Open Position Chords: E Position

So far so good, learning the five main chord types in the five main open positions, right? Only two more to go, the E and D positions, and both of those should be simpler to play and easier to master than some of the more demanding ones, such as the open G chords.

Today’s post will focus on the E position chords. Here’s the classic E major chord:

EE Major

No doubt you recognize this as the same formation as the A minor chord, just on a slightly different group of strings. As with the A minor form, the E major form is used as the barre form, so while in open position the above fingering is fine, it helps to also learn it with the 2-3-4 fingering that you’ll need for the barre form.

E(alt.)E Major (alt.)

Out of all of the open formations, the E is the simplest to turn from a major to a minor chord — simply lift whichever finger you have on the G string, and play it as an open string:

EmE Minor

Doesn’t get any easier than that, does it? Well, actually it does! Check out the formations for E7 and EM7, and then the ultimate single-finger, 6-note chord, the E minor 7th (m7). Here’s the E7:

E7 E7

A cool variation of this chord, found in quite a few rock songs from the ’60s through the ’80s, uses the 4th finger for an octave seventh on the B string (3rd fret).

E7(alt.) E7(alt.)

The EM7 is a little awkward, but not too bad:

EM7 EM7

Make sure the open B string is ringing properly, it’s very easy to let the 3rd finger hang down just enough to choke the note.

Here’s that amazingly simple 1-finger Em7 chord:

Eminor7 Eminor7

We’ll go over all of these formations again when we work on barre chords, but just keep in mind that all of these formations are movable. What are open strings in all these positions will be barred up the neck by your index finger.

It should be noted that while this series may seem exhaustive, and even then just working on 5 distinct types of chords in 5 open positions, the fact is that we’re hardly scratching the surface when it comes to the various types of chords that can be constructed once you know the formulas. There are suspended, diminished, augmented, extended and altered dominant, and many other types of chords, and multiple ways to play each of them. Some of these will be covered in the near future, others are fairly esoteric in nature and may be somewhat limited in application.

However, if you were familiar with just the major, minor, and dominant 7th chords, that would be sufficient for probably 80-90% of all pop, rock, metal, blues, country, and even classical music. Jazz is another animal altogether; many of the more “esoteric” chord types mentioned are more commonplace in jazz guitar.

Maybe some enterprising soul out there might put some distortion on those unusual chords, and apply them to fresh territory (hint, hint). In the meantime, mastering these more conventional shapes and tonalities will put you way ahead of the game, and not only help you build a repertoire quickly, but develop your own compositions with a great deal of musical color and textures to work with.

Let’s take a quick look at the five chord types we’ve been covering in this series, how they are constructed, and how they are “spelled” with the intervals that comprise them:

  • Major chord:  Root (R), major third (M3), perfect fifth (P5). R-3-5.
  • Minor chord:  Root, minor third (m3), perfect fifth. R-b3-5.
  • Major 7th chord (M7):  Major chord with seventh (M7). R-3-5-7.
  • Dominant 7th chord (7):  Major chord with flattened (minor) seventh (m7). R-3-5-b7.
  • Minor 7th chord (m7):  Minor chord with flattened seventh. R-b3-5-b7.

We’ll take a look at the last of the five CAGED positions tomorrow.

Open Position Chords: G Position

Welcome back, hope you’re having fun with the C and A open positions so far. Remember to use the cheat sheets on the Resources page for reference. Let’s move on to open G position chords. Here’s the G major:

GG Major

This will take some contortions at first, since all 4 fingers are used and there are two open strings in the middle. Here’s a simpler variation:

G(alt.)G Major (alt.)

Harmonically, we’ve traded one redundant note for another — an octave p5 for an octave major third. Not a huge change in sound, but by freeing up a finger, it should be easier to play. With each variation, the real challenge is making sure that none of your fretting fingers is accidentally touching any of the open strings, “choking” those notes.

If you’re feeling really ambitious, the example below shows how the G chord is typically played in classical guitar studies:

G(c)G Major (classical)

One cool thing about this variation is that it sets you up for a very simple shift to the open C chord. Another helpful feature is that it gets you most of the way to playing the open G7 chord:

G7 G7

To get the GM7 chord, simply slide the index finger up one fret (which in this case is more difficult than it sounds):

GM7 GM7

It’s possible to play this one reversing the 1st and 2nd fingers, but that makes it more difficult to avoid choking the open D string from the finger hanging into it. Out of all the CAGED open positions, chances are the G forms will feel the most awkward to play. This is because in order to fret notes on the lowest two strings and the highest one or two strings, and to keep two or three strings in between open and ringing freely, you have to angle your wrist a bit more than with the other formations.

We have two more positions to cover, so hopefully you’re hanging in there! Even just five positions can be an extensive area to cover, so don’t feel like you have to memorize all of this at one time. The most efficient way to learn these is one position at a time, but some people may prefer to learn all the major chords first, then all the minor, etc. As always, go with whatever works best for you. But you will probably find that exploring each position a bit, one by one, before moving on to the next position, will save you more time in the long run.

Open Position Chords: A Position

Hopefully you’ve gotten familiar with the open C position chords, so let’s move on to the A position. Here’s a standard A major chord:

AA Major

It can be tricky to “bunch” your last 3 fingers up like that, and it takes a bit of practice to do it so that the open high E string still rings out. It will be tempting to just use your 1st finger to barre it — and that works — but you’ll lose the depth and texture of the open E doing that. Once we get into various types of barre chords, we’ll be asking our fingers to do many things that they’re not used to, or are not comfortable at first. All I can say is that I guarantee you that persistence and patience will pay off.

This formation lends itself well to the minor chord form. Here’s the A minor:

AmA Minor

As you’ll see when we cover barre chords, this form is the basis for the movable minor barre formation. Your index finger will be used to barre across the five strings from A to high E. In the open formation it’s easier to use the fingering as indicated above, to facilitate switching from one chord to the next. But it would also be useful to practice the formation using fingers 2-3-4 in place of 1-2-3, respectively.

The dominant 7th chord is a simple one to master in the A open position:

A7A7

This is yet another movable formation, where your index finger will take the place of the nut, and barre all the way up the neck. But in open position, many people prefer to use the 3rd finger in place of the 4th on the B string. It doesn’t hurt to learn it both of those ways. Also, to turn this chord into a major 7th (M7), it’s very simple — just tuck the 1st or (preferably) 3rd finger in and fret the G# note at the 1st fret on the G string.

AM7 AM7

The above is the simpler “open position” fingering, and below is the way to play the AM7 in a barre formation:

AM7(alt.) AM7(alt.)

To finish off the A position, if we go back to the A minor form, and drop the 3rd finger (A note, 2nd fret G string), we get the A minor 7th (m7) chord:

Aminor7 Aminor7(alt.)

The above formation is also the movable barre version, but for open position, you may find it simpler to use the 1-2 fingers in place of the 2-3:

Aminor7

Most of these A chords fall under the fingers fairly easily, especially compared with the C and G forms. Going in order through the five CAGED forms, we’ll be covering the open G position next post. Stay tuned!

Open Position Chords: C Position

Let’s continue with our basic chord primer, and check out some of the more common open-position chords. Unlike power chords (covered here) and barre chords (which we’ll cover in the next couple days), these chords are all played just in the open position (meaning that they use one or more open strings.

However, if the open string note(s) can be fingered as the formation moves up the neck, it can be considered a movable formation. (Or, you could just move the fingered notes up the neck, and keep the open string note(s). You may end up with something that doesn’t “fit” in terms of theory, but so what? If it sounds good, then it is good.)

Originally I had intended to post the open-position chords for all five CAGED positions, but the final result ran nearly 2,500 words. I think it would be a lot simpler and more effective to break it down and devote a separate post for each of the five positions. So we’ll start with open C position chords.

We’ll focus on major, minor, major 7th, dominant 7th, and minor 7th chords mostly, with a few exceptions based on convenience of play in open position. The beauty of open-position chords, especially when you play them on acoustic guitar, is the sound of open strings combined with fretted notes. While power chords are fun and easy to play, since they are comprised of just the root and the fifth, there’s not a whole lot of depth to them, beyond what you might want for writing a basic riff.

The interval that determines whether a chord is major or minor is the third (see the Resources page for basic cheat sheets on intervals, as well as chord and scale construction). All of the intervals affect the nature of the chords they’re used in, to varying degrees, but the third is what specifically makes it major or minor.

As always, some basic theory is useful to know, just so there’s a common terminology being used, and we’re all on the same page with what’s being referred to. But the most important thing is to recognize the sound, how major, minor, seventh, and other chords all sound different from each other in certain ways. Learn the sounds first, and you can worry about what things are called later. That will fall into place at some point.

To keep this simple, we’re just going to go through the standard CAGED position open chords. Refer to the CAGED cheat sheet on the Resources page if you need. Because of the standard EADGBE tuning, these five keys will account for probably 90% of the open chords you will play and actually use. Yes, you could technically construct some G# altered dominant min/maj7 Frankenstein chord with a couple of open strings in the middle, but it’s easier to learn the more conventional forms before heading down the path less traveled.

So let’s start with the C chords. Here’s the classic C major, with its intervals marked at the bottom of the chord chart:

CC Major

It may be difficult to tell from the photo, but in this instance, the pinky finger is not doing anything, you’re just using the first three fingers, per the chord chart. However, you could use the pinky at the 3rd fret of the high E string (G note), which gives you another p5, an octave higher than the open G.

Continue reading “Open Position Chords: C Position”

Lick of the Week: 2-Finger Symphony

Welcome to our first “lick of the week” feature, where we’ll use basic ideas to build up to a cool passage of roughly 8 bars in length, that you can then use to impress your neighbors and scare away wild animals.

Our first LotW is an idea that sounds more complex than it is, and it can be played by just about any level of ability. It involves using an open string as a pedal point, with the 1st and 4th fingers forming movable triads around that point.

One of the first “cool licks” that a lot of players learn is the open string pull-off triplet. It’s a staple of many early rock guitar solos, because it’s easy to do and it sounds good. The tab excerpt below shows this in both pull-off and hammer-on form:

2FS_01

As you can see, if your 1-4 fingering is at the 5th position on the E string, you have an A note at the 5th fret, and a C note at the 8th fret. So the A-C-E grouping forms an A minor triad (R-b3-5). In the 4th position you have G# and B at the 4th and 7th frets respectively; G#-B-E is an inverted E major triad.

(Theory note:  G#-B-E also spells out G#m6 (R-b3-6), but especially when paired with an Am triad, it resolves more as an E harmonically. It also depends on the key that the triad is being played over. But by themselves, the triads spell out Am-E. As always, it’s more important that it sounds smooth and clean, than to worry about the theory behind it.)

If we played the above triad forms on the B string instead of the E string, the two triads would spell out E-G-B (E minor) and D#-F#-B (B major inversion); on the G string they would be C-Eb-G (C minor) and B-D-G (G major inv.). Again, just listen to how the first triad on each open string resolves into the second one. Pretty cool melodic tension there.

Let’s try a simple four-on-the-floor variation, on the open B string, shown below. This one sounds somewhat like the opening riff of the AC/DC classic Thunderstruck. Even though every other note here is an open-string pull-off, be sure to maintain alternate picking for the picked notes throughout:

2FS_03

Continue reading “Lick of the Week: 2-Finger Symphony”

Pedal to the Metal

One of the cornerstone techniques of neoclassical shred guitar is pedal point, where a melody or scale is played alternating against either a stationary note or a fixed interval. The example below shows a simple line played in A minor, up and back down the neck on the high A string:

If you’ve never tried this technique before, imagine the above example like this:  you’re basically sequencing the A minor scale up the neck in 3-note chunks. In the first bar, there are two 3-note chunks; first the G-A-B (3rd, 5th, and 7th frets), and then the A-B-C (5th, 7th, and 8th frets). In each of these chunks, and on up the neck, the third note is the pedal point, sort of the melodic anchor around which the melody or scalar sequence moves.

You can also easily reverse the sequence, and use the first note of each chunk as the anchor, so instead of your sequence going 1-3-2-3 1-3-2-3 as in the above example, you could sequence the same notes 3-1-2-1 or 2-1-3-1.

Especially when played on a single string, it’s a good idea to stick primarily with strict down-up alternate picking at first, but hammer-ons and pull-offs also sound good, as long as the pedal points stay consistent and in time. This is a technique that relies heavily on being metronomically tight to sound really good.

Some quick music theory observations so far:  on the single-string example, the first and third notes of each position all the way up constitute an interval of a third. Whether the third is major or minor depends on if the first and third notes are 3 or 4 frets apart. So for G-A-B, the G and B are 4 frets apart, so it’s a major third. The next one, A-B-C, the A and C are 3 frets apart, so minor third.

The cool thing about pedal point is that the melodic possibilities are virtually endless, especially once you start incorporating more strings. Here’s a simple two-string run, this time in E minor:

For each position shift all the way up the neck, the pinky should be used to fret the pedal point note. Notice that for most of the positions, on the second and fourth beats the melodic note is on the same fret (on the adjacent string) as the pedal point. So in the first bar, the E note (5th fret B string) immediately precedes the A (5th fret high E string) anchor note on the second beat, then the F# right before the B in the fourth beat.

The simplest way to handle this at higher tempos is to barre the pinky on the B and E strings to play both notes. The last beat on the third bar is where you will need to use your third (ring) finger instead, as the scale note is a tritone below the pedal note, rather than a perfect fourth.

From a music theory perspective, incorporating a second string allows us to move on from just working with thirds, and to start sketching out triads and scales. We’ll discuss triads more in depth in an upcoming post (and post a quick reference PDF on the Free Resources page), but for now, we’ll just note that a triad is constructed from the root, third, and fifth (R-3-5) of a scale. The distance between the R and 3 is an interval of a third (either major or minor, per the earlier reference), and the distance between the 3 and 5 is also a third.

So stacking a major third (G to B) and then a minor third (B to D) produces a major triad. Stacking a minor third (A to C) and then a major third (C to E) produces a minor triad. Stacking two minor thirds (F#-A; A-C) produces a diminished triad. Two major thirds will produce an augmented triad, but those do not occur in the major scale or any of its modes. Since we’re working diatonically (within the scale) for these exercises, we won’t encounter any. (That doesn’t mean you can’t incorporate the pattern into your own exercises!)

If you are not too well-versed in music theory and terminology, a “minor third” may not seem all that different from a “minor triad” or a “minor scale”. Don’t worry about it; these concepts take time to internalize if you’re not familiar with them. The main thing is recognizing these patterns by ear, and getting them under your fingers. The names for everything will come soon enough, but they’re really just ways to have a common set of terms so we all know what we’re referring to.

Anyway, let’s move on. Here’s a variation on the previous two-string pattern, with the melody now descending then ascending:

With multi-string pedal point forms, it’s much more difficult to use any hammer-ons or pull-offs, but there are more options for picking. Start with the usual down-up alternate picking until your picking and fretting hands are properly synchronized at moderate to high tempos. Particularly with these somewhat more complex forms, it’s better to get the pattern down in a single position first, until everything sounds clean and smooth at 112 bpm or so. Then start moving it up and down the neck diatonically, getting familiar with the position shifts, and the various triad forms throughout. Then work it through all the keys, using the circle of fifths/fourths. (For example, if you go up through the circle of fifths, C-G-D-A-E-B-F#-C#-etc., you just add a sharp each time to move up a fifth in key — adding the F# note to the key of C will put you in the key of G; adding the C# note to G puts you in D; adding the G# to D gives you A, and so on.)

For our last example, let’s take a look at a pattern that utilizes a three-note anchor pattern on the high E string, with the scale moving up along with it on the B string:

With the odd number of notes per string before moving from one string to another, this exercise should really help pinpoint any mechanical issues you might have with pick hand/fret hand synchronization.

As always, take it slow at first, get the pattern dialed in, build up speed, add some palm muting or other types of accents on the “1” beat to accentuate, etc.

Again, for those folks that may not have tried this technique much, you can see pretty quickly how you can create a ton of cool musical ideas on just one or two strings. We’ll definitely come back to this topic in upcoming posts, but this should be enough to give you some ideas to work on for a while. Play hard and have fun!