Today I’m diving back into my Mandolin Chord Shapes Series with a slight twist. The goal of this lesson is to help you use chord shapes you likely already know to play more complex songs.
I use these enharmonic chords a lot when playing jazz tunes. Check out some of the song breakdowns I’ve done for jazz tunes like It’s Only A Paper Moon to see some of these chords in action.
One note, this lesson is a shortcut plain and simple. We’re just touching the tip of the iceberg for the much deeper topic of chord substitutions. I’ll go over Chord Substitution basics in a later topic. Also, I’ve covered some of these chord types previously in the Mandolin Chord Shapes Series. Check out that series for some more details.
What does Enharmonic mean?
The term “enharmonic” refers to two notes that have the same pitch, but different names. For example, A# is also called Bb and vice versa. Extending this idea, enharmonic chords are chords that could be called two different names. For example, the notes A C Eb G could be Aø or Cmin6 (C Eb G A).
While there are “true” Enharmonic Chord like Aø and Cmin6 that have exactly the same notes, often I use “near” enharmonic chords. These are generally three note chords that intentionally leave one note out to make the chord being played a little ambiguous. The missing note is implied either by other players (like the bass) or by the progression itself. For example, the notes B F and D could be a G7 chord (adding G) or a Bdim7 (adding the G#) or a Bm7b5 (adding the A). In the examples I provide, the bold notes are the ones that are implied or not played.
Figuring out how best to explain this topic was tough. Normally I like providing the note function (like 3rd) rather than a specific note (like A) so it’s easier to move the shape around. Given this topic however, I felt that would be really difficult. I opted to provide examples using specific notes rather than functions. I also included a “fret #” to the side to help. Since this are all “closed” positions however, you can easily move them around still.
Major or Minor?
When a chord is lacking the 3rd, it’s a little ambiguous in nature. These chords lean towards a “major” feel when played alone. But if you’re playing with others that play a minor 3rd, chords lacking the 3rd take on a minor type sound.
I’ve listed both Major and Minor chords as options when the 3rd is omitted.
Three Note Chords
All these examples are three note chords as they are ambiguous which helps in this context. To keep things simple, I’m just focusing on the G D and A strings for the examples. You can shift these to the D A and E strings as well.
I also included some “close chords”. These are chords that are 1 note apart from the one listed – meaning you’ll move one note up or down the neck. These simple chord changes reduce the amount of movement you need which can be a huge help with faster progressions. I’m not providing the enharmonic chords for these “close chords” – that’d be too much for this lesson!
Primarily I use this shape as a Dominant 7th, Diminished 7th, or Half Diminished 7th. It’s a really versatile chord!
1. Dominant 7 – G7 – G B D F
2. Diminished 7 – could be Bo7, Fo7, or Do 7 – B D F G#
3. Half Diminished 7 (m7b5) Bm7b5 (Bø7) – B D F A
4. Minor 6 – Dmin6 – D F A B
Some close chords
1. Move the D back a fret to C#, you get C#7
2. Move the D up a fret to D#, you get C#9
3. Move the B up a fret, you get Dmin7
4. Move the B back a fret, you get Bb major
5. Move the F back a fret to E, you get E7
6. Move the F up a fret to F#, you get B minor
Primarily I think of this shape as either a Dominant 7th or Half Diminished chord.
1. Dominant 7 – D7 – D F# C A
2. Half Diminished 7 (m7b5) – F#ø 7 – F# A C E
3. Minor 6 – Amin6 – A C E F#
Some close chords
1. Move the A back a fret to Ab, you get Ab7
2. Move the A up a fret to A#, you get F#b5
3. Move the F# back a fret to F, you get F major
4. Move the F# up a fret to G , you get C6
5. Move the C back a fret to B, you get B7
6. Move the C up a fret to C#, you get F#min
Primarily I think of this shape as a 6th or minor 7.
1. 6th – C6 – C E G A
2. Minor 6 – C Eb G A
3. Minor 7 – Amin7 – A C E G
4. 11th -D11 – D F# A C G
5. Minor 11th – Dmin11 – D F A C G
Some close chords
1. Move the A back a fret to Ab, you get Abmaj7
2. Move the A up a fret to Bb, you get C7
3. Move the G back a fret to F#, you get D7
4. Move the G up a fret to G#, you get AminMaj7
5. Move the C back a fret to B, you get G9
6. Move the C up a fret to C#, you get A7
Primarily I think of this chord as a 7th chord.
1. Dominant 7 – A7 – A C# E G
2. 9th – A9- A C# E G B
3. Minor 9 – F#min9 – F# A C# G
Some close chords
1. Move the A back a fret to Ab, you get
2. Move the A up a fret to A#, you get A#7
3. Move the G back a fret to F#, you get F#min
4. Move the G up a fret to G#, you get Amaj7
5. Move the C# back a fret to C, you get Amin7
6. Move the C# up a fret to D, you get G9
Enharmonic chords can be really helpful when playing tunes with complicated changes. This is a fairly deep topic that we’ve just touched on, but I hope it helps!
Feel free to leave a comment below with any questions or feedback. For a deeper dive in to this topic, click here for more information on private coaching. If you like this free content and would like more of it, considering donating to my site here – donations really help keep things going!
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