The purpose of this article is
to locate and name Root/5th chords
You must understand how to read chord diagrams.
The Physical Shape
The chord symbol for the Root/5th chord a “letter name” followed by the number “5” – C5, G5, etc. Root/5th chords only need two notes. This article focuses on Root/5th chords played on the adjacent groups 6/5, 5/4, and 4/3. Root/5th chords on these adjacent string groups are all exactly the same physical shape. This physical shape is:
- put finger 1 at any string/fret location on the 6th, 5th, or 4th string;
- put finger 3 on the note that is one string and two frets higher.
Here are some specific examples:
If you put finger 1 at the 6th string / 5th fret, put finger 3 at the 5th string / 7th fret.
If you put finger 1 at the 5th string / 7th fret, put finger 3 at the 4th string / 9th fret.
If you put finger 1 at the 4th string / 4th fret, put finger 3 at the 3rd string / 6th fret.
These chords are very useful for many types of Rock Music. They sound good when played aggressively using all down-strokes and are often played with heavy palm-muting. Even though there are only two notes, they sound quite big. They work particularly well with distortion. They are not as useful for strumming Folk, Country, Easy Listening, etc.
The Music Alphabet
To specifically name each chord, you need to be able to name the notes on the fretboard – at least those on the 6th, 5th, and 4th strings. These names come from the “Music Alphabet“. This is the Music Alphabet:
The symbol that looks similar to the number sign is pronounced “sharp“. The symbol that looks similar to a lower-case letter “b” is pronounced “flat“.
The pairs of names under each bracket are used to name the same string/fret location (pitch). This means that these string/fret locations will sometimes be referred to by their “sharp name” and sometimes by their “flat name“. (As your understanding of music theory evolves, the reason for this will become clear.)
The music alphabet is reused to name notes in all registers. Low sounding notes (those sung by a bass voice for example) use these names, mid sounding notes (those sung by a tenor or alto voice for example) use these same names, and high sounding notes (those sung by a soprano voice for example), use these names. For example:
- play the 6th string open – this is “E“
- play the 4th string at the 2nd fret – this is also “E“
- play the 3rd string at the 10th fret – this is also “E“
- play the 1st string at the 12th fret – this is also “E“
Think of the music alphabet as a circle – it has no beginning and no end, so it doesn’t matter from which note you start reading it as it is a constant loop.
Naming Notes On The Fretboard
To apply the music alphabet to name notes on the fretboard you need to know two things:
- The name of each open string; and,
- That each fret along the string is the next name in the music alphabet.
The 6th string open is named “E“. The 5th string open is named “A“. The 4th string open is named “D“. You can now apply the music alphabet to name the notes along each of these strings:
Note Names On 6th String
Note Names On 5th String
Note Names On 4th String
You only need to learn to name notes on the 6th, 5th, and 4th strings because the letter name of the Root/5th chord shape being discussed in this article comes from the note which is being played by finger 1. You can just think of the other note in the chord as a physical location in relation to this note – which is one string and two frets higher. For example, to play F5, you would:
- find F on the 6th string with finger 1 (it’s the 1st fret), then put finger 3 on the 5th string / 3rd fret (the note that is one string and two frets higher); or, you could
- find F on the 5th string with finger 1 (it’s the 8th fret), then put finger 3 on the 4th string / 10th fret (the note that is one string and two frets higher); or, you could
- find F on the 4th string with finger 1 (it’s the 3rd fret), then put finger 3 on the 3rd string / 5th fret (the note that is one string and two frets higher).
Which location to play the F5 chord is not given to you in the chord symbol. It is up to you to choose the one you think sounds best in the situation for which you are using it. Which one feels the most physically convenient to play may also be a consideration.
When playing Root/5th chords for a particular song, it will often be the case that all, or many, of the chords in the song will be Root/5th chords. It is critical that you can move your hand to different locations on the fretboard without losing the integrity of the Root/5th shape. To help you develop this skill, and to help you get used to naming the notes along each string, play Root/5th chord progressions by playing all the chords on the same string group. For example, play Practice Loops 1 to 4 all on string group 6/5 – finger 1 at the location of the letter name on the 6th string and finger 3 on the 5th string / two frets higher.
Practice Loop 1
Practice Loop 2
Practice Loop 3
Practice Loop 4
Play Practice Loops 5 to 8 all on string group 5/4 – finger 1 at the location of the letter name on the 5th string and finger 3 on the 4th string / two frets higher.
Practice Loop 5
Practice Loop 6
Practice Loop 7
Practice Loop 8
Play Practice Loops 9 to 12 all on string group 4/3 – finger 1 at the location of the letter name on the 4th string and finger 3 on the 3rd string / two frets higher.