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I am making a song composition in a scale of G.
I have already used major chords G, C and D and in some places I have used Am, Em and Bm.

I would like to make this composition richer with some advanced chords?
I am not a guitar expert. I know that we can add Gsus, Cadd9, etc but not sure about their exact application
So I wanted to check with you guys to know whether anything else can be added to make my composition better.

If someone can provide with some thumb-rule or formula, that would be even better..

Thanks in advance.

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up vote 18 down vote accepted

Use the diatonic harmony trick of stacking notes and see what you come up with.

For instance, in G, the notes of the major scale are

   G  A  B  C  D  E F#

If we stack every other note in that list (wrap to the beginning when necessary) 3 times we get a simple minor or major chord/triad:

  G,B,D    - G  Major
  A,C,E    - A  Minor
  B,D,F#   - B  Minor
  C,E,G    - C  Major
  D,F#,A   - D  Major
  E,G,B    - E  Minor
  F#,A,C   - F# Diminished

If we stack 4 times we get a more flavorful chord:

  G,B,D,F# - G Major 7th
  A,C,E,G  - A Minor 7th
  B,D,F#,A - B Minor 7th
  C,E,G,B  - C Major 7th
  D,F#,A,C - D Dominant 7th
  E,G,B,D  - E Minor 7th
  F#,A,C,E - F# Minor 7th flat 5

You can keep stacking but at a certain point things become pointless. 5 stacks usually ends up in some kind of add 9 chord with the third and seventh chords in the list becoming a flat 9 (9th lowered one half step).

If you have a song in a minor key, use the corresponding minor scale to do the stacking.

You can take the above and do chord substitutions as well, such as the 5th of the 5th sub and the tritone substitution.

Here's a more complete explanation of diatonic harmony based on the major scale and here's one based on the minor scale.

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Thanks very much. It is a very useful and clear answer to what I was looking for. – Jeril Nadar Jun 16 '12 at 13:24
The D,F#,A,C makes a dominant rather than a major 7th, in your second box.And the F# chord is commonly known as F#m7b5. – Tim Oct 8 '13 at 2:48
@Tim: You're absolutely correct about the Dom 7th. It was a brainfart and thanks for letting me know. As for the F#m7b5, I was taught to call it F#Dim7... Is that wrong? – JimR Oct 8 '13 at 18:21
Diminished chord intervals are minor thirds need the Eb. F# - A - C - Eb(D#) is diminished – r lo Oct 9 '13 at 17:44
F#o, a.k.a. F#dim. is F#ACEb. F#m7b5 is F#ACE. Subtle difference,dim chords have, effectively, stacked min. 3rds, whereas m7b5 is a minor 7 chord with a flattened 5th note. – Tim Oct 9 '13 at 21:59

Don't forget about chords outside of the key. They can sound especially tense, exotic, or colorful. For example, try G#M - the chord a half-step above the key has a slightly eastern connotation to it.

Using JimR's suggestion of stacking notes, we can add these five chords from outside the key:

G#/Ab, Bx/C, D#/Eb - G#M (or AbM)
A#/Bb, Cx/D, E#/F  - A#M (or BbM)
C#/Db, E#/F, G#/Ab - C#M (or DbM)
D#/Eb, Fx/G, A#/Bb - D#M (or EbM)
E#/F,  Gx/A, B#/C  - E#M (or FM)

Notice that even though these chords' roots are outside of the key, most of them contain notes within the key. This lets you keep the tonal center in G while still using these chords. For example, if you use the D#/Eb chord, the third of the chord is G.

Using these out-of-key chords, I've found these chord progressions to be especially compelling:

G, E#/F, G#/Ab, G
G, E#/F
G, D#/Eb
G, D#/Eb, C
G, D#/Eb, E#/F
G, D#/Eb, C, Am
G, A#/Bb, C
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As a more general answer than the above suggestions, might I suggest investing in Ted Greene's Chord Chemistry. It's basically a huge book all about chord theory, guidelines for chord substitutions and voicings. It's a really heavy book that you can learn from for decades, and it's written for guitarists.

I've used it for months and it's the best chord guide I've found. I picked it up because I heard that Steve Vai and John Petrucci have learned a ton from it, but I'm sure there are a massive collection of other guitarists that have went to it over the years!

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You can use absolutely ANY chord. Unless you're looking for wild contrast, pick ones that connect with the chords before and after, maybe by having notes in common, maybe through stepwise movement... G, G#, A, Bb is an interesting sound. As is G, D7/F#, Fm6, Em7, Ebm(maj7), G7, C6/9, G - two unifying factors there, the constant D and the stepwise bass line. enter image description here

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Also, don't forget about using inversions. An inversion is just the rearranging of notes within a chord. The formula/structure of a chord remains: 1, 3, 5, 7 for a seventh for example but then changing the bass note from 'root position' as is the above yields an inversion.

So a first inversion is where you take the root off the bass and raise it an octave so that the lowest note is the third.

A second inversion occurs when you do it again with the third and raise that an octave so that the fifth is the lowest note in the chord.

You still of course apply the appropriate characteristics like flatting the 3rd for a minor, flatting the 3rd and 7th for a minor 7th etc.

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You can also use the Cadential six-four. So for instance If you are regularly progressing from Dominant to tonic try adding the tonic in second inversion before the dominant as a decoration of the root of the Dominant.

Second inversion chords can easily be used by taking your a major open chord shape and adding the low E string.

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Learn about secondary dominants. The functional dominant chords on each of the chords you mentioned in your post. For example, the dominant chord for Bm is E7.

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I think you meant to say "the dominant chord for Em is B7, right? – mey Feb 12 '15 at 16:03
yep, it's a typo – Michael Martinez Feb 12 '15 at 17:41

C minor chord might be worth considering, especially for the ending. This makes a cool chord progression of C - Cm - G. (which is IV-iv-I in the key of G).

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