Some guitar chords sound great when played next to each other whilst other combinations (of perfectly good chords) can sound horrible? As our students progress they will notice this more and more and our job as guitar teachers is to help them to find out why this is the case without overwhelming them with the maths of the whole thing?
Introducing our guitar students to music theory can be a bit of a tricky area for more than one reason. If we involve theory too early we run the risk of over complicating the subject while our students are struggling with the task of aquiring a basic technique but too late can mean that they come to regard guitar playing solely as a physical/gymnastic activity and are likely to see progression in terms of getting their fingers to do ever more complicated things rather than getting their brain to understand what they are doing and why they are doing it?
The world does not need any more guitar guitar players who can fly all over the neck at bewidering speed but who have not got the first clue about how all of the notes and chords that they are playing are likely to affect the harmony and melody of the music that they are producing?
I find that a gentle introduction to the idea that there is a logical framework underpinning guitar playing is to ask them to play a chord sequence using three of the open guitar chords from the CAGED System (the best chords for a beginner to learn). I usually use the chords to “Wild Thing” in the key of G (two strums on G – two strums on C- two strums on D and finish by playing two strums on C again)
When they have mastered this I get them to play the same sequence transposed into the key of A (two strums on A – two strums on D- two strums on E and finish by playing two more strums on D again). I invite them to notice the fact that even though they are playing two sets of completely different chords the two sequences sound the same (but in different keys)?
I tell them that this is because the chords are built on the first, fourth and fifth notes of the major scale of the key that they are in and to illustrate this I ask them to count up the alphabet starting from G (and giving that note the number 1) through to C as the fourth note and D as the fifth.
I then ask them to do the same starting from a note of A and to see how the root notes of the A D and E chords again correspond to this formulae.
Of course you and I know that no mention was made of the C#(rather than the C) contained in the A scale but that is something that can be dealt with in the next guitar theory lesson when Major Scales will be introduced