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Chord Primer

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Proverbs 20:12 The hearing ear and the seeing eye, the LORD has made them both


Guitar method books often teach you to play thick, dense chords that don’t always work well in a band setting – or anywhere, for that matter. The fundamental reason for such voicings is that the guitar is being treated as a harmony instrument, not just a rhythm instrument. But in our context, we use the guitar as primarily rhythm, with other instruments adding harmonic richness.


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Pianists with classical training can also can find it challenging to know how to play in a consistent and helpful style in a band context, especially if they’re given only a chord chart or a lead sheet. Often, pianists will default to playing full, thick triads that can be muddy and unhelpful. Just as with a guitar, it’s helpful to think of the piano in terms of its function as rhythm, not only as harmony.

In a rhythm band context, chords can frequently leave out the third (more on that later). And especially for the guitar, chords can include small alterations that make them easier to play. Some of these altered voicings help to avoid muddiness in the lower registers.

The chord primer presented here is meant to be descriptive, not prescriptive. It describes how we play chords, not how they must be played. Hope it’s helpful!