THE 9 SHAPES OF HARMONY
This upcoming book presents a new, hands-on approach to jazz harmony based on nine simple fingerboard shapes. It uses a special system of chord diagrams, and thus no music reading skills are necessary. Although much of the material covered is quite advanced, the book can be used by anyone who has mastered the basic open-string chords.
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Here is an excerpt from the book’s first chapter:
The 9 Shapes of Harmony
Behind this new approach to jazz harmony is a very simple idea: take nine basic fingerboard shapes and use them to explain everything else. “Advanced harmony” is usually associated with music theory classrooms and textbooks, with abstract learning. While the “school” approach helps us understand harmony, it often doesn’t meet our needs as guitar players. Working from notation on paper makes some things clearer, but many others become more confusing. Here our instrument offers a unique opportunity: right there in your hands, you have a powerful tool for visualizing chords and progressions as you play and hear them. Harmony can be grasped, not only mentally, but also with the fingers.
As guitarists, most of us began with the major and minor chords needed to accompany simple songs. Or we started out in a style where that wasn't the first thing we learned; maybe we were pumping power chords to play rock or learning classical pieces from sheet music. At some point, however, almost every guitarist masters the basic open-string chords. On the guitar it’s so easy to play the songs you want to sing, around the campfire, in your church, at parties with friends... The great thing about this kind of playing—and I tell all my students that they shouldn’t neglect it—is that it puts us inside the music. Pretty soon our inner ear starts helping us find the next chord. If we are playing a three-chord song with G, C and D, simply guessing what chord is up next gives us a 50% chance of being right! With practice we quickly learn to follow our instincts.
When faced with challenging harmony, we assume our intuition won’t help much anymore, and that complex chords can only be mastered by understanding music theory and then applying it to our playing. The problem here is that the theory is much more complicated than the music itself. When listening, we sense that this is true, but in our playing we feel trapped in a few pre-learned patterns. What amazes me the most about the greatest musicians I've worked with is the amount of intuition and freedom in their playing, regardless of harmonic complexity.