We recently had a customer pose a very good question. They’d been looking at the song ‘How He Loves’ and had a number of different chord charts for it, some aimed at guitar and some aimed at piano. Some were from official paid-for channels, others were freebies comped off the internet. The thing was, although the song’s basic chords are C, Am, G and F all the way through, each chart had different chord names. One piano version used C, Am7, C/G, Fmaj7. Another sometimes substituted the Fmaj7 for an F2 or F5. Then various guitar versions used C, Am, Gsus, F2. Or C, F2/A, Gsus, F2. Or C, Dm7/A, Gsus, F2. And one even used C, F2/A, D, F/A.
So the obvious question was – which one’s right?
Now there are various things going on here. Firstly, lots of free charts from the web are put together by enthusiastic people with varying degrees of music theory understanding, so sometimes the chords are simply wrong, but at other times chords come out with quite different names purely depending on which instrument is transcribing them. This is especially true for songs written on guitar but then transcribed on piano where the pianist tries to imitate the exact notes played in every guitar chord shape. Broadly speaking most guitarist’s learn chords by shapes that fall nicely to hand with and move from one chord to the next by moving as few fingers as possible. Those shapes work very nicely over basic chords and so they will give that shape a basic name, or a name that they’ve seen in a chord diagram. Those names are often abbreviated for the sake of easy learning and brevity. However keyboard player have to learn chords by the proper notes and not shapes. So if a keyboard tries to replicate and transcribe those exact notes it can come out with either a very long-winded and confusing name or describe a chord that gives a very different sound to the one intended. Of course those proper names are technically precise but not very applicable in the real world. Cmaj9add4add6(b13)(b5) anybody?
Conversely chord sequences can look incredibly complex on a chart if they are trying to replicate moving bass lines or particular arpeggios played on piano. This especially true for hymns and carols where the chord can seem to change on every beat and frighten the life out of an unsuspecting guitarist!
As an example the shape below is a beautiful sounding chord that many guitar players use over an F chord.
The notes in a basic F chord are F, A and C, but using this shape the guitarist is actually playing the note C, F, G, C and E.
So as the lowest note is a C you could describe it as a Csus4 or more technically a Cadd11. But that’s not the right sound at all, as the implied bass note needs to be an F, (it’s just the guitarist’s fingers aren’t bionic and cant get there)
And to be technically correct, as the C is the lowest note we’d have to describe it as an F/C something, but there’s the open G so it’s an Fsus2/C and of course the top open E string so we’d perhaps call it an Fsus2maj7/C. The problem now is not only the long-winded and pedantic chord name, but also because we’ve named it a major7 chord. Read More