Jim Bowley

Jim Bowley spent 20+ years as a performing and recording guitarist, vocalist and songwriter. He currently spreads the guitar gospel via his website, jimbowley.com, and his Bel Air, Maryland-based private studio. You can also find Jim on Facebook discussing all things six-string.

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  1. Agarwal
    May 16th, 2012 @ 4:07 am

    I really enjoyed going through your “only-theory-lesson-you-need”.Thanks.
    But i am not able to understand anything in “only-theory-lesson-you-need-part-3” once i get to the “lets get diatonic” section and below.Please help me.Thanks.

  2. Jim Bowley
    May 16th, 2012 @ 8:07 am


    Glad you’ve enjoyed the series! First thing I would do is go back and read those sections again slowly, since theory concepts take a little time to sink in.

    To quickly summarize, the “Let’s Get Diatonic” section is simply telling you how the triads – the ones you built by “stacking thirds” – are NAMED. For example, the triad D-F-A is called “Dm”.

    The “Primary Chords”section is showing how every key will have the same TYPES of chords at the same position in the scale (scale degrees) – major chords at 1, 4 and 5, minor chords at 2, 3 and 6, and a diminished chord at 7. Since all major scales are built from the same formula…and all chords are built from the scales via the same method…the chords that result will all be of the same TYPE (major, minor, diminished).

    If you download the worksheet and fill in the answers, I think the concepts will become clear. I hope this helps!

  3. Aaron
    May 19th, 2012 @ 11:42 pm

    I really enjoyed the course. but just did’nt get the ‘stacking thirds’ part. coz’ i thought the notes that make up the chord are the ones that you fret, but the notes are completly different. so could you please explain it again for me.

  4. Jim Bowley
    May 21st, 2012 @ 8:53 am

    Hi Aaron –

    From a THEORY standpoint, simple chords – triads – consist of only three note names. For example, a C chord is made up of a C, E and G. You can achieve this by following the “stacking thirds” method.

    However, in terms of APPLICATION to your instrument – guitar, naturally – a C chord would seem to be made up of more than just three notes. After all, a basic open C is played using strings 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1, correct? Correct.

    The catch is, all of those notes are just a specific combination of C, E and G:
    String 5, fret 3 = C
    String 4, fret 2 = E
    String 3, open = G
    String 2, fret 1 = C
    String 1, open = E

    So you can see that our 5-note C chord is still just using the three notes of the triad, but in two octaves (low and high C and E, with only one G).

    Now depending on the VOICING of your chord (the shape you choose, such as a barre chord C), your specific combination of C, E and G may be different, but that C chord will still only consist of those three letter names. Try out a barre shape and you’ll see what I mean.

    Hope this sheds more light on it!

  5. Matt
    June 8th, 2012 @ 8:39 am

    This is a great series and easy to understand. I appreciate all that you do! It would be nice to see an article on this regarding the minor scale or maybe just a clear relationship and those worksheets are perfect!

    • David Hodge
      June 8th, 2012 @ 1:11 pm

      Hi Matt

      Thanks for writing. This definitely has been a great series of articles. I don’t know if James has written one on minor scales as yet but we can offer you this one, called “Minor Progress” https://www.guitarnoise.com/lesson/minor-progress/ here at Guitar Noise. Hope you find it helpful.


  6. Tsekpo Emmanuel
    August 9th, 2012 @ 3:21 am

    I’ve been following your lessons from the very scope to this point and i see your lesson as better. I want you to clarify this for me. Should i use a Cmajor triad when im playing in C key or any triad can fit in AND explain the difference between the 1 3 5triad and the 1 4 5M and 2 3 6m. Thanks

    • Jim Bowley
      August 16th, 2012 @ 9:13 am

      Hi –

      In the key of C, you can play any of the triads from the key and they will fit musically. By “use”, I’m assuming you mean “improvise”. But the individual triads work best over their respective chords (for example, Dm triad over a Dm chord).

      As for the second question, it’s easy to confuse the numbering system, so let me try and clarify. Any triad is made up of the 1st, 3rd and 5th notes of its respective scale, so that’s why people say triads consist of 1-3-5. They are referring to the NOTES. For example, a C chord contains C, E and G notes.

      When we harmonize a scale with triads (chords), such as in this lesson, we wind up with major chords at the 1st, 4th and 5th SCALE DEGREES and minor chords at the 2nd, 3rd and 6th degrees. The 1, 4 and 5 here refers to the positions in the scale that yield major chords. In the key of C, that would be C, F and G chords. (But each one of those chords is constructed from a root, 3rd and 5th note).

      It definitely has the potential to be confusing; often we have to read through theory lessons more than once to understand the concepts.

      Hope this helps!

  7. Kaylee
    November 2nd, 2012 @ 4:05 am

    Hi there
    Great article. I’m loving your whole website, it is by far the best free lessons on the web.
    One question if you could please clarify for me.
    The c major chord c e g. And I understand there are more that three notes in the chord. So why is the 6th string (e note) not played? I have assumed it is because c is the root note and so the chord begins there??
    Many thanks for all your lessons

    • Jim Bowley
      November 17th, 2012 @ 11:48 am


      Glad you liked the theory lesson. As you figured out, the chord name “C” implies that the lowest note you hear will be a C bass note. So even though the note E is, in fact, part of a C triad, we play strings 5-1 and leave out string 6 altogether. From a technique standpoint, you’ll want to try and mute string 6 with your thumb, since it’s pretty hard to just magically miss it while you’re rockin’ out!

      But to add onto what Charlie said, there are some other options. You can play the low G with finger 3 and the low C with finger 4, but technically this creates a C/G chord. Some folks use it as a substitute for C; try it out and see what you think. There are some songs that call for C/E, and in this case, you can go ahead and play the open string 6. This chord is usually used to lead into an F.

      Hope this helps a little!

  8. Charlie
    November 3rd, 2012 @ 7:05 am

    Hi Kaylee,
    What I know of music theory will fit on the back of a small fly, but I know what sounds nice. I found that if you play the low E string in a C chord, especially when plugged in, you’ll get this booming bass ‘noise’ which seems to overpower the entire C chord. You can either not play the string, or, use use your pinky (have to change the C chord form) and play a G on that lower E. You will hear a much better sounding C chord. Sort of majestic. You can do the same with a D chord. Use your thumb (yes, you have to break the rules here) and play an F# on the low E string. Beautiful sound, really opens up the entire guitar. Have fun.

  9. Charlie
    November 3rd, 2012 @ 10:10 am


    I left a little out of my last post. With the C chord, play the c note on the 5th string with your pinky, play the g note on the 6th string with your ring finger. Sorry for any confusion.

  10. topacio
    November 25th, 2014 @ 10:15 pm

    this is great information. but wouldn’t it be easier to memorize the circle of fifths? whats the advantage of knowing how to stack thirds?

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