Chord Coloring on Guitar

Pathway is an intermediate-level study built on a simple melody with a variety of chord coloring.

In harmony, chord coloring results when a dissonant note is added to a basic chord.  These are sometime called added-tone chords, shown in lead-sheet notation for popular music and jazz with a letter and number, such as C9,, Gsus4,,A11, E13, etc.

To recognize chord coloring on guitar, first understand basic chord spelling.

Chord Spelling

Only three notes, called the triad, are needed to spell any chord.  They are the root (which names the chord), the 3rd, and the 5th.

Following the notes of a scale, a triad is spelled as every other note.  These are also measured by distances above the root, called intervals.  For example, a C triad, is spelled C-E-G which is made up a of the root, C, a 3rd , E (3 notes above the root) and a 5th, G  (5 notes above the root).  A chord may be realized as a simple 3-note triad, or can duplicate as many notes of the triad as possible across the guitar’s 6 strings. (for a full study of chords and triads, see Guitar Harmony)

Guitar Chord Coloring

Chord Coloring

Any note added to the triad colors it.  Of the 7 different notes in a scale, 3 can form a triad, leaving 4 notes to color it.  For example, in the C scale—C-D-E-F-G-A: CEG form a triad, and D, F, A, B are available to color it:

B is a seventh, since it’s 7 notes above the root C.   Adding a seventh to a C chord makes C 7.

Guitar Chord Coloring

Continuing to stack 3rds, one-by-one, above the root, adds all remaining notes in the scale, which are intervals larger than an octave.

Adding D, a ninth above the root, colors a C chord to make C 9.

Guitar Chord Coloring

Adding  F, an eleventh above the C root, makes C 11.  This is a special chord and typically excludes the 3rd, but includes a 9th and 7th.

Guitar Chord Coloring

Adding A, a thirteenth above the root, makes  C 13.

Guitar Chord Coloring

Chord Voicings

Chords can be voiced in a multitude of ways, with tones arranged in any order (not necessarily in stacking 3rds) and sprinkled across different octave registers. In addition, any chord tone (not just the root) can be the lowest sounding, or bass note.

One important voicing characteristic is whether the chord is open or close.  Triads are realized as close-voiced when all notes are contained within an octave, and open-voiced when notes exceed the range of an octave.  More info.  Due to the nature of the fingerboard, open voicing is often more L.H accommodating than close voicing.  For instance, notes of a low-register F triad can only be played as a blocked chord when open voiced:

Guitar Chord Coloring
Guitar Chord Coloring

With added-note chords, open voicing provides a myriad of options.  For example, consider the C9 chord:

Ninth Chords in Pathway

Pathway features a variety of harmonies, many of which are ninth chords.  To prepare, learn the following fingerboard patterns:

Pathway technical points

  • Hinge bar—Indicated as H.B at mm. 20, & 28.  To make, bar first finger at II to cover only strings ④ – ②, hinging up at the tipjoint to allow open ① to freely sound (for best legato).
  • Glissando—on the 4th beats of mm. 21 & 65.  Make sure the sliding is rhythmically expressed as eighth notes and not a fast ornament.
  • Campanella—to create a harp-or bell-like effect, carefully follow the fingering so that notes sustain over one another.
  • One-hand harmonics—beginning on beat 4, m. 23, sustain A on ① with 1 for a campanella effect.  Then at m. 24, play a one-handed G harmonic, touching i at XII, and striking ③ with p.  Play F# on ②, then with the same one-hand technique, play the D harmonic on ④.
  • Ending—from m.62 to the end, achieve legato with overlapping sustain of notes using campanella fingerings and both 2- and 1-handed harmonics.  In the next-to-last measure, glissando from F-G on ④, with 4.  Hold 4 on G, while reaching down to play F with 1 on ⑥ and C with 2 on ⑤.

The ability to recognize patterns of added-tone chords is essential to reading.  For a complete treatment of triads and chords, their qualities and voicings, see The Shearer Method Book IV: Guitar Harmony


  1. Martin O'Brien

    Beautiful composition! I can’t wait to start working on it! Thank you!

  2. alntom

    Thank you so much Martin!

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