three and more chords is ideal for fully exploring the concept.

These can be used as a way to build dense harmonic lines that can also serve to outline a chord progression or add upper harmonic structures. Have fun exploring chord shapes and as always – Stay True, Stay On Fire. – Joe Pinnavaia


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