Basic Chord Theory - Stupid Question

LorenFL

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Okay, I get basic chord theory. A basic chord consist of a triad of notes where the "root" note is the lowest note, and is the name of the chord. The next note is a major 3rd (4 half-steps up) and the third note is a 5th (another 3 half-steps up) Simple enough, though difficult for a novice to remember. Looks pretty on a musical staff.

So, let's say we're making a G chord. We get the notes of G on the bottom, with B and D stacked on top of it. G is the lowest, G is the root. G is the name of the chords. I'm with you so far.

Now, trying to keep up with some of these awesome videos on YouTube that explain how to change a standard chord to, say a 7 chord. Cool stuff, and it makes sense... up to a point.

Back to the G chord, and they're flying through this logic as if it's supposed to be natural and make sense to me... We take the root note and move it down a half tone to make it a 7th. Cool. Got it. (edit: Yeah, that's GMaj7, it would be a whole tone to get to G7... I wasn't thinking while I was typing)

Now... Without breaking out a reference book. Just using my knowledge of the fretboard and basic theory... how do I look at that G chord and know which note is the root?

The root is supposed to be the lowest note, right? Let's ignore the fact that I'm tuned in Low G... with standard uke tuning, my G Chord is a very high B on the A string, a a lower G on the E string, an even lower D on the C string, and a very high G on the open G string.

Am I supposed to just see that as the notes of G, B and D and infer that G is the root? Why? D is clearly the lower note! Does that mean that our standard ukulele G chord is actually an inversion?

Am I missing some key piece of information, or is there really just that much "you need to remember that G B and D make a G chord, and G is considered the lowest note no matter what octave it's in"??

I think I may know the answer. We're basically ignoring what octave each note is for determining what the chord name is.

And then... C is considered the lowest note on the scale? I have a bit of a background in computer programming, and was trying to approach it in a logical linear fashion with A being high and F being low. (and also taking octaves into consideration) But, I don't think that's right.

Or is it just a matter of being able to pick out at a glance the relationship of the 3 notes in question. "Seeing" the language of major 3rds and Perfect 5ths so that the notes automatically "stack" correctly and all becomes clear?

I've decided to take a major step back before trying to get deep into extended chords. I want to wrap my head around the logic of standard chords! I know how to play most of them... I want to get to where I know what the notes are and why.
 
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merlin666

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The notion of root as lowest note is nice in theory and teaching. In practice, chords are not played in isolation and the role of lowest note can be taken over by bass or whoever or whatever carries the melody. You have to look the bigger picture of a song and how all parts work together.
 

LorenFL

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Yeah, I've picked that notion up from getting slightly into more advanced chords like Add9 and such. On the uke, they'll have to drop a note, and it just might be the ROOT note that gets dropped. Weird, but I get it.

I guess another way to look at my dilemma is that I'm not likely to be playing a major chord and not know what that chord is. (unless I'm playing purely by muscle memory, which is entirely possible) If I know I'm playing a G... and I know which string I'm playing a G note on... then I can apply that modification to make it a 7th chord.
 

rainbow21

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Music theory on a ukulele is a tough nut to crack. The theory makes so much more sense on a piano (keyboard) where the lowest note is actually the root. Here it is easier to understand (before understanding) that a chord is the thumb, middle, and pinky fingers.

On a uke, many (most?) of the first position chords are inversions. And they are different with a low G string (now the G is the lowest note, not the D). Even the terminology of a 7th chord is expressed differently in that on a keyboard, you add the 7th note to the "1 3 5" of the fingering. On a uke, it is accurate to say drop the root by two frets, but you really still want to keep the root if possible and some of music theory actually goes by the roadside. A Hawaiian D7 (2020) sounds like a D7 (2223), so use it if you want the sound or the ease of fingering.
 

LorenFL

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Yeah, music theory definitely seems to make more sense on the keyboard! (I don't play keyboards, but I can see it)

I'm glad I'm not trying to learn to read sheet music. I find that whole system to be lacking in the way it treats sharps and flats. Probably because I'm so inexperienced.
 

Steedy

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It's a great idea to know the formulas for how scales and chords are built, because it really "takes your playing to the next level" (as they say, haha)!

The notes of a chord can be stacked in any order (see "inversions"), so the root doesn't always have to be the lowest note. A basic triad is a three-note chord, but a 7th chord has four notes. It's not lowering the root so much as adding a 7 or a flat 7 to the basic triad. A triad is root, third, & fifth, and a dominant 7th chord would be root, third, fifth, & flat seventh.

The first position G chord is a good example on a four-string instrument like the uke:

G Major - 0232 = G (hi or low), D, G, B - or Root, 5th, Root, 3rd <- four strings, but only three different notes (a triad with the root doubled)

GMaj7 - 0222 = G, D, Gb/F#, B - or Root, 5th, 7th, 3rd <- four strings, now a four-note chord

G7 - 0212 = G, D, F, B - or Root, 5th, flat 7th, 3rd <- still four strings, four different notes


Hey, play those three chords, then go to a C chord and you're playing 'Something' by the Beatles!

Hope this is helps. :)
 
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clear

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Yeah, music theory definitely seems to make more sense on the keyboard! (I don't play keyboards, but I can see it)

I'm glad I'm not trying to learn to read sheet music. I find that whole system to be lacking in the way it treats sharps and flats. Probably because I'm so inexperienced.

Music theory will seem natural once you get used to the staff notation (standard notation). More so than on a keyboard (because keyboard is oriented to C major/A minor layout while the staff is neutral).

I think if you search for "harmony/harmonization" and "voice leading", you'll get many of your answers posted here answered. The very short answer, which you may already know but not realize it, is that chords are multipe notes (harmony) and different their forms (inversions) help music flow (voice leading). Those are the most basics of chord knowledge, then the rest will become very understandable.

Part of the problems of learning from Youtube videos is that many basic things aren't taught enough to really build upon. The vid creators, I think, mainly want to attract viewer counts and easier to just skip around to what's hip and/or help solve a specific technical problem. This usually means, not spending the boring time of building a good foundation.
 

UkeStuff

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I'm not sure if this will help you, but I'm a big fan of this image:

tumblr_oin56iadUO1rte3swo1_1280.png


Think of chords like a snowman. No matter what, there's a base, middle, and head (7th chords become monsters with two middles).

You can stack the middle or the head on the bottom, but no matter what, it's still the same snowman.

However, were you to describe the snowman in his various forms, quickly, you would do so based on what was on the bottom, regardless of what is on the top.

So we label chords, in pure theory, by inversion...what the lowest sounding note of a chord is.

In ukulele, we don't worry about inversions too often. Some people do...but they generally aren't just playing and singing songs they love at that point and are far much deeper into all kinds of trouble...
 

mds725

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What you call the chord on sheet music generally really only matters to the bass player, who typically plays the root note of the chord. For example, take the chord shape 1212. That can be the diminished 7th for any of the four notes in that chord: G#dim7, Ddim7, Fdim7, or Bdim7. What you call it when you're assigning a chord name to that chord shape depends on what note you want the bass player to play. It isn't necessarily a G#dim7 merely because G# is the lowest note in the chord (assuming you play it on a low G ukulele). For each of the other chords it can be -- Ddim7, Fdim7, or Bdim7 -- it's an inversion of that chord because the root note of the chord is not the lowest tone when you play it. You can go up the neck to play the chord in such a way that the root note is the lowest tone. For example, 4545 is the same four chords, but the note on the G string, and the lowest tone on a low G ukulele, is B, so each of the other chords that you can play using that shape is an inversion.
 

LorenFL

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There is some great info and suggestions in this thread, thanks to all! I'm going to have to read it a few more times.

Totally agree about "YouTube learning". The tendency is often to gloss over the basics. Or to crawl through just enough of the basics to get somebody started... at a snails pace... but, still never fully explain basic theory.

Having never learned any of this in school (other than a semester of music in 7th or 8th grade as one of those "rotating elective" kind of things), it's been a slow process. People start talking about the circle of fifths as if it's the end-all of things... but, for me, I just looked at it and said, "Why?" I can't just accept that it IS, I wanted to know the why, and that info is harder to find in a digestible form.

But, I'm getting there.

I'm a driving instructor by day, so I can relate that to what I'm up against here. Learning to drive involves a lot of different processes. Learning the rules of the road, practicing physical car control skills, and learning to deal with traffic in the real world just to gloss over a few. As an instructor, I try to start from the basics and work up. You can't learn to deal with traffic until you've got car control and know the rules! (but, an awful lot of parents try to teach their kids that way, anyway)

Same with learning music. You can't expect to be a good musician if you don't "learn the rules" and "practice the physical skills". The rules take constant reinforcement. The skills take constant and ever-expanding practice.
 

snowdenn

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I'm not sure if this will help you, but I'm a big fan of this image:

tumblr_oin56iadUO1rte3swo1_1280.png


Think of chords like a snowman. No matter what, there's a base, middle, and head (7th chords become monsters with two middles).

You can stack the middle or the head on the bottom, but no matter what, it's still the same snowman.

However, were you to describe the snowman in his various forms, quickly, you would do so based on what was on the bottom, regardless of what is on the top.

So we label chords, in pure theory, by inversion...what the lowest sounding note of a chord is.

In ukulele, we don't worry about inversions too often. Some people do...but they generally aren't just playing and singing songs they love at that point and are far much deeper into all kinds of trouble...

That's awesome!



Oh God. No.

Can't tell if post was cutoff or the bad guys got Martinlover.
 

Martinlover

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My "Oh God. No." Comment was complete. I only meant this kind of talk will make my head explode. I fear I will not progress further than where I am right now.
 

ripock

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It seems like you folks are getting into analysis-paralysis. I'm not a music teacher or anything like that, but let me tell you how I treat the triads. You can either reject it, or embrace it, or modify it.

I deal with roots. I don't care if the root is the lowest note, or the second inversion, or the third inversion because we play ukuleles and beggars can't be choosers.

Here's my methodology: let's take the B note and the minor triad as examples. I go to the G string and I find my B note(s); I figure out what I have to do in order to get a flat three and a five around that note. I write down that shape because it will work with all notes. Then I move on to the C string and do the same thing.

Once you have a shape for each of the strings, you are done. You now know how to form B minor no matter where the B occurs. Yes, these B minors are different inversions and, yes, they have different nuances. However, you should stop cogitating about it and just play it. Your ear will be your guide as to which one works and which one doesn't.

Do this for each chord quality that matters to you. Once you do that, you can play the chords you want on whatever fret you want.
 

Tom Karol

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"When you don't know music theory, it seems like rocket science; when you do, it's more like plumbing."
One thing: The notes in a chord don't have to be in order, whether it's root position, 1st inversion, 2nd inversion; they can be spread out and/or doubled; these are called, "voicings."
So, for example, any combination of C, E, and G in any order or spacing comprises a C Major chord.
I have a PDF of a really good introductory article on chord construction, but it was too big to attach to a Forum post. PM me if you'd like me to email you a copy.
 

LorenFL

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Still lots of great info coming out in this thread! I must ask good stupid questions. :)

Back to my original thought... I think my error was in trying to think about looking at a chord (assuming it's an unknown) and trying to determine what the chord IS based on the notes of the chord... and the theory that the lowest note is supposed to be the root and the name of the chord.

My fallacy there was in ignoring possible inversions, and that "the lowest note" isn't always the lowest note. AND... I should generally KNOW what chord I'm playing, anyway.

If I know I'm playing a G, then I know the root is G and so on. While it IS possible to deconstruct a chord based on what notes are being played, it's not something I should normally have to do.

The rest comes down to me getting more familiar with and remembering all of the basic bits of chord theory. Root + Major 3rd + Perfect 5th... and what modifications to that make a minor or major or 7th and whatever. Buuuut... to really work that kind of magic from memory on the ukulele, I need to learn the fretboard. And maybe I should learn some better strumming patterns. And, gee, wouldn't it be neat if I could figure out how to do some fingerpicking?

So much to learn, so little brain. But, I'm still having fun.
 
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Standard re entrant tuning
gCEA
C is the lowest note and A is the highest note
Yet, all open strings is both a
C6 (low note) or
Am7 (high note)

Heck, I played elementary school, junior and senior high bands and it wasn’t until a few years ago when the Circle of Fifths clarified Keys and related sharps or flats - its right there in the Circle.
 

ripock

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Following up on previous comment, I want to share probably the best $10 I ever invested in musical theory. It is "The Chord Wheel" and it is an enhanced circle of fifths. It is a circle of fifths, but it also tells you the degrees of all the keys, what chord qualities work with which degrees, how many flats/sharps each key has, and certainly other things that I am forgetting. I think it would be a great investment for any beginner.
 

Ed1

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A lot of help here with great information. I'll throw in my $.02.

TLDR; As you said, it is "just a matter of being able to pick out at a glance the relationship of the notes in question."

I recommend learning the three (some might say four) basic shapes of the major and minor and the four shapes of the dominant 7th. A good book for this is Sokolow & Beloff's Ukulele Fretboard Roadmaps. I like this book because it simplifies matters for the major and minor by doubling the note on the 1st and 4th strings (for re-entrant, anyway). You'll have to learn the fretboard well enough to know where the root is in each shape and with time the 3rd 5th and 7th. From there, you should be able to figure out any other chord. With time, you'll see the different shapes as different inversions, which helps in reading music notation. Good luck and enjoy the ride.
 

ripock

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In reference to the Ukulele Fretboard Roadmaps and its shortcomings, may I recommend Brad Bordessa's Ukulele Chord Shapes. It has been a while since I looked at it, but in my remembrance of it, I seem to recall that he provided a root shape for every string for every chord.