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Chord Nerd Tip #11: 2-Finger Blues

Posted by Banjolio on Monday, July 14, 2014

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Here’s a great, simple chord trick for playing blues in G. I stole – I mean learned – it from Pat Cloud in a workshop at the California Bluegrass Association Music Camp. He, in turn, got it from Don Reno, so I don’t feel too guilty.

If you’re not familiar with Pat Cloud, check out He plays bluegrass, jazz and just about anything you can imagine. He also has online lessons and books.

As the title of this column suggests, I’m a bit of a chord nerd. I like chords. I like being able to figure out any chord, even them fancy-schmancy jazz chords if and when I need them. I wrote a book that explains how to do it. But while I can figure out any chord when I need, it, I haven’t had a need for all of them. It’s on an “as needed” basis.

So, at camp, I showed my chord method book to Pat Cloud. Most experienced players look it over, and nod knowingly through the major and minor chords, then slow down and pay more attention to the 7th chords, realizing there’s something new and useful there. Beyond that, most people’s eyes start to glaze over, they put down the book and they’re off to play something “normal.” But Pat … well … he nodded knowingly as he paged through the whole book, paused for a second on one of the many 13th chords, then said, “Yeah, that would work.” Then he looked at me and said, “But, where would you use this chord?” At which time he picked up a banjo, and gave an on-the-spot music theory explanation and demonstration that, yes, even made my eyes glaze over. I admit … I was out-nerded. And inspired.

Anyway, enough about me. What’s in this for you? A really cool chord trick.

The setup:

The Blues progression in G has three chords: G7, C7 and D7. That’s the I, IV and V chords of the key of G—but they’re all 7th chords. Here’s the progression (4 beats to the measure):

||: G7    |        |        |        |

  | C7     |        | G7   |        |

  | D7     | C7   | G7   |       :||

If you’re not familiar with this progression, go ahead and play it with any chord shapes you know until you have a feel for it.

Now, a surprising thing about playing chords is that you can often get away without playing the root of the chord. What? Play a G chord with no G note? Yes. If you’re playing with others, chances are the guitar or bass will hit that note. And even if you’re playing solo, you can often get away with skipping the root. You can also leave out the 5th.

So, what notes do you absolutely need to play to express the sound of a 7th chord? The notes in a “regular” 7th chord (called a dominant 7th by theory nerds) are 1 (or root), 3, 5 and b7 (flatted 7). The important notes are the 3rd and the 7th. The 3rd establishes whether the chord is major or minor, and the 7th is the added flavor. That’s it. Two notes: the 3rd and the 7th.

Here are the notes of the three chords we’ll be playing, with the 3rd and 7th (which is flatted) bold to stand out more:

Chord         Root  3rd     5th     b7th  

G7:              G       B       D       F

C7:              C       E       G       Bb

D7:              D       F#     A       C


Here’s a cool way to play these notes:

Notice that the three chords are all the same shape, played with the same two fingers. Once you play the G7, you can slide the shape down one fret to become a C7, or slide it up one fret to become a D7.

First play the blues progression using just the two fretted notes. Don’t worry about getting fancy yet, just keep it steady and hear the progression. Here’s a very simple example:

[2-finger blues 1.mp3]

Now, try it again, but for all three chords, also play the remaining open strings, using any rolls or picking (or strumming) patterns you like. Here’s another example:

[2-finger blues 2.mp3]

Ok, so that’s a nice, simple way to play some blues in G … but there’s more.

Play that G7 again. Now slide that shape up 6 frets. What happened? The third string, which was a B note is now an F, and the second string which was an F is now a B. So it’s a G7 chord. Slide the shape down one fret and it’s a C7. Slide it up one and it’s D7. Why? Well you can get into the math and theory and talk about tritones, but basically … that’s the way things work out on the fretboard.

Thanks Pat. Thanks Don. And thank you banjo fretboard.

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 and edits 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.

Clawhammer Cookbook (published by Hal Leonard) is now available. Here's a link to it on Amazon:


13 comments on “Chord Nerd Tip #11: 2-Finger Blues”

bware Says:
Monday, July 14, 2014 @11:26:12 AM

It looks like the second G7 diagram is D7

Banjolio Says:
Monday, July 14, 2014 @11:38:47 AM

Yes, it is. At least now it is .... Good eye, bware!

casey050 Says:
Monday, July 14, 2014 @3:21:42 PM

I love that sound, never knew why, now i do! Thank you chord nerd , casey

zevio Says:
Monday, July 14, 2014 @4:39:05 PM

thanks for posting Michael

pfc54u Says:
Monday, July 14, 2014 @5:23:10 PM

This is VERY cute. However, it suggests a challenge. The rules of the game are as follows. The chord shapes must stay the same while keeping it a 12 bar blues. The goal is to increase the complexity. For my entry, I am indicating the fret of the first finger for each of the 12 bars: 4 3 4 10 3 9 4 10 5 11 10 11. What I especially like about this game is that it illustrates a theme of using more than one drone string throughout a piece.

Mary Schons Says:
Tuesday, July 15, 2014 @5:25:54 AM

Very cool. Thank you for the lesson! Love the blues on the banjo.

banjovy Says:
Tuesday, July 15, 2014 @7:36:42 AM

This is also in Pat Clouds book, "Keys to the 5-string banjo". Worth picking up if ya have a chance!

tgood Says:
Tuesday, July 15, 2014 @9:51:22 AM

Bware or banjolio please explain your comments about the diagram. Thanks

bware Says:
Tuesday, July 15, 2014 @2:14:32 PM

D7 was originally labeled G7 (also)

Banjolio Says:
Tuesday, July 15, 2014 @2:28:17 PM

When I originally posted this, I mislabeled the D7 chord. bware pointed out my mistake and I quickly fixed it. It should be right now.

tgood Says:
Tuesday, July 15, 2014 @8:04:50 PM


Cornflake Says:
Tuesday, July 22, 2014 @8:41:58 PM

Are these tri-tone chords?

Banjolio Says:
Tuesday, July 22, 2014 @9:43:20 PM

The relationship between the original pattern and the same pattern up 6 frets is a tri-tone. Beyond that ... I'd have think a little. But not 'till I get back from vacation, sorry. I'll be gone almost 2 weeks ...

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