Expanding on Chord Shapes / Music Theory Lesson

Author: sleepfreaks

The Various Chord Shapes

Up until now, we’ve had a look at the basic diatonic chords (triad, 7th / 4 note) that can be used with a major key.

From this point forward, we will expand on the way we think about chords.
First, lets learn about the various shapes that chords can make.

As a matter of fact, we have only seen the most basic shapes of a chords
(if C major, C E G), but in fact, they can be arranged in different orders.
Even the same chord will sound different by re-arranging the notes.

Below, we have 3 examples with the chord notes re-arranged.

    • Same chord even if moved by a full octave


    • Same chord even if individual notes are moved an octave


    • Same chord even if notes are layered in another octave


In addition, the right pattern in the 3rd example is the most orthodox alignment of notes
when a C chord is played on the guitar.


Changing Note Placement to Create Smooth Chord Changes

Now, lets see how this kind of note rearrangement can be used in a song.
We will be adding the root of a chord an octave below it for these examples.

This is a common method used in arrangements, generally played by the left hand for piano,
or by the bass if played by a band.
For example, C major would look like so.



With this in mind, give a listen to the following 2 samples.

Both follow the chord progression of

C | Am | Dm G | C

in the span of 4 bars.

Chord Progression 1

Chord Progression 2

Could you tell that there was a slight difference between the two?

Lets take a look at the notation and piano roll for the first example.



The area boxed in red are the basic diatonic triad shapes that we have learned up until this point.
Though this way of playing isn’t wrong, the notes jump very far between the chords.

How about the second example?



The areas in red show the chord notes moving with less distance to the following chord.
Because of this, there is less jumping between notes and creates a smoother progression overall.

There are various approaches you can use, such as matching the top note of the chord with the melody.

Though we had focused on the “basic chord shapes” until now, these can be changed in various ways.

Precaution when Re-arranging Notes

There is one precaution to take when rearranging the notes of a chord.
Take a look at the example below:



Though the notes are of a C major chord, the bass (lowest note) is playing E.
If the bass isn’t playing the root note, the characteristic of the chord will slightly change.
(In this situation, the root isn’t actually E. E is the bass, and the root is still considered C)

We will look at rearranging notes in more detail in a later article, so stay tuned!

In our next article, we will be looking at some technical terms related with this topic.

Article Writer: Kazuma Itoh

講師 伊藤
After moving to the USA at 18 years of age with a scholarship from Berklee, he completed a 4 year study focused on song writing and arranging there.
Using this knowledge, he works across a variety of fields from pop music, film music, and more.