Original articles, lessons, tabs plus the "best of the web" on topics of interest to mandolin enthusiasts by player/teacher Bruce Bernhart
Updated January 8, 2021
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You'll hear bluegrass musicians use terminology like 1-2-4-5-1. Ever wonder what that means? The number sequence represents notes in the scale you are playing. What is the "2" chord? It would be the second note in the major scale of the key you are playing. So, if you are in the key of A, the 2 chord would be a B. Countless bluegrass songs, including many gospel songs, have a 2 chord.
Some tunes have a "7" chord. What is the 7 chord in the key of A? It would be a G. because G is the 7th note in the A major scale. "Little Maggie" has a 7 chord. You can hear it right at the beginning of the song.
Practice playing the different chord groups that we reviewed. These include most of the numbered chords you will encounter playing bluegrass tunes. Now, you can play these songs in any key because once you know what the 1 chord is, you'll know what the other numbered chords are in relation to the major key.
Bluesy tunes often fall into the 1-4-1-5-1 pattern. "Bluegrass Stomp" by Bill Monroe is a good example.
Here's a terrific chart I found on cyberfret.com on how to construct 3-note chords:
First you have to KNOW the basic 3 notes chords built from a C major scale. Why a C major scale? Because the key of C major has no sharps or flats, and the chords built from that scale will contain only natural notes.
C D E F G A B - C major scale
| | | | | | |
C Dm Em F G Am Bdim - Chord Name
| | | | | | |
G A B C D E F \
E F G A B C D - Notes in each chord
C D E F G A B /
You are going to use these 7 chords as your starting point to spell every 3 note chord. So no matter what type of chord you have, if it has a root of C, C or C you are going to use a C major chord as your starting point. For every chord with a root of D, D, or D, you are going to use a Dm chord as your starting point.
So armed with the knowledge of how to spell a C major chord, and the knowledge of the chord formulas for all of the other 3 note chords, you will be able to spell every type of C, C or C chord.
Polychords are chords constructed from two or more separate chords. Composers and improvisers use polychords as a resource for rich and complex sounds in their music. Polychords frequently occur in jazz and modern classical music.
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