I often jam and mess around on the fret board of my guitar, creating songs or just entertaining myself. Then I play something that I like, it might be the start of a new song. I have to remember what I did if I want to be able to do it again.
I often don’t have a clue what the chord is called and although I studied music, I am often too lazy to work it out, especially when there are tools around that can find the name of chords for me.
Why does it matter?
First of all you need to be able to recreate the idea or composition that you were playing if you want to do something constructive with it. Learning chords helps expand your range of music. It’s like a painter mixing colors on her palette. The range is almost infinite.
If you want to play with a band or other musicians, they will need to know what chords you are playing or they will find it hard to play with you.
If you create song sheets, you need to be able to describe the chords as well, and if they are difficult, you might also need to be able to draw them up. I used to play at Country Music Clubs and if you put your sheets together ‘Country Style’ the resident band would be able to play with you even if they had never heard the song before.
If people like your songs and want to play them, you need to make them accessible. if you’re playing lead or single string, it’s pretty easy to follow, but if you’re playing something like Jazz and you don’t share your chords, especially for people who can’t read music (that’s a large percentage of guitarists) then you need to help them out.
I’m Loving This Jam, I’ll Pick it up Again Tomorrow
It almost never works out. You’re jamming away at something, maybe even for hours because you really like where it’s going. The next day, you pick up your guitar and Oh No! you can’t remember what that chord shape was! It was so cool, and now it’s gone.
You didn’t record it and even if you did, unless it was a video, you can’t quite remember what it was that made it sound just right. I hate it when that happens. And then I hate it when it happens again and I knew I should have done something about it at the time. As for the video, that hardly ever happens, after all you didn’t plan to create something cool, it just randomly happened.
Where Do You Find the Name of Chords?
There are a number of ways you can go. One is to look up chords. There are websites and apps for Africa. I have books as well that show loads of chords with inversions. An inversion is a different way of playing the same notes. If you switch the notes around, the same chord can sound quite different. Even something as simple as a G. There is a country G, a standard G, a barre G, a power chord G and that’s just the basic chord built from the natural triad. Don’t worry about the jargon. One day you might want to study harmony and arrangement, but for today, let’s just stick with the basics.
If you have an iPad or tablet, there are some great apps that help you find chords. Just seek and you will find.
One of the best tools if you are playing a chord shape and want to know what it is, is a reverse chord finder. Basically you tap on the screen to note which strings and frets you are pushing on and it will tell you the name of the chord. It might give you several names, but you want to go with the one that fits best with the signature or key of the music or song. If you aren’t sure, don’t worry about it. As long as you have a name, someone else can look it up.
Whenever I write a song, I start by writing the lyrics in a notebook and I leave space above the words for the chords. Then, if I know the name of chords I write it above them, or if I don’t, I will draw a rough fret board so that I can look it up later. When the first draft of the song is ready, I use a software application on my PC to notate the song. After that I print it off and put it in a binder. Now I can start learning it and rewriting it until I think it is ready.
I belong to a songwriting group so if I want critique, I print off as many copies as I think there will be people at the next meeting, and they can follow it while I play and tell me what they think. It can be a bit scary, but often an OK song becomes really good with some input from someone who also writes music and hasn’t got any skin in the song ideas.
Playing With a Band
The best thing is when you play with other musicians. It might be a country club or maybe an open mic with a band. I’ve played with bands in many countries where I only had to show them the sheets and maybe mention the odd thing about where the song was going and all of a sudden it had a whole new dimension. It’s really exciting to have other people playing your songs with you. The sheets make it all worthwhile.
You Don’t Need to Know The Name of Chords, But you Do Need to Be Able to Find Them
I know many good musicians who can’t read music. However, many know lots of chords. Chords are the basis for music. Other musicians will be able to play with you if they know what notes are in a chord. The bass player usually has a great understanding of harmony and other musicians will be able to come up to speed very quickly if you can provide them with song sheets with the chord names on them.
One of the best feelings is when you get up on stage with a band that you have never played with before, hand out your sheets and start playing and singing.
One of the worst feelings is when you know you came up with some great sounds, but you can’t remember what they were, or can’t remember how you played them.
There are lots of tools available online as well as apps for your mobile or tablet. There are chord finders where you can see all the different chords. Sometimes they can give you ideas too. You might take that C and turn it into a CMaj7. If you play guitar and don’t know what I’m talking about, just go Google CMaj7, it’s that easy. Sounds good doesn’t it. Suddenly you are in a different mellow space.
An app is the best way to find the reverse chord. It’s easier to be able to tap the frets and strings on the app and hey presto there it is!
If you write a lot of songs, it’s great to have a folder with them in. Keep multiple copies in each sleeve so that you can share them with other people.