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How To Make Impressive Music With Rich Harmony Without Music Theory Or Bar Chords

Lesson By Daniel Bainbridge

In this guitar lesson, I want to share something that is so stupidly simple, but effective at creating amazing harmony, that you can use right now to express new emotions in your music immediately.

Just to preface the lesson, although it is written towards beginner songwriters on guitar, there is a lot more to be said about writing harmony on any instrument, if you are interested in understanding how music works to write highly expressive music, write to me at  Back to the lesson.

A lot of beginner guitar players I have encountered blow off the possibility of songwriting, and for those who try, many find themselves uninspired by the sound of the basic open major and minor chords that are a staple when first learning to play guitar.

With one little adjustment to these chords that you may already be comfortable with, you can enter a whole new world of possibilities with harmony and your songwriting.

The basic idea is this, if you take an open major or minor chord shape and move the entire shape of the fretted notes, the open notes that remain in your new chord will create new harmonic choices far beyond the major and minor chords.

To demonstrate, let’s look at an E minor chord 

E minor.jpg

In this example, both fingers are on the second fret. What would it sound like if we moved these two fingers to the 7th fret? What about the 9th fret? And other areas of the fretboard?

A simple shift and immediately, the feel of the harmony completely changes.

Have a listen to this four-chord progression I have made playing;

  1. The original E minor chord

  2. E minor fingering shape on the 7th fret

  3. E minor fingering shape on the 10th fret

  4. E minor fingering shape on the 9th fret

Click the play button to listen

E minor shape 4 chord progression.jpg

The result is really cool and you can use various techniques to make this sound absolutely mind blowing such as strumming different rhythms, playing each of the notes of the chord one at a time or a combination of both, to name a few.

Below is an example with a very basic arpeggio, playing the lowest four notes of each chord ascending (going from thickest string to thinnest string) and then the highest four notes descending (going from the thinnest string to the thickest string).

Click the play button to listen

E minor shape arpeggio.png

For this lesson, if you are a beginner, do not worry what the names of each chord are and do not worry about memorizing the chord names. The sound and feeling of what you create is the highest priority for now.

So that you can get a taste of some of the harmonies you are playing, here are the names of the chord. I repeat you do not need to learn these or memorize them. After all, “Like an E minor played on the 9th fret” is a lot easier to teach your friends for jamming than “G major 7 with an E in the Bass”.

E minor shape chord names.jpg

Experiment with different open chord shapes and different positions on the fretboard and when you find something that you like, simply record the audio/video and/or TAB out the notes like I have above so that you do not forget how to play them or lose your ideas!

One more example, let’s look at C major this time.

C chord.png

So, remember we are going to take the shape of all the fretted notes, then move them up the fretboard to make new harmonies.

To make it easier to follow I am going to talk about the shape in relation to the 3rd finger on the fretting hand that will be playing the second thickest string (the bass note of the chord) in these examples.

Have a listen to this four-chord progression I have made playing;

  1. The original C major chord

  2. C major fingering shape on the 5th fret

  3. C major fingering shape on the 10th fret

  4. C major fingering shape on the 9th fret

Click the play button to listen

C major shape 4 chord progression.jpg

And again, I will use the same picking pattern as in the previous example, except as this is a 5-string chord my first 4 notes will be played one string lower than the previous example.

Click the play button to listen

C major shape arpeggio.jpg

My personal favorite part of this progression is during the 3rd shape where the C major chord shape is being played on the 10th fret. The melody created has the 3rd note of the melody (the open G string) lower in pitch than the 2nd note even though the string is thinner, which might be something unusual for your playing.

For the listener, this makes the melody sound a lot more complex than simply going straight up and down as now the melody jumps around a little bit.

Do whatever works for you and is good to your ear, you want to be paying more attention to how it feels and what you enjoy to make good music rather than the names of the chords.

Otherwise, you will be rattling your brain trying to understand the chord names and why they work as shown below. It is not so fun when you are first starting out with songwriting to get bogged into an “F sharp minor 7 add flat 9 without the 5”. What a mouthful!

C major shape names.jpg

So a quick recap of how to use these ideas;

  • Take an open chord and move the fingerings to a new fret position

  • Experiment and discover new harmonies and chord progressions that you enjoy

  • Utilize other techniques such as strumming, arpeggios and changing rhythm to enhance the progression

  • Mix and match these new harmonies with chords you already use

If this article was helpful to you, I would love to hear from you and listen to what you come up with! You can email

About The Author

Daniel Bainbridge teaches songwriting lessons for guitar locally in Albany, Western Australia. He is the owner of Guitar Lessons Albany, specializing in contemporary electric guitar lessons for all skill levels. Be sure to contact Daniel if you are interested in furthering your musical development.

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