I don’t know if you spent any time investigating the different string groups from my previous post, but I would like to continue exploring the string groups and how to bring some life to your guitar chord playing.
For many (especially you jazz cats) this won’t be covering any new ground, but for some hopefully this will be brand new material.
Either way I’m going to start from the beginning and work forward in subsequent posts.
Let’s start with the most basic of four-string chords, the CMaj7 chord from the 2345 string group.
You’ve all seen it before, but for the sake of completeness I’ll show it again:
We’re changing the order of tones around to facilitate the guitar’s tuning – instead of playing C E G B we’re playing C G B E. Same notes, just a different order.
Guitar Chord Inversions
And so where do we go from here?
If we are playing a piece of music that has a CMaj7 chord for 8 bars, just playing your one stock voicing is going to get very boring, very quickly.
To keep the music alive you should probably think about playing different kinds of CMaj7 chords.
The easiest way to do that is to play an inversion of the chord you’re currently playing.
To do this, simply start on each note in the chord you’re playing and move that finger up to the next note in the chord:
- C moves up to E
- G moves up to B
- B moves up to C
- E moves up to G
It’s the same exact chord, just played in a different note order and in the 5th position instead of the 3rd.
Here is the new CMaj7 chord:
There are two more inversions we can do with this chord on the 2345 string group:
Now, just with the 2345 string group alone, there are four chords you can play instead of just the original CMaj7.
Vary the String Groups
This can be easily repeated with both the 1234 and 3456 string groups. 3456 will most likely sound a bit too muddy if you are playing with a group (as opposed to playing solo or backing up a singer or solo instrument).
The fun, however, is what you come up with when you work through some of the other string groups. Groups 1235 and 2346 start to create more interesting sounds although they are still pretty tame.
It’s when you get into string groups such as 1245, 2356, 1346, etc… that things get truly interesting.
Here are the CMaj7 chords from the 2356 string group:
Try playing them yourself and see how they sound.
You’re probably going to need to use the fingers of your right hand to pluck the chord rather than strumming with a pick, and you may want to try it with a clean tone first to hear all of the notes and their intervallic relationships.
Putting it Into Practice
To go a bit further with the example, I’m going to take the first 8 bars of the jazz standard “All the Things You Are” (which I’ve been exploring more deeply in my own practice) and create a very simple chord melody using the 1245 string group.
The goal here is not to create a masterpiece of music, but to explore the different chord voicings and inversions that are available to me.
I’m going to put a chord on virtually every melody note, which doesn’t necessarily sound great, but maximizes my tonal possibilities.
First, a lead sheet of the first 8 bars:
Now, the simple chord melody of the 1245 string group (click image for larger view):
Notice that in some places I had to shift the chord up or down an octave in order to accommodate the guitar’s range.
This can obviously be modified in a “real” setting by simply varying the string groups you use – no one says you have to play everything in just one group, after all!
Move the Melody
To make things even more interesting, take the melody out of the top string (in this case, the high E string) and play it on all of the other strings.
In essence you are building four different chord melodies for each string group.
We just did the first one with the melody on the E string; now we will do the same thing with the melody on the B, D, and A strings.
It may be hard to hear the melody at first, especially on the B and D strings, so it might help to sing along with the melody to help it stand out.
You should also try to see if you can get the melody string to stand out so its not overshadowed by the volume of the higher strings.
This is a challenge, but worth the effort.
Without further adieu, here is the second chord melody with the melody on the B string (click image for larger view):
I’ve given you two, and there are two more. I wondering if perhaps you should try to figure them out on your own? (hint, hint)
Experiment, Play, and Have Fun
I have written lots of song ideas using different chord groups, spiced up some monotonous song ideas, and even brought some new life to old cover songs during jam sessions.
It’s not just a question of “learning tons of chords” and arbitrarily throwing them into a song just for the sake of variety.
It’s about listening to what’s going on around you and trying to fill in the gaps where appropriate.
I am allowed to give homework on a blog?
Well, I’m going to anyway.
Go to the second 8 bars of All The Things You Are and work out a chord melody using the 1245 string group.
Put the melody in all voices (so you’ll be working on four chord melodies) and see what you come up with.
Here are the next 8 bars:
You can probably stop at bar 7 unless, of course, you want to do more than just the next 8 bars.
I don’t grade on a curve, and extra credit is always acceptable.
I’ll be honest, this stuff isn’t easy, at least not for me. Sometimes it takes me a VERY long time to get them down.
I’ll give you a piece of advice: Don’t spend all of your time writing these out in hopes to be able to sightread them later.
If you want to write them out, fine, but you should spend the majority of your time learning them on your guitar and not notating them on paper; that method tends to distract from the learning process.
Most importantly, have fun with it!
This is guitar playing after all, the greatest hobby around, so enjoy the time you spend learning and jamming!