Atmospheric Open Chords

by Emir Hot

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  • Hi everyone! This time I have a chord lesson for you. Don't get scared when you see all those complex chord names. They are written that way only because I would like you to understand chord structures rather than looking at my playing. For that very reason I included this big writing on the red background so you focus on the chord names.

    Many of these names could be simplified but for the purpose of this lesson I made these chords names according to their root and bass guitar (usually bass note) and always counting intervals from there. I tried to use many different ways of writing chords so you can hopefully find it useful.

    Before I start with chord formula explanation I would just like to say that in this lesson I used strict alternate picking and "let ring" effect wherever possible. Also pay attention on fingering. The numbers are included in the chord diagrams. The name "atmospheric" came from the space-sounding effect with chorus and compressor - or at least I feel like in space when listening to these open chords :).

    A chord is 2,3 or more notes played at the same time. There are many chords you can play on the guitar like: triads, seventh chords, ninth chords, eleventh chords, thirteenth chords, diminished chords, power chords, suspended chords and many variations and inversions of all these. Chords are made of different intervals. Here are the usual names of intervals:

    1 – unison
    b2 / b9 – minor second / flat ninth or (minor ninth)
    2 / 9 – major second / ninth
    b3 / #9 – minor third / sharp ninth (or augmented ninth)
    3 / b11 – major third / flat eleventh
    4 / 11 – perfect fourth / eleventh
    #4 / b5 / #11 – augmented (sharp) fourth / diminished (flat) fifth / sharp eleventh
    5 – perfect fifth
    b6 / #5 / b13 – minor sixth / sharp fifth / flat thirteenth
    6 / 13 – major sixth / thirteenth
    b7 – minor seventh
    7 – major seventh

    As you probably guessed 2=9, 4=11, 6=13. Don't let this confuse or scare you. These notes are the same. They are just sometimes written different way in a chord name. The reason they are written that way is to define the chord more precise.

    If you have a simple "Am" triad (A, C, E), you simply call it "A minor" and you write "Am". If you add "B" note in the chord, you added a major second interval. There are some unwritten rules that say - when you have higher intervals on top of your main triad you should continue with higher numbers. The chord (A, C, E, B) would be called "Am add9" because we added the 9th on top of our full triad. If we didn't have 5th, we would simply call it "Am9". Some people call it "Am9" anyway and some who want to sound more precise say "Am add9".

    The 5th often doesn't need to be in a chord as that interval doesn't define the chord type but sometimes gives it a richer sound. If you have intervals 1,3,5,7 the chord would be called "maj7". If you take the 5th out you will get (1, 3, 7) which is also called "maj7". What happens when we have the 9th on top of this like (1, 3, 7, 9)? We call this "maj7/9". If you have 9th in the chord, most of the time it is guessed that there is 7th as well. Because of that people often say "maj9" instead of "maj7/9". You cannot call it maj7/2 as 1, 2 and 3 are never written in chord names (except sus2 which is written when you replace the 3rd with the 2nd). What happens when there are b3 and 3 in the chord? Think of (1, b3, 3, 7)? This is where these big numbers are useful. We could call this min/maj7 but many times you will find it easier if you see different numbers in the chord formula rather than duplicated (like in this one we have number 3 written twice).

    How about maj7#9. Still the same chord but the intervals are pointed out much clearer. You can add as many numbers as you want if you want to be more precise. There is nothing wrong if you write Cmaj7/9/#11/b13. If you "extract" this formula you would get these intervals (1, 2, 3, #4, 5, b6, 7). As you might have noticed, we have the whole 7 notes scale representing a chord. This wouldn’t sound nice unless the notes are played one after another but if this is what you need in your music then feel free to use these numbers as shown. Sometimes the important intervals are not played such as root or 3rd. In these formulas we simply write "no 3rd" or "no root". For example (1, 5, 7 = maj7/no 3rd). This 3rd or root can be played by some other instrument like bass guitar and together with the lead instrument will produce the right chord in the end.

    It is just a matter of taste how you will use the formula. Jazz musicians like to use big numbers. I have seen many books with many different ways of writing chord formulas. Jazz musicians would always write 7/13 instead of 7/6.

    There are many different ways and in the end the most important is that your chord sounds right.

    Some more tips:
    b = - (flat is the same as minus) for example Amaj7b5 is the same as Amaj7-5
    # = + (sharp is the same as plus) Am7#11 is the same as Am7+11, you will also find people write Am7/11+

    Have fun.

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