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Introduction to Fifth Chords

We are going to look now at a new type of chord that will be very useful to you. It is a relatively simple type of chord. We find this chord type in many popular songs, especially in the rock genre.

Now, remember from our discussion of triads that we build chords, in the most basic understanding of the concept, from odd number intervals of the key we are building the chords from. So for a major triad chord, by definition, we want to select the first, third, and fifth intervals. We are going to continue with this same concept, but now we are going to use only the first and fifth intervals.

An interesting attribute of this chord type is that since it does not include the third interval, it does not sound either major or minor, but rather has a sound that is tonally neutral. So we can use it in major or minor sounding chord progressions, and play major or minor sounding scales over it. Since the chord has no specific tonality, we can use it freely with distorted guitar sounds without the distortion covering up the tonality. That is one reason this chord type is preferred in heavy rock songs, such as Black Sabbath's Iron Man and Deep Puprle's Smoke on the Water.

Fifth Chord Diagram

Notice that we assign the name of the chord based on the most bass note in the chord, just like with our previous chord types. So for a G5, we put our index finger on the G note at the sixth string, 3rd fret.

Now you may be asking yourself why would we put this chord into the Intermediate section of the course since it appears to be a much less complicated chord than some of the others we have looked at thus far. This chord has an attribute that we have not considered thus far, and that we are going to explore further in the coming pages: it is moveable. What we mean by this is that once you have your fingers in place to make a G5 for instance, you can simply slide the hand up the fretboard so that the index finger is on the fifth fret and now you have an A5 chord without changing the relative positions of your frethand fingers. The Fifth Chord is the most simple of the Moveable Chord forms. Also, it requires careul muting of the unused strings, which an be rather tricky in the beginning.

Because this chord in its simplest form has only two notes, it can sound rather "thin" - lacking in the kind of pleasing depth inherent in more complex chord forms. With heavy disortion, the harmonics from the disortion tend to add some fullness. If we wish to use the fifth chord with a clean tone or with moderate distortion, there is a way to add some depth to the chord while retaining the tonally neutral aspect of the chord's sound. We simply add an octave of the root note, as shown below, making it a three string chord with only two notes (the root and its octave, plus the fifth interval note).

Three note fifth chords

You may find this fingering hard to master at first. Keep working on it and you will get it.

Fianlly, let us consider a very useful aspect of this chord form. As we discussed, it is a moveable chord form. Take another look at the Two String G5 chord. Now imagine sliding back to the F#5 position. Now back to the F5 position. Now slide back one more fret. See what happens? The index finger slides right off the fretboard, leaving your ring finger alone at the fifth string, 2nd fret. So the chord just falls apart at this position, right? Wrong! Actually it turns into a very easy and useful chord form. What you have now is an E note on the open sixth string, and a B note on the fifth string, 2nd fret. These notes are the 1 and 5 intervals of E. So what you have is an E5 chord, using only one finger to make the chord!

Open Position Fifth Chords

Experiment with these chords using I-IV-V chord progressions in various keys, using the slide technique as well as changing strings. You may find that you are hearing hints of some of your favorite songs as you play through these exercises.

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