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Lesson Four

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    Maria Catalina Higuera

The Sound of Music

Congratulations on making it this far! At this point, it’s just a matter of applying what you have already learned, making the connections between the different concepts/skills, and learning one more magical skill: playing by ear – being able to know a song, and play it using chords without ever looking at the music. We will learn this, and more, in this fourth and final lesson!

Chips – The Key to Reggae and Latino Music

Remember the time signatures you learned? And remember how we divided each beat in a 4/4 bar of music in two to produce 8 notes? This created what we called an “on” beat (down strum) and an “off” beat (up strum). To illustrate:


The key to music styles like Reggae, and some Latino rhythms, is an emphasis on the “off” beat. Here is what that pattern looks like:


To really get this effect to sound properly, you have to use either barre or “chip” chords (3 string triads) so as to mute the strings on the “on” beats.

Here are some of the common chords used for this type of strumming:


It is very important to use one of your fingers to just slightly touch the fourth string so as to mute it and prevent it from ringing out dissonant extra notes. That is a technique that is developed over time, and here is a good place to start.

4th string barre chords and triads are also common for this type of music:


After you have become comfortable with the chord shapes, you need to practice strumming continuously while only pressing the strings down on the off beats, thus muting the strings on the on beats. Practice it with the 8 note pattern above.

After you have become comfortable with this technique, you need to learn to connect the different triad shapes to form chord progressions.

This will necessitate song movement on the fretboard, and thus might take some time to learn and become comfortable with.

The CAGED System – Finding All the Notes/Chords on the Fretboard

The CAGED system is a system of patterns that helps you locate and connect all the notes on the fretboard. The ability to connect those notes and associate them with chord shapes based on which string that note is located will enable you to play chords, and eventually even scales, all over the fretboard.

The main things involved in understanding the caged system are a knowledge of the 5 main open chords (C-A-G-E-D), the formulas for locating the next note on the strings, and an understanding of the transposability of the open chords.

Here are the formulas for finding the next note on each string:

  1. E: 2 frets forward, 3 frets up/3 frets back, 2 frets up

  2. B: 2 frets forward, 3 frets up/3 frets back, 2 frets up

  3. G: 3 frets forward 3 frets up/2 frets back, 2 frets up

  4. D: 3 frets forward, 2 frets down/2 frets back, 2 frets up

  5. A: 2 frets forward, 2 frets down/3 frets back, 2 down

  6. E: 2 frets forward, 2 frets down/3 frets back, 3 frets down


The knowledge of the CAGED system is best applied together with scales on the guitar – this way, you can play scales up and down the fret board, connecting each scale using the CAGED system. Here are some charts to get you started with that:

Here is the CAGED system applied to the G Major Scale (remember that you can transpose these shapes up and down the guitar next for different keys):


Here is CAGED system applied to the G Minor Scale:


Scales 3 – The Pentatonic Scale

The Pentatonic scale is a scale used most often soloing and lead guitar. Like the major and minor scale, it too has a specific formula:


Just like you use the CAGED system to connect major (and minor) scales, it can also be used to connect major and minor pentatonic scales. This really is the endgame of learning to use the CAGED system with scales – Lead guitar is based on the ability to play licks up and down the neck using the pentatonic scales. Here are some charts for the major and minor pentatonic scales to get you started:



The following diagram connects the CAGED system with the scales:


Playing By Ear – The I, IV, and V Chords

Playing by ear is virtually the most important skill you could possibly learn as a musician. Developing the ability to listen to a song and “feel” the chords and chord progressions in the song takes time, but with a few basic rules, you can very quickly begin to play songs you know without ever reading notes.

Let’s go over the basic ground rules of playing by ear:

  1. The 3 most important chords – the ones you will use 80% of the time – Are the I, IV, and Vth chords. These are known as the Tonic, the Subdominant, and the Dominant respectively. You can play 90% of all the songs ever written using just these 3 chords in the key. Remember this all important fact.

  2. A song will generally stay flat, go “up”, or come “down”. When a song stays flat, you play the Tonic (I). When the song goes “up”, you play the Subdominant (IV). When the song goes “down”, you play the Dominant (V).

  3. If the song goes “up”, and then seems to go “up” again, then play the Subdominant followed by the Dominant. It usually works.

  4. If it sounds good, it is good! – There is no one “correct” way to play a song. In music, it either sounds good, or it doesn’t. PERIODT!

  5. If it sounds better, than by all means use it!



Playing By Ear – The VII Chord, Minor Keys

The VII chord is usually one of the least used chords, although it may be used quite often. It really depends on the style of music you’re playing.

The main use of the VII chord is as transition between VI and I. Many songs use the VI – VII – I progression (e.g. Oceans by Hillsong).

Relative Minor Keys & Scales – The Key to Playing in Minor Keys

A relative minor scale is a scale that has the same notes as its “relative” major scale. The notes have just changed their order. A relative minor scale is the same as its relative major, if you start playing the scale from the 6th note:


A song that is said to be in F# Minor, can also be said to be in A Major. The real determining factor is usually the chord progressions used. The chord progressions in a minor key are often quite different from those in a major key.

Relative Keys

Remember the harmonized major and minor scales? Since relative scales have the same notes, it follows that relative keys also have the same chords:


Hence, when you have to play in a minor key, the easiest way to remember which chords to use, besides knowing the minor scale itself, is to use the same chords you would use in the relative major key.

Playing By Ear in Minor Keys

The rules of chord progression logic don’t really apply with songs in minor keys. Here are some more common chord progressions to get you started: