Ted Greene – “Chord Chemistry”

As in any field of study, countless volumes have been written about music.  With the increasing popularity of the guitar, particularly in the last 50 years, a wealth of guitar literature has been established, much of it penned by the instrument’s greatest masters.  Today, many of us learn from teachers, in person, but truth be told, if we were all well disciplined, self-motivated students, we could learn everything we would ever need to know about the guitar from books.  Although it is immensely helpful to have a teacher synthesize and communicate this information, some books hold a special knowledge only receivable though the intimate reading, studying experience.

In the “books” section of Riffs of Wisdom, I will shed light on some literature that could greatly help all guitarists on their journey towards musical nirvana.  Some will be advanced, theoretical books, some will be instructional methods, some will be important collections of scores, and some will just be plain fun reads!  Ultimately, these books have helped me gain many Riffs of Wisdom, and will hopefully teach you a few too.

The first book I’m writing about is a guitar classic, and can be found in many guitar players’ bookshelves – “Chord Chemistry,” written by Ted Greene.  Although Ted wrote four significant works about the guitar, this is by far his most well known.  Ted was primarily a solo, finger-style guitarist.  He is most commonly depicted with a vintage Telecaster, and Fender amp, staples of his signature tone.  A master of music theory and harmony, Ted became famous for his intricate solo guitar arrangements, often turning Jazz standards, Pop tunes, and Beatles’ songs into gorgeous guitar ballads.  He also was well known for his mastery of the blues, on which he could improvise endlessly, implementing walking bass lines, harmony and melody.  Much like his contemporary, Lenny Breau, Ted was also well known for his use of artificial harmonics and close-voiced harmony, similar to that of a pianist.  Overall, he was an amazing, unique player – check him out on YouTube.

But more so than a player, Ted was a great student of the guitar – and as a result, a great teacher.  Ted had Asperger Syndrome, a mild form of Autism, that made him an extreme introvert and an obsessive person.  Ted hardly left his apartment (his number of public performances can be counted by hand), and his greatest obsession was studying the guitar.  He hosted a vast number of students in his guitar den, which was cluttered by stacks upon stacks of papers, many pertaining to his studies.  He would conduct in depth analyses of J.S. Bach, Wes Montgomery, and different musical styles.  He could improvise any tune in accurate Baroque styling, and had an impeccable ear for harmony.  Many students were fortunate enough to learn from this guitar master in person, but for the rest of us, Ted left four jam packed books – Chord Chemistry, Modern Chord Progressions and the two part Single-Note Jazz Soloing.  And although these books may seem thin, they are dense!

As Ted writes, Chord Chemistry “examines chords and their application.”  This is not a beginner’s book, but Ted makes an effort to bring the reader up to speed, explaining different chord types and their purposes.  The rest of the book is an attempt to translate Ted’s complex harmonic language.  Some of the most valuable sections discuss specific chord substitutions, when they are appropriate, and the effect they will have.  There is also a dense portion of the book where Ted diagrams all of the chord voicings he uses – and believe me, you would not have thought of many of these!  They are also important sections about the Blues, right hand technique, Rock progressions, and counterpoint.

Overall, this book is dense!  Don’t expect to take it all in the first time.  It’s been on my book shelf for years, and I constantly revisit it, always learning something that I couldn’t previously comprehend.  If you put in the time and effort, this book will greatly help you progress, not only on your guitar, but on your journey towards musical nirvana.

“Nobody loses at guitar if they put in the time.  Something good always shows up.  It’s all consistent with life’s big lessons.  Patience.  Determination.  Love.  Goals.  Finishing a job.”  – Ted Greene

Check out the Ted Green website for more info

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10 thoughts on “Ted Greene – “Chord Chemistry”

  1. Hey, thanks, what a cool page! Lots of interesting articles and artists on there, great work

  2. Sam says:

    Nice, Ted is an inspiration. I completely agree that you find new things every time you check his material. His Bach ‘arrangements’ or impressions are really great. Nice post!

  3. […] guitarists, has spent years studying these pieces.  J.S.  Bach has also been a huge influence on Ted Greene, Joe Pass, and Tommy Emmanuel, just to name a few guitar masters.  And let’s not forget […]

  4. […] and it sounds amazing.  Putting a Lollar CC in a Tele achieves a deep, bluesy tone a la Ted Greene, Keith Richards, and even Jimi Hendrix.  Although you lose some of the “spank” […]

  5. […] and it sounds amazing.  Putting a Lollar CC in a Tele achieves a deep, bluesy tone a la Ted Greene, Keith Richards, and even Jimi Hendrix.  Although you lose some of the “spank” […]

  6. […] guitarists, has spent years studying these pieces.  J.S.  Bach has also been a huge influence on Ted Greene, Joe Pass, and Tommy Emmanuel, just to name a few guitar masters.  And let’s not forget […]

  7. Felix B. says:

    I will probably be hated for this. I found Ted Greene’s Chord Chemistry and Modern Chord Progressions to be almost useless. I respect Ted’s accomplishment as a guitarist, but these books will not help a student acheive the same level of playing. Like most pop guitar pedagogues he refused to use standard notation. His books are pages and pages and pages AND pages of box diagrams that do not communicate music in the same language he must have learned it.

    Serious students of the instrument should understand that it cannot be mastered without a serious study of harmony and theory. These subjects are not difficult. They require work which is something guitarists seem programed by bad teaching to want to avoid.

    If you want it, you’re going to have to figure a lot out for yourself. So start collecting college course textbooks and workbooks on harmony. Find a qualified teacher of tonal harmony. Get away from guitar teachers. Then start analyzing the guitar in musical terms, NOT in terms of black dots on a grid or tablature.

    Ted Greene was great because he had the ability to think (and hear) music on his instrument. You won’t learn how to do that yourself by memorizing his obsessive books of chord box diagrams.

    • Your opinion is respected Felix, but just as we all have different methods of learning, Ted had a special way of teaching. Undoubtedly, simply reading books and studying harmony will not make you a good guitar player, but in conjunction with immersion in playing and listening, is a key element to greater musical freedom. This book is not easy to comprehend, nor obvious in the ways in which it will help you as a guitarist, but if one of your goal’s as a musician is to play in the style of and with the harmonic mastery of Ted Greene, there is not greater place to look. Straight from the horse’s mouth, Chord Chemistry is Ted’s book of tricks. The chapters on harmonic substitutions, chord functionality, and chord melody arrangement provide refreshing perspectives on exhausted topics, perspectives particularly relevant to the mind of a guitar player. I do admit that the large amount of chord diagrams and voicings are excessive and essentially useless, but this book is filled with valuable knowledge elsewhere.

      You are right – if you want to become a great guitarist, you will have to figure out a lot for yourself – and one of the things that you will have to figure out is how to extract knowledge from complex sources like this, and apply it to making music. I understand you’re dissatisfaction with these books, but I urge you to re-approach them, not with the expectation of learning how to play on the “same level” as Ted Greene, but with the goal of absorbing all of the various pieces of knowledge offered by Ted, and applying them to your own understanding of music and the guitar.

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