A question we often get from beginner guitarists is, Where are the chords in classical guitar music?
Sometimes when we learn other styles of guitar, like folk music, we learn popular chords that come up in many places in music. These chords have distinct shapes (and left-hand fingerings) and so if someone were to ask you to play a C Major chord, that shape is almost universally known and easy to play. In classical music, we also have these same chords. However, we don’t always have them in the same recognizable shapes as in these other styles.
Take C Major for instance. If I play CEGCE (from 5th to 1st string in that order) then you’ll recognize this familiar C Major chord. On classical guitar, we will still see C Major very often, but in different permutations, with notes in different orders. For instance, if we remove the high E on the first string, then we have the notes CEGC —that’s still C Major. Likewise, were we to play only the top three notes of that chord, CEG, we’re still playing C Major. In fact, even if we take out the bass note and leave only EGC, that’s still C Major. It’s just that we’ve reorganized the notes. But we still have all of the notes from the C Major chord.
The reason a composer might use some of these different permutations of C Major, or other chords, is to create different sounds and colors. It’s like the way we might use different shades of blue to paint the sky or water. In this way we get a lot of variety of harmony, just as we do in other styles, but we might not see the same familiar chord shapes.
What we’re really talking about with chords on classical guitar is triads. Triads are three notes organized in a particular way, rather than specific shapes, to form a chord. When we reorganize or jumble up the notes of the triad we’re using what are called chord inversions. We’re also talking about chord voicings, which is intentionally selecting certain chord inversions to create certain sounds and connect notes together.
So where are all the chords on classical guitar? They are everywhere. But they’re not repetitive, so they’re somewhat elusive to tie down to a particular shape.
We hope you enjoyed this look at chords on classical guitar. We have many more lessons just like this at CGC Academy. We hope you’ll Join CGC Academy today!