PhatPhish

Modifying Existing Shapes

 

If you've been playing for a while, or if you take a look around the various tutorials on this site, then you'll realise that there are a lot of shapes you need to know for chords and scales on the guitar neck. Actually, there's almost an infinite number - so just how are you supposed to remember them all?

If you've got a superb memory then that's fine, but life's too short to be able to spend the time needed to memorise absolutely everything. This is when a decent background in the theory side of things can be your lifeline. Instead of just seeing these shapes as dots on the neck, but being able to think of them in terms of how they relate to each other, you can work out of lot of things that you may need 'on the fly'

Often when you're presented with a new scale or chord, it's possible to adapt shapes or boxes that you're already familiar with and use them with them with the new scale or chord. A good example of this is the harmonic minor scale - you may already have seen this scale in an earlier tutorial but if you haven't then it doesn't matter, as we'll start from scratch here.

When presented with this new scale, you can compare its formula with those of scales that you already know, and try to find one that has a similar formula. In the case of the harmonic minor, you would probably view this scale as being a natural minor scale with a natural seventh degree (if you don't know the natural minor scale, then you really ought to - go and read about it now). For example, in the key of A:

A natural minor: A
1
B
2
C
b3
D
4
E
5
F
b6
G
b7
A harmonic minor: A
1
B
2
C
b3
D
4
E
5
F
b6
G#
7

When transferring this scale to the guitar neck, you would begin with the familiar shape for the natural minor scale, but raise each b7 degree by 1 fret (i.e. 1 semitone) to give a natural 7th degree:

Natural Minor

Harmonic Minor

The same principle may be applied to chords. For example, the i chord of A natural minor is Am7. This chord has the formula 1-b3-5-b7 and so in the key of A natural minor contains the notes A-C-E-G, and could be played on the guitar thus:

Am7 chord
(numbers denote fingers)

If however the chord required was in fact the i chord of the harmonic minor, the previous shape could be adapted to suit. The i chord of A harmonic minor is Am(Maj7) and has the formula 1-b3-5-7 (i.e. it is like a minor 7th chord with a natural 7th degree). Am(Maj7) contains the notes A-C-E-G#. It is quite a simple task to take the Am7 chord shape which you know and replace the b7 degree with a natural 7th:

Am(Maj7) chord
(numbers denote fingers)

Another, probably more obvious, example of modifying existing shapes is when you move a shape up or down the neck. The examples we've seen here are based around A, but if you needed to play them in B then you would just move everything up by a couple of frets. Easy really, when you come to think about it.


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