Chords and Work Ethic

This was the video that started my adventure in internet guitar teaching. It was made on a whim, using a system of chords that’s been around for a long time. I learned it from a great Philly area jazz guitarist named Joseph Federico, and he learned it from his teacher, Dennis Sandole, the “godfather” of Philly jazz guitar teachers.
The unspoken subtext here is that it may only take 6 minutes to watch the video, but it’ll almost certainly take a couple years to really digest its contents.
One of the hardest things about learning the guitar is letting go of expectations: “I should be learning faster” is a common one. I’ve found that the most productive stance to take involves just practicing consistently, and doing your very best without any thought of where you expect it to get you, or when. Just make this exercise part of your daily routine for awhile. Once you’ve practiced it a couple dozen times, it’ll only take a couple minutes to walk through it. Try to make the chords sound clearly, one strum per chord. When you’re first learning the chord positions, use the pause button and time line on your Youtube viewer to accurately see and hear the chords.
If you have a real problem area, then isolate it down to two positions, and go back and forth between them. Try to avoid the pitfall of concentrating on the things you do well and ignoring the things that you do badly.
As you get a handle on several comfortable chord positions, try to find sheet music for one or two tunes you like, then teach yourself to play rhythm chords using the positions in the exercise. As you get comfortable, you can go on to my other two chord videos, for which I’ll provide links soon.


Posted on May 18, 2011, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 19 Comments.

  1. This is great Rolly, I have sent many people looking for your videos on youtube and a site is simpler to pass on. Keep up the great music you make.

  2. Charlie Ortolani

    Do the first 50 people who sign up get a prize? Like a capo or a single guitar string or a hearty handshake, or whatever?

  3. Hi Rolly,

    Looking forward to that hearty handshake, one from Charlie too. I’ve got enough capos and tuners.

    Dave Egli

  4. Wow, great! I’m really looking forward to this.

  5. This is great Rolly! Thanks for creating a useful and practical guitar web site; I’ll be stopping by very often.
    Looking forward to seeing you at Winfield this yr.

  6. Roland Doucet

    Wrong scale. You start by saying that the C7 comes out of a Cmajor scale? I imagine you know that it comes out of the Fmaj scale…? Where is the Bb in the C scale?

    It might seem like a detail, but it’s not at all; people cannot understand scales and chord scales if they don’t learn the very basic reality that, in this instance, C7 is the 5 of F, and that’s where the notes obviously have to come from. And to improvise over a C7 chord, you don’t use the C scale, you obviously use the F scale.

    And some of the shapes you show are useless: Ex. when in the first position, you change the C7 to Cmaj7, that is a dog of a chord. I’m sure you know as well as me that at the “bottom of the neck” there are 2 very user-friendly and perfectly great Cmaj7 chords that sound great, one ‘open’, the other with the 4 ‘inside’ strings at the 3rd position, that jazzers use.

    • Thanks for your input, Roland. Perhaps I didn’t communicate as clearly as I might have. What I meant is that C chords in general are derived from the C major scale (i.e., C =1, D=2, etc.)
      It would be very confusing to say that the recipe for a C7 chord equals the 5th, 7th, 2nd, and 4th of the F scale. Also, if you play a blues in C, you wouldn’t necessarily solo over a C7 chord with an F scale. In truth, I’d say that the C7 is derived from the C Mixolydian scale. Of course, we all have our own ways of organizing this info. That’s why they call it “theory” instead of music fact.
      The first position Cmaj7 actually sounds very lovely when arpeggiated and a bit dissonant when struck as a chord. If you go to Youtube and search the videos that I made after this one, (I’ll be embedding them into this site over time) you’ll find discussion of ii-V-I structures and four more stringsets which can yield a total of 1200 chords. This first stringset is a fine one for swing rhythm guitar, and, in my opinion, a great place to start. The “adjacent strings” stringsets yield the “drop 2” inversions of the chords, which are also very useful.

  7. Charles R. Shelton

    Great Rolly! Keep up the good work….Looking forward to some good stuff!!!

  8. Pat Kenneally

    Hi Rolly,

    This is great! Thank you.

    See you in July!

    Pat Kenneally

  9. Roland Doucet


    Chord “recipes” (formula is a better word and concept)are always given starting with the tonic, in this case C. So Cmaj7 goes: 1, 3, 5, maj7; C7 goes: 1, 3, 5, flat7; Cmin7 goes: 1, flat3, 5, flat7. That is how you spell chords, and the “1” is the tonic of the chord (and of the chord scale=mixolydian on the 5 of the scale).

    Now, if you want to tell somebody where the notes come from, it’s more than obvious (and important) that the notes of the C7 come from the Fmaj scale, no two ways about that! All 7 chords of the key of F use the Fmaj scale. But that doesn’t mean that you would spell chords in reference to the scale they’re derived from…? as you suggested. You always spell chords by starting with the tonic, and giving the subsequent voices in relation to that tonic. So you don’t even have to worry in spelling chords about where they come from: Dmin7flat5 = I, flatIII, flatV, flat7, which applies to ANY min7flat5 chord… regardless of the letter.

    But to teach improv, you HAVE to let people know where the different chords come from, and that allows people to quickly see which notes fit the chords.

    And obviously, to play blues, you tend to use the blues scale for the tonic chord. So, blues in F would use the F blues scale, and all three chords are dom7s, so you use the F blues scale over the F7, Bb7, and the C7.

    • Todd Roberts

      Hey Roland …where is your site?

    • Well, as I said, people organize info in different ways. You have yours, and I have mine. And since you’re obviously sure that your way is best, you needn’t bother stopping back here again. Good luck with your site!

  10. Todd Roberts

    Cool beans Rolly….It will be great to be able to talk about this guitar thing,but especially to you.It takes me awhile to figure things out.Help from you can only help speed the new things along.

  11. Alan McKimmy

    Great to see your site. I’ve been in some of your classes at camps and seen your videos on youtube. You will be a great addition to the musical education landscape. Love your fingerpickin”


  12. Charlie Ortolani

    Hey Rolly, why are 9th, 11th and 13th chords built off of a seventh chord? 4ths and 6ths are not, I think. If you play a major chord and add a 9th, is it still a 9th chord? (Or a 2nd? A 4th is an octave down from an 11th, correct?)

    • Charles,
      The answer is “because”…
      I believe these terminologies grew out of the attempt to describe specific sounds within the contexts of specific musical cultures.
      If you build a 4th chord off of a seventh chord, it’s called an eleventh. If you build a 6th chord off of a seventh chord, it’s called a 13th.
      If you add a 9th to a C major triad, it’s called a “Cadd9” in order to distinguish it from a major 9th, which has a major 7th in it as well.
      The convention grew up as a way of differentiating these sounds from one another. As I said in an earlier note, the original basis for this nomenclature probably derives from the piano keyboard, hence the linear way of describing things.
      On the street, people certainly use alternate ways of describing them, but none of these systems are perfect. The conventional system is, though, probably better than any of the others, once you understand its workings, because it has grown organically over time to address problems of description…

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