Ambient Guitar Chords

You know what it’s like; sitting down, searching “good morning music” and listening to the tinkling piano, the delicate strings – and that AMBIENT PAD: Oh my goodness, that’s nice. But how do we make it on the guitar?

While there are some exceptions, ambient music is all about a feeling of peacefulness, open-mindedness, and rest. Lots of ambient music have no central beat. Also, because ambient music tends to be more subtle than loud, there seems to not be a lot going on. So when the melodies float in, you focus on them. When they float out, your attention drifts off into space, which frees your mind and clears your head. It’s like a massage for the mind.

Ambient music also tends to stay in one key, usually major, and uses slow rhythms that either doesn’t have a beat or are very laid back.  Like a chillin’ chihuahua. 

As much as I’d love to, I cannot cover everything in this post – for your sanity and mine. So to start, we’re going to talk about 3 different kinds of ambient guitar chords you can use to start playing ambient guitar:

We’re focusing on chords first because they set the backdrop for the melodies and rhythms you can later add on. You can even use the chords to create your melodies and rhythms. 

Let’s get started. 

The main concept with ambient chords is ‘less is more’. It’s all about how you voice the chords. Representing this first, we have the dreamy…

The most commonly used chords in ambient music. But what are spread triads?

I’m glad you may have asked.

First off, let’s look at a triad. A triad is a chord containing 3 notes. Each note in a triad is a 3rd apart from each other, and to build a triad, you do the following: 

  1. start on any note of the major scale, 
  2. pick the note a 3rd higher than your starting note (this is your 3rd), 
  3. and finish by picking the note a 3rd higher again (this is your 5th). 

In a D major triad, it looks like this:

Spread triads simply have one of the notes played one octave higher, so there is more space between the notes.

A common approach to spread triads is to raise the 3rd, so you have the root, 5th, then 3rd waaaay high up in those dreamy ambient clouds.

Play it and listen! Ahhh… I’m afraid we’ve lost chillin’ chihuahua.

He’ll come back down soon enough. In the meantime, here’s some more examples of spread triads:

Inversions are funny chords that look like chords you know, but start on a different chord tone than the root. In our trusty triads, inversions start on the 3rd note – AKA 1st inversion – or 5th note – AKA 2nd inversion.

If you have a bass line in mind then you may want to stick to inversions. These chords leave out the root, so when the root note is played by the bass guitar in a song there is lots of space between it and the other chord tones. 

When you space chords out this way, it gives your music more of a sense of depth. The instruments, or parts, are not playing the same thing; rather, they each form part of the whole chord. 

Here are some inversions to play with the spread triads; 

Beautiful huh?? Oh chillin’ chuwawa, I wish you were here to experience this…

You’re back! I thought I had lost you… and you’ve brought something from the heavens? What is it?

Well, thanks to our fluffy friend here, we have the last piece of this post; add9 chords.

These chords simply sound lovely. Simply put, they are a major chord with an added 9th note. The colour added by the 9th note – which is a 2nd note an octave higher than the root – is what adds this loveliness. 

Lets look at a comparison diagram of a D major, and a Dadd9 chord:

You can see where the added 9th note has been put in. Using the D Major scale as our reference, we’ve added the 9th note to the D Major chord, making it a Dadd9.

To get you started, here is a progression using the concepts we’ve outlined above:

The C and G chords are both inversions; a C 1st inversion, and a G 2nd inversion. I couldn’t fit the names on the tab.

I hope you enjoyed this post! If you have any questions about the topic, let me know on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram using the hashtag #JustAskJimJam. I create videos answering featured questions each week.

Farewell, fellow adventurer! Until next time. 

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