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Chord Nerd Tip #3: Adding a Fourth Note to the G Shape

Posted by Banjolio on Wednesday, November 6, 2013

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In my last post, I said that open G is a great tuning for chording, and gave the 1-4 string swap as an example. The swap is possible because strings 1 and 4 are tuned to the same note (an octave apart). This tuning also makes it very convenient to add a fourth note to major or minor chords, and expand them into 7th or 6th chords.

Just a little theory …

Major chords have the 1, 3 and 5 of the major scale. Here are the notes and numbers of a G major scale:

1   2  3  4  5   6   7   8/1
G  A  B  C  D   E   F# G

  • A G major chord has the 1 (G), 3 (B), and 5 (D) of this scale.
  • A G major 6 chord, a.k.a. a G6, adds the 6 (E) to the G major chord (1, 3, 5, 6).
  • A G7 (a.k.a. dominant 7) adds a flatted 7 (F) to the G major chord (1, 3, 5, b7).
  • A G major 7 adds a 7 (F#) to the G major chord (1, 3, 5, 7).

Now look at a G major chord played in the three major chord shapes: (These are all G chords because of the fret they’re on, but these closed shapes can be moved up and down the neck to make any major chord.)

Disclosure: I like to call these three shapes G, E and D. Some like to call them G, F and D. Others call them Barre, F and D. Since any of these shapes can make 12 different major chords, you can call them anything you want. I like GED … it has a good ring to it.

The important—and useful—thing here is that each shape has a doubled note on the first and fourth strings. In the first shape, there are two fifths. In the second shape there are two roots. And in the third shape, there are two thirds. So, to turn any of these major chords to a chord that needs four notes, start by changing one of the doubled notes to the additional note. That way you’ll have all four notes of the chord. If it’s not possible, then you can sacrifice one of the other notes ... but that’s for another lesson.

Today, we’ll look at the G shape, which has two 5ths. A 5th can easily be changed to a 6th (for a 6th chord), a 7th (for a major 7th chord), or a flatted 7th for a dominant (or plain old) 7th chord. In the diagram below, I’ve marked your options.

  • To make a 6th chord, raise either of the 5s to a 6. You have two choices because of the 1-4 string swap covered in a previous article.
  • To make a 7th chord (the regular, plain old 7th, a.k.a. dominant 7th), raise either of the 5s to a b7.
  • To make a major 7th chord, raise either of the 5s to a 7.

So, by adding one note—just one finger—you can turn a G major chord into a complete, four-note 6th, 7th, or major 7th chord—in fact, into two versions of each chord. And, of course, you can barre the major shape with your index finger and move it up the neck to become any major chord, and then add the extra note.

So, if you understand this, you just learned 72 new chords … more if you barre above the 12th fret. If you don't understand this, then I didn't explain it well enough, but just ask and I'll clarify anything you need. Thanks!

Michael Bremer is a writer, editor, publisher, banjo player and chord nerd. He is writing and publishing the Banjo GED series of instructional materials, and also writes for Hal Leonard.

Banjo GED #1: Chords! Chords! Chords! teaches you everything you could ever want to know (and more) about playing chords on a 5-string banjo in G tuning.

Banjo Aerobics (written by Michael Bremer, published by Hal Leonard) is a book of exercises to help you gain technique and better understand the banjo neck, and includes Scruggs-style, Seeger-style, Clawhammer, Strumming, single-note playing and more.


11 comments on “Chord Nerd Tip #3: Adding a Fourth Note to the G Shape”

Garbageman5678 Says:
Monday, November 11, 2013 @12:02:54 PM


Fathand Says:
Monday, November 11, 2013 @12:36:55 PM

If you play the G barre shape and add the first string at the 1st fret you get a 5th# and will create a G augmented chord but you will want to avoid or also add the 4th string at the same fret.

The G Augmented chord is also a B Aug and a D# aug. As you move the barre up the neck, you create 3 Augmented chords at each fret.

Guy Says:
Monday, November 11, 2013 @1:26:21 PM

Play a straight G, then Fathand's augmented, then G6, then follow that with a G7 gives you a great way to play Buddy Holly's classic, Raining in my heart. Incidentally, I fret both the 1st and 4th string for this, try it, it sounds great!

blindLucky Says:
Monday, November 11, 2013 @6:41:51 PM

My my so simple and yet so overwhelming. Be nice if I knew everything but then I'd be a know it all :)
Explanation, in my opinion, superbly done.
Dad always said " I taught you everthing I know and you still don't know it all." Mom always called me a know it all.
appreciate your content and look forward to all your contributions...

zevio Says:
Monday, November 11, 2013 @8:10:55 PM

with regard to the naming of the shapes, it would make sense to call the shape by the string that the root note of the chord is on eg Root 4 major shape (R4) or Root 3 (R3). This reinforces the importance of the root note and tends to conceptually open up the neck. Thanks for the great lesson - kewep em coming

Ronny Says:
Tuesday, November 12, 2013 @4:21:31 AM

Michael, a nice addition to your book. What does a.k.a. means.

Kat Eyz Capos Says:
Tuesday, November 12, 2013 @5:20:10 AM

Also known as = AKA

Banjolio Says:
Tuesday, November 12, 2013 @8:24:17 AM

Thanks for the nice comments ... and you guys answer most of each other questions, too. What a great, sharing community.

Garbageman567: If by D tuning, you mean f# D F# A D, then ... yes ... sorta, because strings 1 and 4 are the same note. The open D shape has two roots (D), so the next shape up the neck (4354) will have two 3rds and the next (7887) will have 2 5ths. Looking at the open shape, you could raise one of the Ds way up the neck to make a 6th or 7th .... Or, if you barre this shape up ... say on the 3rd fret for now (and F chord), you could lower either of the roots (strings 1 and 4) by one fret to make a major 7, by two frets to make a regular 7th, and by three frets to make a 6th.

Maybe I'll do a book or a lesson on D tuning if there's enough demand.

Fathand: Absolutely right. Raise both (it has to be both) of the 5ths to get that augmented chord. I didn't mention it in this article, 'cuz I was concentrating on 4-note chords, and augs are 3-note chords, but it's worth mentioning because it's ... well it's right there.

Guy: Also, G, Gaug, G6, G aug over and over is the intro to Brazil. Love Hurts has a nice passage (G, Gaug, Em ) using the G aug to go from G to E minor (which is a G6 with no root--see my earlier lesson on my favorite chord shape). It works the other way, too: G6 (or Em) to G aug to G).

blindLucky: sometimes I wish I knew it all ... but the discovery is part of the fun. If you know it all, there's nothing left to discover.

zevfink: good naming strategy! It could also be named by the "bass note," the G shape has the 5 as the low (bass) note (3B), the E/F shape has the root or 1 as the bass note (1B) and the D shape has the 3 as the bass note (3B). But I already have a few books printed, so I'm sticking with G E D for now.

Ronny: Thanks!

the.hogman: Thanks!

GlennWillard Says:
Wednesday, November 13, 2013 @12:28:08 AM

Thanks Michael for your excellent "Chord Nerd" series of tutorials. This lesson however has sent me looking for my chord books to have a look at the G7 chord, my charts indicate a fingered 3rd fret on 1st string to create a 7th Barre chord and the 6th chord is a fingered 2nd fret. Is this the case? I'm sure a bit of study won't hurt me and thanks for your efforts. Glenn.

Banjolio Says:
Wednesday, November 13, 2013 @8:26:00 AM

GlennWillard: Yes, you are right.

I showed the G7 and G6 open, at the end of the neck, but you can barre the four strings at any fret then add a finger on the 1st OR 4th string 2 frets up, it's a 6th chord, and three frets up, it's a 7th chord (which has a flatted 7th--b7), or four frets up to make a major 7th chord.

Garbageman5678 Says:
Friday, November 15, 2013 @6:46:29 AM

Tanks on the D tuning

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