Three Chords – Now what?

Beginners are always welcome at a circle. Simple songs are a place to start. So what can you do with three chords? First, you can play hundreds of songs. Much of the Folk, Rock and Country repertoire can be played with only three chords. You can always learn another song. So what else is there? Here are some things to explore in no particular order.

How about rhythm . Many folk songs are in 2/4 or 4/4 time. We count them 1 2, 1 2 or 1 2 3 4 to keep a steady beat. Waltz time is 3/4 counted 1 2 3, 1 2 3. We still only need three chords but there are many dance rhythms we could explore. Even more important is the idea that a steady constant rhythm is the basis of everything we play.

Maybe try finger style? Most beginners use a simple strum. Almost all lessons recommend using a pick and guitar is often only a rhythm instrument. Playing melody notes finger style seems to me to be easier than cross picking. Simple finger style patterns are all in the right hand. Any chords will sound good.

Jerry Silverman wrote, “If a blues guitarist you would be — learn to play the melody”. That is really excellent advice. Barney Kessel said you should learn to play simple songs a note a a time by ear then learn to play them all over the guitar in every key. By the time you can do that you will be playing jazz, but not like Barney.

Realize that everything on the guitar is a movable shape. Every lick, every melody, can be moved down a fret or over a string. At that does is change the key. Every chord shape is moveable if you don’t play open strings. Learn it once move it around. Use a capo if necessary.

You can explore scales. A major scale is only seven notes. Do – Re – Mi – Fa – So – La – Ti and Do. I learned the melody of many tunes, starting with Freight Train, long before I learned to play a scale. To play by ear you need to know the scale of the key that you hear so that you can know which notes to play or sing. You don’t need to play scales from sheet music. Starting with Do the next note is always two frets higher except for Mi – Fa and Ti – Do which are only one fret apart. It is very helpful to be able to play the scale of the key you are going to sing or the scale of the song you are trying to learn.

Learn to use a capo. Music theory is not just for piano students. Guitar players should know a I – IV – V from a ii – V – I. These are just the scale notes Do Re Mi expressed as numbers. Theory tells you what happens when you move a note up or down a fret, or to an adjacent string. You start by learning a chord scale, which is how to play Do Re Mi all in chords. This is easy in the key of C, needs bar chords in other keys, but is useful to understand even if you can’t play bar chords. Theory is what allows you to know what happens when you move a capo up a fret. It is always useful to understand things that you are learning to perform on the instrument.

You can do any or all of the above before you learn another chord. The chords to learn for beginners are C Dm Em F G Am Bm. That will give you thousands more songs which brings us around to the start. Sometimes you want to learn a song and to learn it you need something from this list.

An Introduction to Video Editing

  1. Use your phone or camera to create a 5 min video.
  2. Down load and install ShotCut — free open source editing software
  3. Learn to use the Playlist and the Player to make clips which are short portions of your input video. Arrange the clips in the Playlist.
  4. Learn to export one or more clips. This allows you to pick and choose what is in your final product.
  5. Learn how to make a Title clip and if desired a credits clip.
  6. Learn to EXPORT your final product. Start by just exporting the whole Playlist.
  7. The TIMELINE is for detailed edits, one frame at a time and for fancy effects. Ignore it for now.

Most video editors work on the principle of a story board or a playlist which is used to accumulate short clips which will be assembled on a Timeline into the final product. With Shotcut you can ignore the Timeline until you are comfortable with the process of selecting and trimming clips.

Editing large files, say 30 minutes, or very large files, over 2 hours, is an interesting challenge that can be solved with Shotcut by cutting the original large file into clips in the playlist and editing each clip as a separate project. For pickers circle edits I make each round a separate file then combine them into a final exported video once the edits are done. This keeps memory and CPU resources to a manageable size.

Lesson for Right Hand

  • The object is to achieve independent action of P, i, m, a and to learn which sounds go with which finger.
  • Thumb(P), index(i), Middle(m), Annular(a)
  • Guitar Strings are E, A ,D, the bass (P) and
  • G, B, E the treble and belong to i, m, and a

Their are a variety of patterns that can be employed to arrange any piece of music for which you have the chords. One of the simplest in 6/8 time is P – i – m – a – m – i where P plays the bass and i – m – a – m – i are plucked on the treble strings. This is the pattern for Silkie as played by Joan Baez. Its a good place to start if you like the song. Here are the chords:

D  C  D // G  D  C  D  / C  Em  Am D — // means repeat first line / means new line.

Silkie is in 6/8 time. One beat, one string at a time. Play each chord for six beats. Use a metronome and count 1 2 3 4 5 6. Same patterns for Hallelujah but more difficult chords.

Two alternatives for 4/4 time are:

  • P – i – m – a Bass 2 – 3 – 4. Play the root of the chord in the bass.
  • P – m – i – a as above play the root of the chord with your thumb.

Alternating these two patterns makes a more intersting arrangment. Note that this technique gives you a distinct sound for each finger on each beat. If you hear the melody in your head you can always change the pattern to play it, but it is best to start out simple and just get control of each finger.

When I play 900 miles I use the second pattern and play the melody with my thumb in the bass.

Charlie Byrd recommended the Guilliani 120 studies for the right hand as a way to mastery. These studies will be familiar to anyone who has studied classical guitar. I have done page one. People who have had piano lessons may be concerned that they don’t learn any notes. True enough, but this approach will connect your ears to your fingers.

There are a few weeks of work here. The next logical step would be Travis picking which requires a completly independent thumb playing alternate bass. Freight Train is a great place to start as the melody is all on the b and e strings.

More Tricks

A metronome for your phone or computer —

A tuner for your phone or desktop —

A free Audio Workstation —

  • Listen to the music — what do you really want to achieve?
  • Plan
    1. Where are you at?
    2. Where are you going – folk – blues – jazz – classical
    3. What steps will take you from one to two
  • Divide and conquer – one bar, one lick, one tune at a time.
  • Slow down — practice make permanent
  • Be Accurate — play with a recording or a metronome
  • Record everything on your phone or on your computer – track your progress

Tricks of the Trade

a list from John Lyon

Tricks Of The Trade could be any little thing, any idea of piece of information that helps us provide more depth and variety in our playing.  Examples could include:

  • Turnarounds, the little 2-bar chord progressions and licks that mark the end of a 12- or 8-bar blues progression, or the end of a chorus of a jazz standard like “All Of Me”.  
  • The Circle Of Fifths as used in tunes like “Sweet Georgia Brown”—-how to play the on guitar, and the licks that can be used with these chords.
  • Tricks and licks used when playing the II-V-I chord progression. There are whole books on this subject.
  • Double stops (playing two adjacent strings at once)—-where, when, and how to use them.  Jazz guitarist Howard Alden is a master at this and even teaches a whole class on double stops for Mike’s Master Class.
  • Syncopation—how and why it makes our playing better—-examples of this. You can’t play blues, jazz, or popular music without knowing something about syncopated rhythm.
  • How and how much, and when to practice. How to learn to play fast.
  • Who each of us has learned from the most, and what in particular we have learned.
  • Voice leading, which is the idea of playing each note in a new chord no more than two frets away from the notes in the last chord—-what it is and what it can do for your playing (hint, it sounds great). Bach was a master at voice leading.
  • Key changes and modulations—examples of songs that use them, and how we manage to play them. Coker’s book on chord progressions has many examples of this.
  • Examples of using diminished chords and scales.  Where and when are they used.
  • Examples of using the #5 chord in both major and minor keys, e.g. the chord in “What A Wonderful World” sung by Louis Armstrong where he sings “And I think to myself…” it’s used in the minor blues and other minor songs too, e.g. “The Thrill Has Gone” by B.B. King.
  • Octave displacement, chromatic passing tones, repetition, blues notes (flat thirds and flat sevenths)
  • Chet Atkins and Travis Picking
  • licks,
  • string bending

Jazz it up

Mar 10 7pm – 9 pm

The main reason for having a Theme for a circle is to give us something to talk about in our introductions to the music we play.  We don’t need to exactly follow a pattern.   We can have folks at a songwriters circle talk about why they don’t write songs.   The idea is simply to indicate a path in the direction of more and better music.
I was at a Foothills Acoustic Music event the other day that had a fine set of workshops delivered by very experienced musicians.  Barry Truter was there and talked about rhythms.  4/4, 3/4, 7/4,  5/4.   Another presentation was about adding color to your chords.   We learned about add 9s and suspended 4ths.   
What we heard was just what you hear every time you listen to a good folk or country performance.   Those hammers and pulls all have technical names.   The names are only handy if you need to change the key and when you want to talk about what you are playing.  Otherwise feel free to  play any note/fret that you can reach  that sounds good.  That is how most of us learned to play.   We were told to just use a basic grip then see what works.  This is very good advice and I really enjoyed the presentation.

Some thoughts on Theme and Genre

Thomas is blue. Charles is green.

Hello Charles.        I have been rethinking your suggestions for a theme for the next meeting. I was ok with classical and Jazz. But what about people who haven’t been into classical, and have nothing to present? Would they feel excluded, and possibly even choose to skip the evening? It takes me back to the evening which was supposed to be bluegrass, and although I don’t play bluegrass, I coped by suggesting that two main themes of bluegrass are “coal mining” and “moonshine liquor”.

I’m hoping that folks who might not care to participate in a particular genre or theme will still come to listen and perhaps hear something they can use for future circles.

        The thought came to me that bluegrass, like classical and jazz, is a genre, not a theme. But then the thought also came to me that “theme” for guitar pickers means something different than for folksingers. So maybe specifying the genre is appropriate in this context, but there is still room for caution.

         Of course, there is always the debate as to whether to have a theme at all. The only difference between a song circle and an open stage is that your 3 songs are spread out over the evening instead of all at once. We wouldn’t suggest to people performing at an open stage that there is a particular theme for the evening. On the other hand, one advantage of having a theme in a picker’s circle is that it opens up the evening to more than just the songs that are being performed. We get into exploration of the given genre which can lead to some useful insights. I wonder if this should be put to the whole gang for discussion.


This discussion goes to the issue of what are we doing here. My reason for hosting a Pickers circle was to improve my playing and to provide a forum for others to do the same. That was in response to a suggestion that we do something for beginners. I’m amazed at the quality of players who have showed up to help out. We must be doing something right.

Garth has suggested a number of other possibilities:

More blues, Celtic , roots, funny , hurt in’, prine,Dylan,Emmy Lou Harris,Beatles  ,sad ,old,happy so we have lots of things to do.

The You tube channel and the website give us the opportunity to build a resource for interested players. I’ve found that most of the learning is done creating the lesson plan. Explaining things to others makes us careful and leaving our work on the web is an incentive to continuous improvement.

My current thought is that we should move to Jazz and Classical guitar for a couple of sessions then circle back to blues and roots. If we are responsive to suggestions we can stay relevant to our audience. If we can improve on past workshops we may create a lasting resource for new performers.

Please email me or add comments to this post.

Multi Track Video

The video edit on this clip is pretty good. I suspect they are using ProTools which is pretty expensive and they are pros.   

We can achieve the same effect as follows:

  1. Create a click track on an mp3 file.    Sound recorder and a metronome will serve.
  2. Each musician records the song using whatever they have to create an mp4.   A smart phone on a tripod works pretty well.  Count the start in 1 2 3 4 to sync the tracks.  We cut this out of the final production.
  3. We pick the most likely version and each listen to it while re-recording our own part.
  4. The tracks are mixed into a video using LightWorks or ShotCut.  
  5. We could post the individual .mp4s on YouTube  so we don’t need to email huge video files.

Performer pages


Anyone who has performed a feature at the Vancouver Folk Song Society or is presently listed on as a performer may request a page provided only that they produce the required material.

Any board member may nominate a performer if they produce the required material

Required Material

  • Performer Head shot. — jpg or gif or png picture
  • Media — video or audio material — need not be perfectly edited we can trim

Optional Material

  • Website — shall we link to your website
  • Biographical material — whatever you think we need to know
  • Copywrite notice if necessary

What I’ve listed above is just what is needed to create more entries for the performer menu item that you see on the right side of this page.

Adding to the Website

1.   A WordPress website/blog is nothing more than a set of posts, blog entries.   That is the base case for a free site. 

2. is a WordPress site with the content and structure, more or less, of the website.    It has a page for “PERFORMERS” that has six of us at the moment.   I’d be happy to create a page for anyone else that has audio or video content we could post.

3.  If you accept my invitation to become an AUTHOR you can make posts to the BLOG which can contain audio or video.  That is you can just create a post like a web page with content.   Anyone with editor access can link posts to pages.

4.  If you graduate to EDITOR  you can create and maintain the static pages that host the content from  You also have input into the format of pages that is unavailable to Authors. That means you can create a new performer page and link the performers posts to the page.   Volia a performance site.