How to make difficult chord shapes easier to play

(Image credit: Tim Mosenfelder / Getty)

Complex chords can contain lots of notes, sometimes as many as six or even more. This can make playing them quite a handful! 

Here’s the thing: top players only play the most important notes. If you’re playing, say, a Dm11 chord (D F A C E G), it’s surprisingly not all that important to play the root note (D) - that’s because the bassist is probably already playing it. There’s also little point in playing the 5th (A) as the ear tends to fill in this common sound naturally. 

Instead the F, C, E and G notes (3rd, 7th, 9th and 11th intervals) should be your focus as they provide the true character of a minor 11th chord. This approach allows you to create interesting parts without tying your fingers in knots.

Steely sound

This example features some complex chords but you’re only going to play three notes at a time - the band will take care of the rest. On Dm11 you’ll play the b3rd, b7th,and 11th initially, before adding in the 9th. For our C11 shape you’ll play the b7th, 9th and 11th.

Red Hot chord partials

John Frusciante is a master of playing just the notes that matter. Like this example, he was inspired by the funk guitarists of the 70s. It uses just the chord’s b3rd, b7th and 13th intervals, while the bass and keys flesh out the rest of the harmony.

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