Learning mandolin chord shapes can seem tricky but an easy start is to focus on some of the basic chord shapes. In this series, I’m going to cover various chord shapes of a particular type. You can see the full series here. Now that we’ve covered the basic major, minor, and diminished chords, it’s time to look at altered and extended chords.
In today’s review, we’ll look at the 6th chord. I mostly grouped these by which string the Root.
What is a 6th chord?
A 6th chord is an extension of the major triad using the 1 3 5 6 of a particular key. These chords are similar to 13th chords (just missing the b7) which I’ll discuss in a future post.
These chords often feel minor which makes sense since the notes in the 6th chord make up the relative minor 7th. Take G6 for example (G B D E) notes rearranged to (E G B D) or Emin7. As such, they can be good substitutions for minor 7 chords.
These chords are used a lot in jazz. Often it’s either as a replacement for the Root (like in Afternoon in Paris) or a resolution at the end of a song (like in Honeysuckle Rose) but definitely not limited to those uses.
3 note vs 4 note chords
In my diagrams I’ll mostly display 4 note chords, though I will explain 3 note variations in some cases. While you can certainly play just 3 note chords and be great (a la Jethro Burns for example), learning the 4 note variations gives you more bang for your buck. Understanding and knowing the 4 note variation allows you the flexibility to drop one note to get a 3 note variation – giving you a lot more options with less to memorize.
I’ve added a few ideas for how these shapes can be used to make chord changes a bit easier by moving one or two fingers a fret. Knowing how a single note can change the whole chord can really simplify chord changes. In some progressions, just moving the one or two notes and leaving the others in place will be fine. In others, you may find that you need to shift the chord shape itself to another position.
What’s the “starting fret”?
The shapes here are general moveable patterns – meaning there’s no specific starting fret. Simply find the root note on the fretboard and that will tell you what fret you should start on etc. Using a fretboard roadmap like this can help.
Root on G – Shape 1
Often I’ll play this as a 3 note chord. Both the G D and A strings or the D A and E strings work well, depending on where you want the root. As written, the chord to the left is an A6 chord. Note that this is the same as a minor chord as well (as written, it would be F#m with the root on the D string).
G = first
D = third (or first for three note)
A = third (or first for three note)
E = pinky (or second for three note)
Root on G – Shape 2
To get the full chord shape, your best bet is to bar the root, 5th, and 6th with your first finger. As written, this is an A6 chord. If you moved the 6th up a fret to the 3rd fret, you’d have A7. If you moved the 3rd back one fret to the 3rd fret, you’d have Amin6.
G = First
D = First
A = Third
E = First
Root on D – Shape 1
This shape can be played either as the full 4 note or a 3 note chord using the G D and A or the D A and E strings. I like this shape as it moves really nicely into the 7th chord. As written, this would be an E6 – moving the 5th back 1 fret would make this an F#7 (or II7). Moving the 5th, 6th, and 3rd back 1 fret would make this a C7 chord.
G = Second
D = First
A = Third
E = Third
Root on A – Shape 1
This shape is really similar to the major chop chord which makes it a really handy voicing when going from a major chord to the 6th chord of the same note (i.e. C to C6). It also can easily morph to other chords. As written, this is a C6 chord. Moving the 5th back one fret to the 4th fret would make it an F7 chord (or IV7). Instead, if you moved the root up a fret to the 4th fret, it would be A7 (or VI7). If you moved the 6th and the root up a fret each (to the 3rd and 4th respectively) you’d have a Eb7 (bIII7).
G = First
D = Third
A = Second
E = N/A
Root on A – Shape 2
While you could play this as a 4 note chord, usually I just play the 3 note variation of this chord using the D A and E strings. Similar to the Root on the D Shape 1 chord, this chord can morph pretty easily to other chords. As written this is a B6 chord. Moving the 5th and 6th back one fret to the 3rd fret and omitting the G string make this a G7 (or IV7).
G = Second (or omit)
D = Second
A = First
E = Third
Root on E – Shape 1
Another go to shape for this chord. As written this is a G6 chord. Moving the 5th back to the 4th fret would make an A7 chord (or II7). Moving the root up to the 4th fret would make an E7 (or VI7). Moving the 6th up 1 fret to the 3rd would make a Bb6. Bringing both the 6th up to the 3rd and 4th frets respectively would make this a Bb7 (bIII7.
G = N/A
D = First
A = Third
E = Second
These shapes are a great easy way to start getting comfortable with chords. Aside from just memorizing the shapes, I strongly recommend you memorize the note function of each chord (i.e. where is the b3rd and b7th in the chord etc), the name of the note on each string, and how to spell chords. Longer term, this will pay off significantly.
A good way to learn these chords is through playing tunes. Just pick any song you like and try using these chords when appropriate. Use the chord diagrams above to create at least 2 variations of the progression – meaning you’ll use different voicings of each chord for each variation. Start with something simple like a I IV V song before moving to more complex tunes.
I hope this review helps! And remember – this is just the beginning, there’s so many other variations out there! Next we’ll be diving in to 9th chords.
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