Is "cowboy chords" a derogatory term?

Do you think "cowboy chords" is a derogatory term, or is it just a description?

  • Yes, it's derogatory/condescending

  • No, it's just shorthand for first position chords


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chris667

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Hello folks.

I was talking to someone yesterday and described simple, first position chords as "cowboy chords" after discussing a chord that was hard to play (Bdim, if you're interested, which is a proper knucklebuster). I was saying that in order to play them you really need to think about your wider form generally.

This person said I was being eltist. I apologised immediately - it was never my intention to imply that some things aren't accessible to anyone. I was just talking about chords. To my mind being elitist would be saying "this is not for you", but what I tried to say was "this is what you need otherwise you'll find it hard to learn this". Not the end of the world - you will offend people by accident all the time unless you say nothing at all - but I don't want to offend anyone so I won't use the term again.

I thought "cowboy chords" was just a name used to describe the first position chords that everyone learned first (C, F, G). If someone asks me how to play something, I will say it's just the cowboy chords and the key.

So, that's my question, hive mind. What do you think?
 
And, yes when I've the term, it tends to be used in a condescending manner.
Interesting. I have never meant it that way - some of my favourite music was done with nothing else. John Prine is one of my musical heroes - he always said if he was writing a song and it had more than five chords he'd start again.

I won't use it again. Thanks for the feedback.
 
Cowboy? Ukulele?

I mean sure, the instrument was brought by Vacaros (“Buckaroos”)

But Surely there’s a derisive word in the local argot we Could be using instead.

Er . . . Depends. TONS of great music is proudly written in “Cowboy Chords.”
 
Like a lot of words it depends on how its used. Cowboy chords are the first few easy chords to learn. There is nothing wrong with the term.

There are plenty of terms we can use to describe people that are like that. Yankees and Canucks are two words used that suggest where someone is from. But if said a certain way people use them as (and people take them as ) insults. Its all in the context.

Cowboy chords is not offensive.
 
"Cowboy chords" is only derogatory/elitist to someone looking to be offended, or insane. Personally, I wouldn't apologize to someone acting that way about what is truly nothing.

You are correct that it is used generally to describe first position chords, and I believe it originated from the "singing cowboy" era of the 30s. Think Gene Autrey , Jimmy Wakely, etc. Heck, the first Gibson SJ-200 was designed for singing cowboy Ray Whitley. A rich history that I personally would find difficult to be insulted by be associated with. Being a singing cowboy was the elite of that era.
 
Nothing wrong with calling them cowboy chords.

Those and power chords are my main jam. I wouldn't take offense at that.

Some musicians would probably say it's boring since I'm not mixing in different inversions and chord substitutions, but I'm having fun so whatever.
 
I hear it mostly used as a self-derogatory phrase.
Like, "In only play what I can play with my cowboy chords". If one regularly play more voicings of a chord, I dont think one would refer to the first learned one as the cowboy voicings of the chord. So it does indicate that someone limits themselves to the basic chords.

Dont know how the cowboy term came in there. Perhaps because lots of good cowboy songs use just those, perhaps because cowboys on the prairie had to make do with the bare necessities in general - and these are the bare necessities for playing some good songs.
The danish word my father uses for them on guitar translates as "savior chords", perhaps because they will get you by.

So in some way derogatory, but usually meant with live for the simple things rather than condescending.
 
I love open chords and use them wherever possible. I work out shapes (inversions, rootless, or otherwise incomplete and such) to use all 4 strings (aka: moveable) for those that cannot be played in first position. It's extremely rare to have to "x" (not play) any string.

 
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And you know what they say about opinions.
I say they are none of my business, which is just as well as I'll never find out even if I wanted to know.

Saying that, it's really interesting seeing the opinions people have, and the idea that some people have that simple somehow equates to bad. It's not true at all in music.

I'd much rather hear someone play simple stuff in an interesting way as opposed to complicated stuff in a boring way. In fact, I'd probably rather listen to simple stuff played in an interesting way than complicated stuff at any level. There's no money past the 7th fret!
 
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Not the end of the world - you will offend people by accident all the time unless you say nothing at all - but I don't want to offend anyone so I won't use the term again.
I can't say that I ever heard it used as an insult. I suppose you can try to avoid trouble by not saying anything, but then people will be offended because you weren't speaking or perhaps because of the expression on your face!
"Hey, why are you looking at me that way?!"

Some people will interpret just about anything as an insult. Over the years, there have been times when teaching a group of kids and I compliment one student for doing a good job or for some extra effort. I have become accustomed to finding another student is now insulted, saying "What about me? You don't think I did a good job?!"

Sometimes you just can't win.
 
"Cowboy chords" is only derogatory/elitist to someone looking to be offended, or insane. Personally, I wouldn't apologize to someone acting that way about what is truly nothing.

You are correct that it is used generally to describe first position chords, and I believe it originated from the "singing cowboy" era of the 30s. Think Gene Autrey , Jimmy Wakely, etc. Heck, the first Gibson SJ-200 was designed for singing cowboy Ray Whitley. A rich history that I personally would find difficult to be insulted by be associated with. Being a singing cowboy was the elite of that era.
I agree 100%. I’d have to work really hard to get the the 3 words -cowboy, elitist, and condescending - in the same sentence. Geezus, what’s the world coming to?
 
What is the world coming to indeed, @Keith5523 and good points, @gustophersmob.

I have always valued a certain level of diplomacy in what I and others say, but I’m finding anything and everything these days is taken as “offensive.” It’s getting a bit extreme.

You obviously had innocent intentions with the term, I wouldn’t worry about it @chris667. As you say, “you will offend people by accident all the time unless you say nothing at all.”
 
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