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9th Chord Theory

This lesson teaches how to use 9th chords in a variety of keys to transition from a functional V dominant chord to a I chord. 

It's important to remember that the 3rd and 7th of the chord are the most important notes because they determine the tonality of the chord:

  • Major 3rd, major 7th - Major 7th chord
  • Major 3, minor 7 - Dominant 7th chord*
  • Minor 3rd, major 7th - Minor major 7th chord
  • Minor 3rd, minor 7th - Minor 7th chord

The dominant 7th chord is what we'll be building on in the lesson. Enjoy!


Laying a Solid Foundation for Improvisation

This video teaches how you can start to think like a jazz musician when improvising. I'm using simple elements of theory to show you how you can "map out" your fingerboard to start playing/hearing chord tones when you improvise. 

Step 1: Understand where you are on the neck. Where are the root, 3rd, and 5th chord tones for the particular chord your studying? Can you locate all of these notes on the entire neck?

Step 2: Bring another chord into the mix. If you're working in the key of C, start with a chord that has a simple relationship with C, such as F or G. Create a chord progression and practice good voice-leading between these chords.

Step 3: Use a popular tune's chord progression to practice this concept. Can you sing the melody of the song out loud while you play the chord tones? Record yourself and make sure you're playing with good time, and you can clearly hear the chord changes when they're supposed to happen.

Step 4: Try this with that same tune's chord progression, but in a different key! 

Have fun, and let me know if you have any questions!



The 4 root position 7th chords

A 7th chord is a 4 note chord built upon a triad (3 note chord). In bluegrass we primarily use major and minor triads.



Occasionally a dominant 7th chord will pop up to build tension for the next chord change, but 7th chords are way more popular in show tunes and jazz.

I've separated the 7th chords into two groups:

1. Major Base - Take your root position G chord, and lower the pinky note either one (maj7) or two frets (dominant 7th). For the major 7th chord you will need to switch your fingers around to maintain the original triad pitches. 

2. Minor Base - Start out with a minor triad chord and repeat the process you did for the major base.

Do this in several different keys. Root position 7th chords are only the tip of the iceberg. We still have 1st, 2nd, and 3rd inversions for each 7th chord! Those lessons will be coming soon :).

Django's Minor Swing in Am - Chords, Scales, and Arpeggios

Last week, I covered the different versions of Minor Swing - Django's in A minor, and David Grisman's in D minor. I briefly went through the chords, but I wanted to make y'all a video to go a little deeper into how you can start to solo over these minor chord progressions. In this video you'll learn about the different pieces involved in learning to improvise over "jazzier" chord progressions, such as Django's version of Minor Swing. 

This stuff has also been incredibly useful in soloing over bluegrass songs. For example, the B section of Blackberry Blossom has a minor tonality, and this theoretical stuff is super fun to implement in your solos!

Augmented Chords and Whole Tone Scales

Bring on the jazz!

Whole tone scales are super cool and an easy way to perk your jam buddy's ear up. 

In this video, I show you how to play a G whole tone scale in both melodic style and single string style.

I use Little Darlin' Pal of Mine to demonstrate it in the context of a tune.

Augmented chords work really well when moving a 4th away from the chord you're currently on.

Example: If you're playing a G chord and a C chord is coming up, it's a perfect opportunity to bust the G Aug chord out.

If you're on a D chord and the next chord is G - D Aug. 

F chord to Bb - F Aug.

Make sense? 

The single string whole tone scale is great because its an easy pattern to remember, easy to play, and once you have it down in a closed position, you can just move around wherever you want!

Have fun!

Theory 101 Chromatic + Major Scale, Major Chords

If you don't know anything about music theory, and would like to get a nice foundation, then check this vid out.

The chromatic scale is the basis for all of Western Music. By western music, I'm referring to anything that descended from or was influenced by European Classical music.

It's a 12-tone system - CC#DD#EFF#GG#AA#BC 

Above is the chromatic scale, and if you impose the WWHWWWH major scale pattern on that, you get a major scale. You can start on any note.

Below, the bold notes are the ones in the C major scale.

   w     w   h  w     w     w    h

C C# D D# E F F# G G# A A# B C

So if we want to apply that do the note G, we get

G A B C D E F# G

and you can number each note. These are called scale degrees. So G is 1, A is 2, B is 3, and so on...

See the tab for how to apply this to your instrument!


We get chords by combining 2 or more notes. In bluegrass, the primary chords we are hearing are called triads.

A G major triad is G, B, and D notes played at the same time. 

That is scale degrees 1, 3, and 5.

The tab will show you your different major chord shapes!


Diatonic 4-note Chords and Arpeggios

I learned these inversions from Jens Kruger, and they've been really useful in helping me understand 7th chord theory.

In bluegrass, we primarily use triads, or three note chords. Jazz consists mostly of 7th chords, and it's fun to start to incorporate those sounds into your bluegrass playing.

The chords and arpeggios I'm demonstrating are diatonic to G, which means all of the notes I'm playing in the chords and arpeggios are "native" to the key of G. They're all in the G scale - G A B C D E F# G. 

Strumming vs. Picking

It's great to learn all of the 4 note chord variations, and that is very useful for strumming in a dixieland jazz or gypsy jazz setting. 

Incorporating these chords into a bluegrass setting is interesting. To be able to pick these chords with the 3 fingers we have available, you need to leave one note out.

In each chord, the 3rd string note is the 5th, which is and the weakest note in any chord. That is the one I chose to leave out, which leaves you with a chord using strings 4, 2, and 1.

Coming soon: When and where to put major 7th chords in bluegrass.

ii/V/I Chord Progression in G - Chord Tones

The goal of this video is to demonstrate proper voice leading when switching chords. 

The ii/V/I chord progression is the most popular sequence in jazz, and perfect for showing how to voice lead correctly.

The idea of voice leading is to land on the "correct" tone in time with the chords that are being played. Another important aspect is moving from a one chord's tones to another chord's with as little movement as possible. 

Example: You're playing the chord progression Am - G.

A minor's chord tones are A C E G, and G's are G B D F#.

When the chord change happens from Am7 to Gmaj7, you want to move to the closest note in G to where you're at. So if you're on an E, you'll move to a D or F#. If you're on a C, you'll move to a B (or D if you want). 

Step #1: Learn all of the chord tones for a particular chord. Am7 is a good place to start, and I've outlined it in the tab.

Step #2: Learn all of the chord tones for a different chord. How about D? It's also in the tab. 

Step #3: Practice good voice leading with those two chords. Slowly with the metronome, por favor :). 

Step #4: Add another chord if you please, or work in more uncomfortable parts of the neck. 

Step #5: Implement in a song.

Most importantly, have fun with it!

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