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  #1  
Old 01-24-2012, 09:45 AM
carl365 carl365 is offline
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Default How many chords do or should one know?

As a very new learner of the guitar, (less than 2 months) I'm on a basic chord book which has about 30 chords. But, there are many more chords.

I know this is a very broad question but how many chords does the typical accomplished player know? or, do they add chords as they need them?

Just asking to give me a realistic perspective on my learning.

Thanks!
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Old 01-24-2012, 09:53 AM
Hotspur Hotspur is offline
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Tough question. In part because it's not clear how you count.

I would say that you eventually want to be able to use the following:

Open A, Am, A7, Am7, Amaj7, B7, C, C7, D, Dm, D7, Dmaj7, E, Em, E7, Em7, G, G7.

Then you want to be able to play e-shape major, minor, and 7th bar-chords all over the neck. You want to be able to play F-shape four-string chords all over the neck (and maybe learn to get the low e string with your thumb on those chords). You want to be able to play a-shape major, minor, 7th, and maybe major 7th barre chords all over the neck.

Then there's common-but-unusual stuff like the E7#9 (eg "Hendrix Chord.") And then there are the moveable triads.

Sounds like a lot, doesn't it? But it's really not. Just keep adding songs, and you'll start getting the hand of stuff. The key is to learn stuff as you learn songs that require it, not to try to learn this stuff in a void - you'll never remember it that way.
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Old 01-24-2012, 09:55 AM
hansentj hansentj is offline
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Good question. And I think the answer varies so much depending upon the artist and the style. A jazz player has a rolodex of chords in his brain. Bob Dylan has like 4 (ok, exaggeration, but he doesn't have many). Having an encyclopedia of chords at your disposal does not make you a good guitarist any more than having a limited number of chords makes you a bad guitarist. I've been playing professionally for 10 years and honestly, I probably only have about 40-50 chords that I can play by name. One of my favorite songwriters is Ray LaMontagne and I would bet he's got somewhere in same vicinity but the man is an absolute beast.

Don't become overwhelmed trying to learn too many chords as you're starting off. Learn them as you need them and suddenly you'll find you have a decent sized bank of stuff to pull from. Start with basic three chord progressions in G and C. Get your minors in those keys. Move to E. Learn enough theory that you could eventually know what a Bbm looks like even if you've never played one before.
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Old 01-24-2012, 09:58 AM
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rick-slo rick-slo is offline
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It really just depends. The basic chord book you have is probably more than enough to learn when thinking out of context of any song.
You may use additional chords in songs if they call for them. Normally in playing you will be using chords shapes that may be repeated
up and down the neck.
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Old 01-24-2012, 10:00 AM
mc1 mc1 is offline
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3, maybe 4.
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  #6  
Old 01-24-2012, 10:03 AM
71jasper 71jasper is offline
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Add 'em as you need 'em. This way you learn them within the context of a song. You can learn hundreds of chords just from studying a chord chart, and each one will be more useless than the next.
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Old 01-24-2012, 10:13 AM
mr. beaumont mr. beaumont is offline
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Learn how they're built, and then you know all of them.

For a less smart alecky zen answer, start with major, minor, 7, major 7 and minor 7 in all 12 keys. Then feel free to add things like sus, maj9, add9, 9th, 13th, m7b5, diminished, augmented, 6th, 6/9, 7#9, 7b9...oh, the list goes on...
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  #8  
Old 01-24-2012, 10:18 AM
RustyAxe RustyAxe is offline
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The only answer is, of course, ALL OF THEM. But that's not where you start. If I can remember back that far (45 years or so), I think I learned the major chords first ... A, C, D, E, F, G ... B came later. Then some minor chords ... Am, Em, Dm ... the others came later. Then sevenths ... all of 'em. Sooner or later you'll want all the relative minors (other than those I mentioned above). Then you'll get into barre chords, and that's when the fun starts. Diminished (they're quite simple), major7, minor7, susp4 ... now you're cookin'. The 9ths come after a while too.

As you learn to play songs, you'll find you want to play those "fancy" passing chords, and your arsenal of available chords will grow. Sounds like a lot, but once you start playing barre chords you'll find you know many more chords than you think you do. For example, if you can play an F barre, you can play every chord from F through D# (and higher) just by sliding up the neck a fret at time!

Pick a few songs you'd like to do, and learn the chords for that song, how to play them cleanly, and how to switch smoothly between them. It's not about the quantity of chords you know, it's what you do with them.
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  #9  
Old 01-24-2012, 11:25 AM
Angera Angera is offline
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[QUOTE=Hotspur;2910423]
Open A, Am, A7, Am7, Amaj7, B7, C, C7, D, Dm, D7, Dmaj7, E, Em, E7, Em7, G, G7.
QUOTE]

I know 8 of those. I'll keep practicing. (I'm a beginner, too.)
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  #10  
Old 01-24-2012, 11:42 AM
unimogbert unimogbert is offline
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My answer: Enough to finish the song.

Start learning songs that use just a few chords but keep exploring what else you want to play and continue learning chords to play the new songs. This learning will continue as you learn new ways and positions to play the same (named) chords.

A chord dictionary is just that - a dictionary. It's only an aid to speaking the language, not how you do it.

Imagine trying to learn English by starting with the dictionary!

Play songs. Learn chords so you can play songs. Learn more chords so you can play more songs.
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  #11  
Old 01-24-2012, 11:45 AM
Greg_B Greg_B is offline
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As somebody mentioned on another thread: "Don't ask me how little you should learn".

What he means by that is that once you think that there is a "good enough" number of chords you're automatically limiting yourself. Just the other night some other guitar players and I were talking about the concept of a "Personal Chord Library". By "Personal Chord Library" we mean the set of chords which you mentally have "on tap" and can grab without thinking about them. We divided the chords into 4 groups: Major, Minor, Dominant 7th, and altered. I went first with the Major group. I think I came up with between 15 and 20 all in the key of E.

That seemed to be about right for the first 3 groups. We all had roughly the same number. The altered group was smaller because we pretty much only had diminished, half diminished and augmented. All the +5, -5, +9, -9 were covered in the Dominant 7 group.

But since I'm a big fan of Ted Greene I'm constantly discovering new shapes and trying to use them in my music. The big thing to remember is that you're not just learning new grips, you're learning how they sound. There will be a time when you're playing and you need a particular sound and you just know which shape will work. You don't even think about it, it just happens.
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  #12  
Old 01-24-2012, 12:12 PM
wcap wcap is offline
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As others have said, the basic chords in first position (the basic chords you learn in a beginner's guitar book) are important (A,B,C,D,E,F,G, and the minors, and 7 versions of these). Then adding additional variations of these (like E minor 7, or E minor add 9, etc) gradually gives you new and exciting sounds (and learning a little of how these are constructed gives you the power to figure out any chord you want when you need it, even if just by modifying the chords you already know in certain specific ways). There are a lot of cool, funky chords used in jazz, and new age-y sorts of music that I don't have figured out well but wish I did.

The real transformation in my playing of chords on guitar came when I got comfortable and competent with barre chords. As already noted above, this opens up all sorts of possibilities. I used to get puzzled by odd chords sometimes that I would encounter when accompanying my wife's music, but now I can pretty much play anything I encounter (at least some form or other of the chord). For example, encountering F# minor would have thrown be for a loop in the past, but with the ability to play barre chords I can easily play this on the fly - it is just the standard, familiar E minor chord slid up the neck two frets).

Learning to play barre chords comfortably took me some time - it was at least a year after I started trying to use them before they started to become second nature.

Learning the notes on the fretboard is useful (not that I have this down well), but even more important for doing the sort of thing I just described with the F# minor chord is simply knowing the intervals between notes in a scale. For example, a major scale's intervals are whole step, whole step, half step, whole step, whole step, whole step, half step - these are the intervals between the white keys on a piano (a half step being the distance between adjacent keys (disregarding color) on a piano, or the distance from one fret to the next on a guitar). Even without knowing all the notes on a guitar fretboard, it is often really useful to have the notes on a piano memorized - this gives you a nice visual representation in your mind of scales and intervals. I'm not a particularly good piano player, but I routinely call up an image of a piano keyboard in my head to figure out things on guitar.
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Old 01-24-2012, 12:22 PM
Greg_B Greg_B is offline
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I'd like to demonstrate what can be done when you have a deep chord library.

Check out the pdf on this page The tune is called "Simple Blues" (which is not actually all that simple). But if you learn it you'll hear some wonderful chord movement over what is really just a simple blues in Bb.

Without a deep chord library ideas like these wouldn't be available to you.

This video demonstrates a significantly more difficult blues called "Blues in G"
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TLsNXbHtY8c

In that blues Ted wrote a new chord for every beat of the tune. As you can tell, you need a large selection of available chords to be able to get this sound. More knowledge is always better.
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Old 01-24-2012, 12:43 PM
mc1 mc1 is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by unimogbert View Post
My answer: Enough to finish the song.
...
so 1...?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Greg_B View Post
...In that blues Ted wrote a new chord for every beat of the tune. As you can tell, you need a large selection of available chords to be able to get this sound. More knowledge is always better.
that's cool, but those chords aren't just arranged willy-nilly. the real knowledge is in the voice leading and arranging, not in the depth of chord names.
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  #15  
Old 01-24-2012, 12:44 PM
JonPR JonPR is offline
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I agree with mr beaumont (as usual ).

There are an almost infinite number of chords - and you don't need to know ALL of them. But if you know the basics of how they're constructed, the whole thing is easier. It becomes like a tree.

There are a couple of basic levels you can work from.

One is what you might call the "practical guitarist"'s method, aka "cowboy chords", or all the open position shapes:

C, G, D, A, E, Em, Am, Dm

plus the easy 7ths like C7, G7, D7, A7, E7, B7, Em7, Am7. (Still thinking totally of open position chords, ie including 1 or more open strings, and fretted below 4th fret.)

Beyond there it's the dreaded barre chords, starting with F and Bm (the most important two, IMO).
Most barre chords are formed from movable versions of the open E, A, Em and Am forms.
And the lazy guitarist exploits the use of a CAPO when in more unusual keys, to avoid barres as much as possible (and why not - who wants to play in Bb if you can put a capo on 1 and play in A, or on 3 and play in G?).
This method is normally enough for anyone only interested in rock, folk, country or blues. It requires knowledge of little more than 20 shapes, I'd say, and many of those are versions of the others. But of course you do have to get comfortable with barres - which is a physical, technical challenge, rather than a theoretical one.


The SECOND method is the theoretical (or constructionist) one, which involves understanding the basic building blocks, and then adding extensions to each of those, thereby building more and more exotic forms. This is recommended for anyone interested in jazz and more advanced forms of rock.
This goes by chord type rather than shape or key, and you could list the stages as follows:

1. power chords. (root and 5th) Only one kind!

2. Triads (3-note chords, r-3-5)). SIX kinds: maj, min, dim, aug, sus4, sus2. (aug is rare, and sus2 is simply an inversion of sus4.)

3. 7ths (4-note chords, r-3-5-7). SIX basic kinds: maj7, dom7, min7, m(maj7), dim7, m7b5. That's two each derived from maj, min and dim triads.
Within the dom7 type are a few jazz altered dominants, including ones you could see as derived from aug triads. Jazz also regards most sus chords as variants of the dom7.
(Jazz is where 7th chords are standard. In rock and other popular musics, triads are standard, and you only really need dom7s, min7s and maybe maj7s.)

4. Other 4-note chords, ie 6ths, add9s, 7sus4s. Various quartal or modal chords would come in this category.

5. 5-note chords, which means mostly 9ths of various kinds (r-3-5-7-9). This is not a huge expansion on the 7ths, because most 7ths only take one kind of 9th.

6. Various extensions beyond that: this would include 11ths, #11s, and 13ths. Again, not all the simpler chords will take these upper extensions.

Generally, each progressive stage means more chords, but it's not an enormous expansion of options.
Of course, at each stage, the guitarist needs to know the various possible shapes for each chord (the various ways one might voice, eg, a 7#9), and where to play each shape to get the chord in all 12 possible keys. That tends to be where things start to get complicated...

But provided you follow the stages in order - as far as you feel you need to for the music you're currently interested in - it's all pretty easy to handle, conceptually. Memorising the method, from bottom up, is better and easier than memorising a whole ton of individual chord shapes.

(Even if you prefer the more practical "cowboy" method, it will help enormously if you understand the building blocks, eg, in what ways all the major chords are identical to each other, rather than how they differ.)
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