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Guitar Chords and Keys Lesson

Updated on January 1, 2022

Guitar - friendly keys

Certain keys suit the guitar, mainly based on whether the open strings will fit the harmony or not. The key of G is very widely used, because it brings out the ring and sustain of open strings. Typical jazz keys such as F will keep the sax player happy, should you be lucky enough to have one, but they don't really inspire the best in a guitar part.

The guitar friendly keys are the sharp keys such as G, D, A and E. Although the key of B isn't that common, in many ways it's great for open string chords as the E and B strings will add chime to most chords in the key.

If you want to play in a Guitar-Friendly key you can use a capo to transpose into other keys. James Taylor songs are a good example of this in action.

An example would be using the capo at fret 2, and playing chords in D.

D to E is a 2 fret interval, so now those chords will sound in E.

Key of G

A song in the key of G will use three major chords and three minor chords, or a selection from the list.

  • Major chords - G, C, D or D7
  • Minor Chords - Am, Bm, Em
  • Maybe chord vii, F♯m7b5
  • In order: G, Am, Bm, C, D, Em, F♯m7b5
  • If you want to write your own songs, and there's no law against it, use this set of chords.
  • It's nearly always an improvement if you convert minor chords to minor 7th chords.

Guitar Tab, harmony ideas in the key of G

Guitar Tab

Line 5 shows the G major scale on the 3rd string of the guitar. You can use this scale for playing melody lines or for improvising with the given set of chords in the key of G. These chords are called diatonic, meaning that they are constructed with just the notes of the major scale.

As the open strings B and G (2nd and third strings) are both part of the G major scale, I'll often add these notes to any chord voicing to add a bit of sparkle and interest. Try Am7 with the open G in the middle, then slide this shape up 2 frets.

Line 1 shows a Van Morrison style riff. Pattern 1 repeats five frets higher.

Line 3 shows a tenth interval harmony reminiscent of Blackbird by The Beatles.

Line 4 shows the same concept, but now alternating with an open G note.

All examples of using the open strings on guitar to get a nice full harmony that sounds great without too much effort. Experiment with combining these approaches together.

Reading guitar tab

See my other hubs for more detail on reading guitar tab. Here are some hints:

  • Lowest line of the tab is the thickest string, E, string 6.
  • Top line of tab is the highest string, also E, string 1.
  • Fret numbers are shown - a vertical stack means it's a chord.


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