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Linear Versions

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The goal with this system is to expand our chord catalog and to understand how chords can move up the board. This is a parallel track to using CAGED for expanding our chord knowledge.

We are taking a triad [3 tone chord - we can and will also do this with 4 tone chords] and playing 3 versions of it on the same set of strings [the linear part]; converting a chord to a different version of itself, higher on the board [re-voicing it].

Triads are three tone chords which are created [EON] by picking a tone and then selecting the tone 2 letters [C-D-E] up in the alphabet and then 2 more letters up [C-D-E-F-G]. These tones can be placed on the board in different stacking orders and in different positions up the board.

In this stand alone, single page system, we look at creating linear versions of the the A, D, & E chords, use them in progressions, & take a look at the process maps for C Major.

The basic idea is a cycle on a single string...

linear cycle of root third fifth on a single string

Whichever tone is closest to the nut, the next tone in a triad will cycle through Root, 3rd, 5th, Root.

Linear Arps

To help us see the spacing of tones up a string [linear cycle] for a Major triad, let's start with playing linear melodic arpeggios.

linear guitar arpeggios in tab for e a and d

Since the tones can only be played one at a time, this is playing a chord melodically [melodic arpeggios].

Play each of these for one minute. Then blend them, improvising for 2 minutes.

Which positions/fingerings work train & jam?

Memorize the half-step scheme: 4-3-5.

We can label the chord components using zero for the root or R (1) for the root.

Using Numera [zero for the root - in this case, fret numbers match the Numera] helps us see the number of half steps between each chord tone [basic math works]. 0 also equals 12.

The Major triad is 0-4-7 which shows us that 4 - 0 = 4 and 7 - 4 = 3. This is a 4-3, which is Major. The 5 half steps [12 - 7 = 5] we see between the 12 & 7 frets, gets us back to the root tone.

Stacking & Moving

Next, we use the distances that we learned from linear arpeggios and apply them to 3 string voicings of each chord.

When we play a chord up a single string, the chord components go to their next chord tone member. So, when we stack chord tones on different strings, this same logic will get us to the next chord. In this case, the same sequence will be followed, but on 3 strings at once. In each, there is a R-3-5. To get to the next, the R will go to a 3, a 3 to a 5, and a 5 to the root. This will be happening on 3 strings at once.

We begin with the basic fingerings for E, A, and D.

When you see an E, A, or D chord symbol, any of these work, or try something that we can call 'active single chord movement'. This is when we change a voicing of the same chord to another version of itself. So, instead of chomping on one voicing while a chord is sounding, we change it within a measure or maybe in a new measure as shown for each chord.

A • D • E

Play each chord in all of its positions, in a chain. Practice each chord alone, then play progression/mix them/write something. It's also good to play a song that you know which uses A, D, & E, and re-voice.

a major guitar chords in tab

The component labels are Numera → zero for the root [0 = R, 4 = 3rd, 7 = 5th]. This helps us see the number of half steps between each chord tone [basic math works]. 0 also equals 12 ["0" - 7 = "12" - 7 = 5].

d major guitar chords in tab
e major guitar chords in tab


This is a good practice exercise. We can change the voicing on every beat, rather than every measure.

a d e a guitar chord progression changing the voicing on each beat

We left the last measure chomping on the basic A chord. This gives us a moment to consider repeating it; making adjustments. You could always keep the last measure like the first.

Write your own version. Follow your ear, even toggling tones around. If you hear it, find it → listen to how the chords ring. For the A, try toggling the 2 string to an open. For D, try the 1 string toggled to open.

Fretboard Zones

We can mix the voicings within a 'neighborhood'. We call them fretboard zones. We use a slightly different division for reading].

guitar fretboard zones 1 2 3

Zone One

a d e d guitar chord progression in zone one

These are our basic E, A, & D chords. Easy.

Zone Two

a d e d guitar chord progression in zone two

Sweet sounds.

Zone Three

a d e d guitar chord progression in zone three

More nice-ness.


two string versions of a d and e major

We can fragment the base fingerings down to just 2 adjacent strings.

A5 means that we are playing an A tone [the root] along with its 5. A's 5 is E. So A5 is AE. These are sometimes known as power chords.

A8 isn't common, nor A3, but it tells us exactly which tones we are playing. A8 = AA = octaves. A3 = A-C♯# [A and its 3rd, C sharp]. This naming scheme applies to the others as well...

E5 = EB, E8 = EE, E3 = E-G♯. D5 = DA, D8 = DD, D3 = D-F♯.

These are common sounds in pop music.

C Major

Here we apply the same concept to the C Major triad.

As we did above, we start by playing a Major type melodic arpeggio up a single string. When we do this, we can see the fret spacing of the chord [any type, but we are looking at Major].

Major chords are built as a 4-3, where the 4 is a Major 3rd [4 half steps = 4 frets] & the 3 is a minor 3rd [3 half steps = 3 frets]. The 3rd is 4 frets away from the root, the 5th is 3 frets away from the 3rd, & the root is 5 half steps away from the 5th [it's a Perfect 4th back to the root]. Remember the cycle...

linear version on a single string for root third fifth

C Major Triad on Three Adjacent Strings

We can build a triad in a zone by stacking a root, 3rd, and 5th on 3 adjacent strings. When we do this, the chord can have the root on the lowest fretted string, the 3rd on the lowest fretted string, or the 5th on the lowest fretted string. We then use the remaining two upper adjacent strings to fill in the remainder of the chord.

When we look for the next version on the same set of 3 adjacent strings, a linear cycle occurs [3 linears happening at once from different starting points]: the root moves to the 3rd of the chord, the 3rd moves to the 5th, & the 5th moves to the root.

linear versions of c major on 3 2 1 strings
linear versions of c major on 4 3 2 strings
linear versions of c major on 5 4 3 strings
linear versions of c major on 6 5 4 strings


These are most often called inversions [Root position = root in bass; 1st inversion = 3rd in bass; 2nd inversion = 5th in bass]. I prefer to call them versions [or conversions]. The main reason is that one of the chords in the group isn't inverted [the root position one]. Therefore, one of the class members isn't a member.

Note on 'in the bass': when dealing with chords on the higher strings, we often include open strings, so talking about what is 'in the bass' at that point isn't absolutely true or accurate. 'In the bass' is often used for passing chords, such as slash chords, and those situations use a specific nomenclature [slash chords] and talk of which inversion we are playing is not often mentioned, and for good reason. We just don't talk like that. And, once you know how these work, you just know them as the chord name, regardless of what's 'in the bass'.