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Beyond E Major (Part 1)

Article from One Two Testing, April 1984

How to play jazz guitar and live.

Billy Jenkins presents a gentlemanly introduction to the jazz chord, and proves you don't need 12 fingers and a set of bandages to go past the first fret.


There can hardly be a more overdone subject than that of guitar chords. Hundreds of books containing thousands of finger snapping shapes confuse the mind and leave you in awe.

"Gosh, I only know 12 chords. Just wound 3,879 to go and I'll be as good as Beck/Clapton/Hendrix/Segovia!"

But even if you learnt all those inversions, you would still be no further down the road than when you first discovered the alphabet in small letters then capitals.

Looking at chord shapes, picture windows, rules of the game of Go or lattice with beetles on them – depending on what 'new', 'revolutionary', 'easy' angle each publisher impresses upon the perplexed plucker does not help to understand the why and how.

In this article I will attempt to enlighten the serious student of string and get underneath and behind the scenes of a busy fingerboard.


To the uninitiated, a 'jazz' chord is what paella is to a Yorkshireman in Majorca – full of weird and fishy ingredients you either love or hate. If you're reading this in the hope of emulating Joe Pass wafting an audience into a coma through technical overkill, either turn the page or read Micky Baker's Jazz Guitar tutor (Clifford Essex Publications ISBN 0 8 6001 016 3). Although thought by many to be an excellent guide, I didn't understand it. Two weeks of trying to master his particular style of fingering and I shamed Arnold Schwarzenegger – from the wrist down. Not to mention the spots before my eyes.

So before giving examples of supposed 'jazz' chords it might be worth looking at different ways of playing what basic chords you have already mastered.

Let's look at just two – the major chord and the seventh.

Note: the 7th chord is an exception to the rule concerning numbered intervals. When written simply C7, the seventh is flattened. Only when it says Cmaj7, C7 or C^7 is it played with an added B natural.


Using the 3rd, 4th and 5th string, this shape is particularly useful when played in the key of E so the bottom string can freely vibrate. Such glorious examples as 'We'll Bring The House Down', by Slade, and 'You Really Got Me', by the Kinks, sound far juicier played in this shape than in the first position. All you have to remember is that your first finger is the tonic so if it is on the seventh fret of the A string, you are playing an E chord.

It can also be played on the bottom three strings, although it is best not to hit the top three open strings as you bring your strumming hand down in an almighty Pete Townshend type windmill. Keep your plectrum hand in check to avoid overshooting your mark. You may have noticed that this simplest of chords has no third note, which means it can be accompanied by another instrument playing a major OR minor chord, but such is the positive nature of it, it is invariably used as a major.



The seventh chord I have on offer this month is in contrast to the power chord. I came across it on a Phil Upchurch LP 'Darkness, Darkness', (Blue Thumb), where he used it on a groovy version of 'Swing Low Sweet Chariot'.

Applied with the correct on/off pressure of the left hand to control resonance, and a slow tempo right hand funky but cool groove, you can turn the front room of your council maisonette into a Chicago clip joint.

All it really is, is a Caug9 shape played across a string, but I'll get into that one later on. By having the tonic, or root note on the sixth string, full expression can once again be utilised without fear of bashing the open and unwanted strings.

Incidentally, talking of tonics, roots and octaves, etc, musical vocabulary is like legal jargon – it's designed to confuse the layman, thereby needing the consultation of a professional. It's doublespeak designed to protect the species. The make up of the Upchurch chord is thus; the tonic (I), the mediant (3), a flattened 7th, and another 3rd on top, so if we're playing it in C, the notes are C, E, Bb, and E'. The tonic will be dictated by the second finger, so for the key of C it will be on the eighth fret of the bottom E string.

By repeatedly playing this one chord with a rhythmic groove, you'll hit upon a little tip that'll lead you along the path to 'jazziness'. If your left hand sits like a clamp on the strings it'll probably sound B.A.D. Scoop up to it by starting the whole shape a semitone or one fret down and sliding up. All you're really doing is adding a bit of life to the basic chord. DANCE! Furthermore, by releasing and reapplying the pressure of your left hand fingers, you can dictate the length of sound. It's a very subtle movement, more of a tightening and relaxing of the finger muscles. Co-ordination of the right hand is important when considering this or any chord.

The shape in question here is played with almost all downstrokes.

Remember that the direction of strum can alter the sound of a chord in as much that the notes will fall, albeit almost instantaneously, in a different order, thereby offering a subtle change in timbre.

In the next part I will expand up the scale, incorporating and giving practical examples of different intervals and their uses applying an easy to remember system evolved from three basic shapes – a unique format that only Jenkins could come up with and one that is exclusive to One Two Testing. Pity you'll be too busy practising to purchase a copy.


Within the pre-determined system of "notes", God gave us different modes or scales with which to form our music. Us Euro's settled mainly on the MAJOR or MINOR scale. For a quick resume of the make up of a major scale, play the eight white notes from C to C' on a keyboard (CDEFGABC). The intervals run tone, tone, tone, semitone, tone, tone, tone, semitone. Each major scale has this arrangement of notes.

The minor scale is in two forms. The HARMONIC minor has semitones between the 2-3, 5-6 and 7-8 notes; and the MELODIC minor has semitones between the 2-3, and 7-8 notes ascending, and the 6-5 and 3-2 descending.

These three scales are known as the diatonic scales.

Scales are arbitrary, and the number in use throughout the world is incalculable. It's interesting to note that for all its supposed hipness and forward thinking, the music that most of us listen to uses a system that was most popular between A.D. 1600 and 1900! Only in the field of 'serious' music have advances been made in the widening of musical vocabulary.

A basic major chord consists of a three note triad using the 1st, 3rd and 5th notes of the major scale. In the key of C that is C, E and G. These are the 'strongest' notes of the scale – the tonic (C, numbered I), the mediant (E, 3), and the dominant (G, 5).

A basic minor chord is the same but for that all important third note, which is flattened a semitone, so that C minor reads C, Eb, G.

Notice that whatever the key, whether major or minor, each note has a number, the tonic being I. Example of key of C: C is I, D-2, E-3, F-4, G-5, A-6, B-7, C'-8, D'-9. It is from these numbers that chord names derive i.e. C6 means a chord consisting of the tonic C, the major third E, and optional fifth G, and the sixth, A.

Sharps and flats, or the keyboard black notes, can be added by simply placing the relevant sign after the note name i.e. C sharp 6 means you are working from the scale of C sharp (C sharp, D sharp, E sharp, F sharp, G sharp, A sharp, B sharp, C sharp) so the first, third, fifth and sixth (or C sharp, E sharp, G sharp, and A sharp) will be your chord; or by placing the relevant sign before the interval i.e. C flat 5 which will be made up of a C, an E and a G flat. Likewise the terms augmented (to raise by a semitone) and diminished (to lower by a semitone) may be respectively written as C + 5 (C, E, G sharp) or C aug 5, and C°5 or C dim 5 (C, E, Gb).

Throw in the limitation of physical capabilities concerning guitar technique and you come across constant inverting and juggling with intervals for the sake of easy fingering. Not only do you sometimes miss out the fifth (the 3rd is usually present to denote a major or minor sound) but more often than not, you may find a 7th, or whatever, not one but two octaves away from the tonic. That is left to the discretion of the composer or interpreter.

Series - "Beyond E Major"

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All parts in this series:

Part 1 (Viewing) | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9

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Publisher: One Two Testing - IPC Magazines Ltd, Northern & Shell Ltd.

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One Two Testing - Apr 1984


Tuition / Technique

Music Theory


Beyond E Major

Part 1 (Viewing) | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9

Feature by Billy Jenkins

Previous article in this issue:

> Heroes

Next article in this issue:

> When Is A Computer?

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