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Chord Nerd Tip #4: Another Way to Add a Fourth Note to the G Shape

Posted by Banjolio on Tuesday, November 26, 2013

like this

In my last post, I showed how to add a fourth note to the G shape; because there are two 5ths (on the first and fourth strings), you can raise either of them to create a 6th (for a 6th chord), a flatted 7th (for the dominant or “regular” 7th chord) or a 7th (for the major 7th chord).

There’s another way to get even more mileage out of this chord shape, which involves lowering the notes on one string. It doesn’t work on the open shape (unless you want to use a tuner …). And, like many things in this world, it requires sacrifice.

So, let’s place the G shape up on the 5th fret, where it is a C chord. Just barre strings 1-4 with your index finger. This diagram shows the different parts of the chord … root (1) on the third string, third on the second string and fifths on the first and fourth strings.

A major 7th chord has 1, 3, 5 and 7. The 7 is one half-step (one fret) below the root. So, to get that 7th, you can lower the root by one fret to get this shape:

If you read my earlier article on my favorite chord shape, you’ll recognize this shape. At this fret, it is a C Major 7—as well as an E minor and a G6.

You should also notice that we no longer have a root—it was sacrificed to get the 7th. Yes, the root is an important part of the chord, but it’s usually OK to sacrifice it. If you’re not playing solo, the bass and/or guitar will most likely be hitting that note to complete the chord. Even playing solo, when this shape is used in context, the ear will accept the missing note and still hear it as a CM7. See Chord Tip #1 for some audio examples.

A 7th chord has 1, 3, 5 and b7. So we can lower that third string by one more fret to get this:

And a 6th chord has a 1, 3, 5 and 6, so lower the third string one more fret to get this:

This one is a bit of a knuckle-buster—it’s hard to finger. But you don’t need to play both of the 5ths. Leave off the note on the fourth string, and it’s easy to finger: hold the third string with your index finger and the first and second strings with your pinky.

Is this the fullest, richest sounding way to play a 6th chord? No. But there may be times when it's just the shape you need. Plus, it's generally useful to understand the different shapes and how they can be changed as part of understand the fret board.

On a final note, these shapes are all moveable: at this fret, they are CM7, C7 and C6, but they can be moved up or down so that each of these shapes can be 12 different chords. So ... just by starting from the G shape and sliding one string down one, two or three frets, you just added 36 more chords to your musical toolbox.


Michael Bremer is a writer, editor, publisher and banjo player. 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 (published by Hal Leonard) is a book of exercises to help you gain technique and better understand the banjo neck.

3 comments on “Chord Nerd Tip #4: Another Way to Add a Fourth Note to the G Shape”

waterrat Says:
Tuesday, December 10, 2013 @3:41:59 PM

Amazing! Keep going.

spuddy93 Says:
Tuesday, December 10, 2013 @5:42:20 PM

I really like reading these articles, they are super informative. You might want to look at that second to last paragraph though, I couldn't quite understand what it was trying to say. I think I got the idea, that knowing this is useful, but you might wanna look at it.

Banjolio Says:
Tuesday, December 10, 2013 @6:53:03 PM

Thanks spuddy93!
Don't know how that happened ... I write it (and edit it) in Word, then paste it here. I must have accidently deleted a few words. I went back to the original file and fixed it. Hope it makes sense now.

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