Solo Fingerstyle Guitar Improvisation

by Gilbert Isbin
© 2001 Gilbert Isbin. All rights reserved.
May. 20, 2001

About the Author

Part Three: Chord Shapes

In this lesson you will discover a mass of chords, with the root in the bass, derived from two simple chord shapes, done by adding and moving one or more fingers and … thinking a bit.

The two shapes we will be using are major chord shapes.  If you look at the fretboard diagram for "Root on the 6th string", you will see that on the 5th string the perfect 5th (5) is in yellow. Now it’s only a question of logical thinking.  When you want to change the fifth to an augmented fifth (#5 or +5) you just have to move your finger one fret in the direction of the sound hole.  If you want to play a fourth you move your finger two frets in the direction of the nut.  At the 4th string you will notice that the 1 (1 or 8) is yellow.  So if you want to play a M7 you put your finger one fret up to the nut.  For a minor chord you simply move your finger from the 3rd (in yellow) to the b3 on the third string, etc.  Incredibly simple.  You have just to remember the order of the intervals. (see part 2)

Root On The 6th String

Note: the extensions 9,11,13 and their alterations b9,#9,#11 are mostly played on the strings (1),(2),(3), but this is not a rule.

The names of the intervals are written on the frets above the ‘string’, for practical purposes.

Fretboard Diagram
Root On The 6th String

Low E
High E
  2 5 1 3 6 or
  b3 #5 b9 4 or
  3 6 9 b5 or
1 4 or
b7 b3 5 1
. b5 7 3 #5 b9
  5 1 or 8 4 or
6 or 13 9
  #5 . b5 or
b7 #9
 or b3
  . . . 7 .

Root On The 5th String

Fretboard Diagram
Root On The 5th String
Low E A D G B High E
    2 5 7 3
    b3 #5 1 4 or 11
    3 6 b9 b5 or #11
  1 4 b7 9 5
    b5 7 b3 or #9 #5
    5 1 3 6 or 13
    #5 b9 4 or 11 b7


If you see a chord like a 7b9 you know from lesson 2 that it consists of 1, 3, 5, b7, b9

Here are some chord shapes with:

The root on the 6th string.

1 . b7 . 5 .
. . . 3 . b9
. . . . . .

For purposes of getting a full sound with lesser notes you may ommit the 5, so you get 1,3,b7,b9

1   b7      


1   b7      


    b9   b7  


1   (b7)      
      3   b9

With the root on the 5th string

    3   b9  
  1   b7    


      b9   b7

There are a mass of chord shapes with their root on the 5th or 6th string that can be derived from these simple Major chords.

Other possibilities such as chords with the root on the 4th string, with the 3rd, the 5th, the 7th etc in the bass are possible options. (not to speak of chords with open strings!). But I think it’s wise to limit yourself in the beginning and get a complete understanding of how a chord is constructed and then move on to more complex things.

Next time we will put everything into practice and improvise over a chord progression.

Part 2, Chords
Part Two: Chords

See other lesson's by Gilbert through his web site.

About the Author

Renowned Belgian guitarist Gilbert Isbin's early influences, from blues to contemporary jazz, classical, ethnic and freeform music, has ultimately contributed to his now distinctive and refined style. His music is filled with strong melodies, rich colorful harmonies, sound effects and polyrythms, highlighted by delicate acoustic guitar picking.

Gilbert Isbin has recorded ten albums, which have been highly acclaimed by the international music press. (see 'Reviews') and which are worldwide distributed. (see 'Soundclips')

He has collaborated in concert and/or recorded with American and European players, such as Cameron Brown, Joe Fonda, Ernst Reijseger, Michel Godard, Jaap Blonk, Fred Van Hove, John Ruocco, Rudy de Sutter, Sandor Szabo, Philippe Deschepper, Geert Verbeke, Joelle Léandre.

Gilbert has written music for documentary films, has published his original guitar music and is a guest column writer for,, The Online Guitar Magazine(UK) and Acoustic Guitar Workshop

He performs solo or in small settings. His performances, within the live environment, establishing a communication between both artist and audience, is an essential ingredient in the realization of his creative ideas.

Listen to Gilbert Isbin's music on MP3.Com

Gilbert Isbin CDs are distributed by Guitar Nine Records

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