A few years into my playing I got bored. Everything I did sounded the same. My solos sounded lifeless and mundane.
Eventually I figured out the reason my solos sounded the same was because my chords and chord progressions were
the same. I was comfortable playing all the cowboy chords: E,G,C,Am etc. Sometimes I would get crazy and throw a B7
in there. Power chords? No problem. Barre chords? I wasn't a master, but I could do them. I sat there and thought “There
has got to be more to life than this!” So I set a goal for myself, albeit a extreme one. For one week I wasn't going to play
any of the types of chords I just mentioned. My sister had given me a book for my birthday called The Guitar Handbook
by Ralph Denyer. In the back was a chord book. It had 3 variations of about 25 different chords for all twelve notes.
Majority of them I had never heard of. Stuff like A7-9, A13, A6/9. Might as well been bingo numbers. I had no clue. The
cool thing about that chord section was, under each chord it listed the notes within the chord. I'll get back to that in a
second. So I flipped it open to the E section. I just started picking out shapes that looked cool. When something caught
my ear I made a note of it. Oh, I should mention that I made a pact to not play below the 3rd fret. I digress. After I got a
few chords together I was happy, but had no clue on what to do with them. Then it happened. I noticed the plain old E
chord had 3 notes to it. E, G# and B. So I started looking for other chords in the E section that had those three notes in
them. I came across THE chord that changed my playing FOREVER. Emaj9. E-G#-B-D#-F#. At the risk of being over
dramatic, with one stroke of the pick, every chord I had ever played turned a shade of gray. Dull and lifeless. That one
chord was the answer to my question. There is life beyond the 3rd fret. After that, when I got bored with any chord, I
flipped open the chord book and went exploring. Here is the aforementioned Emaj9 chord.
Here is your assignment. I want you to write out a 3 or 4 chord progression in the key of C Major. C-Dm-Em-F-G-Am-
Bdim. No power chords. Nothing fancy, just the basics. Next, you need 4 things. 1) The chords. 2) The order your going
to play the chords. 3) How long your going to play each chord before you switch to the next. 4) The rhythm/feel. You
need to get that down and be able to play it CONSISTENTLY before you move on. Next grab a chord book. Hopefully it
will have the notes within the chords listed. This is important, because we need to stay within the key. Write down 2-3
different chords you can substitute for your originals. Get a little crazy. You can do 7th chords if you like, but now is the
time to push it. Your uncomfortable. Embrace it, its a great place to be. I want you to play a original chord followed by the
new version. Back and forth. Really pay attention to the differences. Once you have several substitution chords for each
chord, write out a new progression using those chords. You will now have a progression thats totally different than
anything you've ever played. Oh, and you probably wont be able to play it either. If you have made it this far
congratulations. Now you are at a fork in the road. You can quit and take the road that leads back to Mundane Land, or
the road that will take you to the next level. Hopefully you will choose the next level.
Here is what I came up with for my chords. Each measure is 4 beats. Measures that contain two chords each get two
beats per chord. In the last measure, the F gets three beats and the G gets one.
||:Am G | C | Am G | F G :||
The new progression.
||: Am9 Gadd9/B | C Csus4 C | Am9 G6add11(no5) | F G :||
You will notice I still have some normal chords in there. I didn't change the F or G at the end. I like to do that after I have
pushed myself with some harder or different shapes. It allows my hand to relax and get ready for round two.
Remember, It only takes one new shape to change your direction. Whether or not you learn 10 new chords, or even play
these again, you will improve. You will have greater left hand dexterity, and your ear with open up and hear music in a
different more complex light. I guarantee it.
Good luck and let me know what you came up with!
2 1 1 3 4 1
1 2 3
1 2 3
2 1 4 3
Alternating open E and Emaj9 chord ending with a arpeggiated Emaj9