Melodic Warmup Exercise

If there’s two things we like here at PTG, when devising useful exercises, one is to keep it as simple as possible, and the second is to combine musical ideas with mechanical concepts. This post and the next will show some ideas that address both those areas.

We’re going to look at the B-G-D string trio, in the seventh position. Let’s take a simple triad progression and see what we can do with it:

MelWarm01

Pay special attention to the fingering, because this is where it becomes somewhat challenging. The first chord, A7, uses (in order from lowest note to highest) the 1-3-2 fingers, while the next chord (G with B root, also known as an inversion) is fingered 3-1-2. So as you transition from the A7 to the G/B, keep the second (middle) finger in place on that G note (B string, 8th fret). Simply switch the first and third fingers as you go from the A7 to the G/B.

Next, on the B triad, you can see that the fingering is just 3-2-1. Easy enough. This time, as you transition from G/B to B, keep the third finger stationary on the B note (D string, 9th fret). You just trade places with your first and second fingers, between the G and B strings, and 7th and 8th frets.

The fourth and final chord in our single-position mini-progression is a C triad, exactly the same as the B triad immediately before it, just one position higher. You can easily slide shift the 3-2-1 fingering up one fret to play this, but to keep this challenging (it is an exercise, after all) use the 4-3-2 fingering shown in the notation. You may want to isolate this further and just work back and forth between the B (3-2-1 fingering) and C (4-3-2) triads until it feels comfortable. This is a very simple but effective exercise for finger independence.

When you feel comfortable working through the entire four-chord sequence, and can do it smoothly and cleanly, keeping the suggested fingers in place during the transitions, you’re ready to use the progression for melodic picking exercises. Let’s take a very simple four-note version of this:

MelWarm02

As always, start slow and smooth, use a metronome to keep in tempo, use strict alternate picking, and pay particular attention on the transitions from one chord to the next. The first transition (from A7 to G/B) may be somewhat tricky, in that you are moving your 3rd finger from the 9th fret on the G string to the 9th fret on the D string for consecutive notes. Again, take it slow and it will fall under your fingers before you know it.

As with any picking exercise, make sure to try as many picking hand techniques (palm muting, sweep picking, etc.) as you can think of. Mix and match these techniques, come up with progressions of chords and triads of your own. Use the chords section here (scroll down on that page) for ideas, and listen to how the chords flow and resolve when sequenced together.

Here’s a variation on our triad sequence, using sweep-picked triplets:

MelWarm03

With these back-and-forth sweep picking exercises, try to achieve a smooth “rolling” sound. Observe the motion of your picking hand, and where the “turnaround” point is from downstroke to upstroke and vice versa. Instead of coming to an abrupt halt to change direction, keep it smooth and even. Think of your regular alternate picking on a single string, and how the picking motion is constant, and not start-stop-start-stop. Sweeping across multiple strings is basically an extended version of that motion, in terms of the distance your picking hand travels.

Definitely come up with chord and shape ideas of your own and put them together. Print a bunch of blank tab and chord sheets, and keep them handy when you’re practicing, so you can sketch out these ideas as you come up with them. Don’t worry too much about figuring out which scale or chord they “belong” to yet, the main thing is that it sounds cool to you, and that you get it written down for future reference. You can figure out the theory later if you want.

The next post will explore a melodic variation on the single position exercise, stay tuned!

Fingerstyle Playing: Giuliani Studies 1-12

Fingerstyle playing is a valuable part of any guitarist’s repertoire, no matter what your regular style happens to be. Once mostly associated with classical or country styles, rock and metal have gained depth and dimension by incorporating the dynamics found in fingerstyle playing.

The most useful studies in gaining picking-hand finger independence are in classical and country music. Classical especially has a large canon of works, developed over hundreds of years by many master teachers. So it makes sense to take a look at what is universally recognized as one of the most important works of the classical guitar canon, Mauro Giuliani’s 120 Right Hand Studies. This collection of short (just two bars each) melodic pieces gets progressively more difficult in general, and will train each of the picking-hand fingers.

Let’s take a look at the first twelve of these studies, as shown in the PDF and sound files below:

120studies-for-right-hand(pdf)   120 Right Hand Studies(wav)

(Please e-mail or let me know in comments if either or both of the files have any issues loading.)

As you’ll see, each study simply shows a technique, going between two chords, C in the first bar and G7 in the second bar. Especially in the first few studies, the G7 chord uses the third, B, as the bass note. Once you have the studies and techniques mastered, definitely start using other open chords and sequences, and combine them in ways that sound good to you.

We’ll put up photos and video soon so you can see a visual demonstration of proper picking-hand technique, but in the meantime, the basic position of readiness is to have your hand slightly cupped over the strings over the soundhole, hovering just above (1/8″ to 1/4″) the strings. Your thumb should be in position to strike the E or A strings, and the next three fingers over the D,G, and B strings respectively. The pinky is used, but rarely; until you get into more advanced classical guitar concepts such as tremolo, focus mostly on getting the thumb and first three fingers dialed in.

The tab is in the PDF just to make things easier to sight read, but definitely check the picking hand indications in the standard notation as you read along. The indications are as follows:  “p”=thumb, “I”=index, “m”=middle, “a”=ring, and “c”=pinky.

While these can be played on electric guitar, definitely work them on a nylon-string classical if you can, or a steel-string acoustic if you have one. The strings are spaced slightly more on classical and acoustic guitars, and thus will train your picking hand properly.

It’s also important to achieve a good, solid tone with each of your fingers as they strike the strings. Think of the midpoint between the 3rd and 4th (G and D) strings as your center, and each of your picking-hand fingers is striking slightly toward that center. So your thumb will strike downward as it plays root notes on the E, A, and D strings, while the other fingers will pull just slightly upward toward that center when playing the G, B, and E’ strings. (An exception is when the thumb is playing a bass note on the G string, in which case you strike downward, like you would on the lower strings.) Each finger should strike its string clear and smooth, and produce a tone that rings out and can be held for duration.

Shifting from C to G7 will be tricky at first, because in the full G7 chord form, you will need to use your ring finger for the low G note, which will appear in many of the studies. Use the index finger to fret the F note on the high E string, the pinky for the D note on the B string, and the middle finger for the B bass note on the A string.

Economy of motion for both hands should be a priority in developing any technique, but will be especially important here, as your picking hand will now be doing more than just picking up or down as a group of fingers, requiring attention to both hands as you play. Work on mastering the fretting of the chord forms first, especially since they’re the same in each study, then concentrate on what each finger of the picking hand is doing in a given study.

Here’s a quick breakdown of each of the twelve studies covered here:

#1 — The first study introduces the basic chord forms, with the thumb cycling through the first three notes of each chord as roots. Take it slow at first, and get a feel for shifting between the two chord forms. Notice that for three of the four beats on the G7 chord (beats 1, 2, and 4), there is no G note, making the tonality implied.

#2 — This is just the first study, but with the notes played one at a time. Keep a nice, slow, rolling triplet rhythm, count or tap along while you get your picking-hand fingers used to the independent motion, then use a metronome.

#3 — This reverses the order of the notes played on the B and E’ strings, so the middle finger will strike before the index finger (p-m-I instead of p-I-m).

#4 — Going back to the p-I-m sequence, but now “rolling across” the neck before returning the thumb back to the original bass note on the 4th beat. This is not as tricky as it might appear.

#5 — Now we’re rolling across the neck with a reverse m-I-p sequence.

#6 — A couple of minor curveballs in this one, rolling across with a p-m-I sequence. First, the bass note (first note of each beat) has an extended duration. Let it ring out for the full beat, not just the triplet. The other two notes of each beat remain triplets. The rest of these twelve studies will have this first-note duration. Secondly, notice that for the first three beats of each bar, the last note of each beat is also the first note of the next beat, but they are picked by different fingers, index then thumb. A great introductory study for finger independence.

#7 — Let’s introduce the ring finger to the festivities here. In the 1st and 3rd beats of each bar, the chord is spread out on the A-G-E’ strings (and the low G is finally introduced in the 3rd beat of the G7 bar), while on the 2nd and 4th beat, the “interior” of the chords are played. You may want to give this study some extra attention, to make sure that the low G in incorporated comfortably into the established G7 form you’ve been working on so far.

#8 — A simple reworking of the “spread” and “interior” forms from the previous study. This is a good one for gaining independence for the ring finger.

#9 — This is a nice and easy introduction to the back-and-forth “rolling” technique, where a chord form is played low-to-high and then back down. The first two beats feature that technique, and it’s a valuable one. Pay particular attention to keeping your picking hand position as anchored as possible, and not floating back and forth with the flow of the notes. You shouldn’t have to move your hand at all, just the individual fingers.

#10 — Another reversal of the fingers against the thumb root. By now this shouldn’t be too difficult.

#11 — The first note of each beat features the melodic note, played by the index finger, with an accompanying root played by the thumb. You may want to practice playing just the I-m-a sequences first, then add in the bass notes. This is a great introduction to incorporating moving bass lines against a static melody (in counterpoint, this is considered oblique motion).

#12 — You know the drill by now — reverse the fingering of the upper triad melody, from I-m-a to a-m-I. By now your ring finger should feel comfortable in these sequences.

Throughout all of the twelve studies included here — and for any fingerstyle study — strive for clarity of tone, an even rhythm, and consistent volume. Especially at first, some of the weaker or less coordinated picking fingers may be lower in volume and/or weaker in duration and clarity. Play through all twelve of these studies until the chord shifting feels smooth and natural, and the fingers on the picking hand are strong and comfortable.

We’ll cover the next 12 studies in a future post, but later this week, there will be a couple of short, simple pieces that will give you some additional melodic and rhythmic framework to apply these ideas to.

Basic Chord Progression Exercise

No doubt you’ve been working hard on all the power, open, and movable chords we’ve reviewed recently, and it would be nice to put them to use, right? Here’s a very simple (but effective) chord progression that you can put through the paces, and sharpen your chord chops at the same time.

The progression is in the key of C#m (relative major key is E major). The basic progression goes like this:

CP1(1)

Just straight, even quarter-note strums. Couple of things to try once the basics are comfortable:

  1. Alternate strumming directions; strum upward on the downbeat.
  2. Take a look at all the different ways we’ve covered in how to play each of these chords. How many different places can you play an E or an A chord? Even with something like the G#7 chord, you really only need the root, major 3rd, perfect 5th, and flat 7th to get the dominant 7th chord, so the other movable forms we’ve reviewed can be used as well.
  3. Try out all the various different rhythms and beats you can think of, instead of just straight 4/4 quarter notes.

This lesson is much more about basic songwriting and chord progression concepts, than technique. So don’t worry too much about the usual suggestions of strict alternate picking, trying down-up and up-down picking, etc. Focus more on getting a good rhythm going, trying various chord voicings and positions, changing up the order of the progression (try the chords in reverse, or another order), and again trying different rhythms for the chords as you go through them, not just the same strums for each chord.

Let’s try the progression with a slight change in the last bar:

CP1(2)

This is a really cool way to lead you back to the C#m to start the progression all over again. You can just go to the B chord if you want, but what’s cool about having the D# (which is the major third of the B chord) as the lowest note of the chord is that it becomes a leading tone.

A chord whose lowest note is not the root note is called an inversion; in this case, the B/D# is a chromatic inversion, because of the E leading directly to the D#, and then to the C# to go through the progression again.

Using the second example, let’s try running through it with a few rhythmic and strumming variations:

CP1(3)

As you can see, none of the chords are complete strums anymore. The last halves of the 1st and 3rd bars are good examples of arpeggiated chords; the G#-E-C# ending bar 1 is an inverted C#m triad, while the A-E-G# form an inverted A major triad. The interrelation between scales, chords, and arpeggios is a vital one to understand, and seeing how an arpeggio is really just a broken chord is useful.

Play through the progression in this fashion a few times, and listen carefully to how the chord partials suggest, piece by piece, the same tonalities as before, but this time with more subtlety and nuance. Definitely try your own variations.

This is a very simple example of how you can effectively orchestrate a progression, suggesting pieces of things for the listener’s ear to put together, rather than trying to play everything at once.

If you write songs on guitar, and add keyboard or bass guitar accompaniment, think further about how those elements could be used in this type of progression. The bass could take a “walking”, leading-tone melody similar to what’s suggested by the chord inversion in the last bar, and not just hold down the root note. The keyboard could play partials while the guitar plays full chords (or vice versa).

Obviously, orchestration is an extremely complex subject, and beyond the scope of this post. But it’s a useful concept to keep in mind as you work through the third example here, and think about how breaking chords up into musically relevant pieces can arrange a progression in a manner that’s more interesting and pleasing to your ear.

Again, as far as pure technique, it’s not as important here, it’s more crucial to engage your ears in how things sound and flow together. The basic rule of thumb to alternate pick as much as possible applies as a general rule, but for example, if it makes more sense to you to pick some of the arpeggiated chords in the same direction, go ahead and do it. Or pick the lower notes and fingerpick the upper ones. Or fingerpick everything; for those of you who are unfamiliar with fingerpicking, or would just like to work on that important technique some more, we’ll be going over some classical fingerpicking studies during April.

Of course, experiment with all of the above ideas, first trying all of the chords in the progression in various forms, then with utilizing additional chords, then with completely new combinations.

Movable Chords, Part 3

Let’s wrap up our series on movable chords with 4-string forms. As with the 5- and 6-string forms, we’ll be showing the major, minor, dominant 7th(7), minor 7th(m7), and major 7th(M7) chords. Examples are shown in fifth position, so starting on the 4th (D) string, that means these chords will all be in the key of G (4th string, 5th fret).

Here’s the movable G major chord:

G(barre) G(barre)

If you recall the open D position chords we worked with previously, then think of your first finger as taking the place of the open string in that form, serving as the root note in the movable form. There is some contortion of the other three fingers involved here, so you may want to alternatively try barring your 2nd (middle) finger across the G and high E strings, keeping the 4th finger on the B string. It’s still not easy to do, and still have all the notes ring out properly, but practice both ways and see what works better for you.

The good news is that the other four movable forms we’ll look at today are much simpler to do. Here’s the G minor chord:

Gm(barre)Gm(barre)

Not saying it’s easy, but it should be easier than the major chord. Here’s the dominant 7th:

G7(barre)G7(barre)

The m7 requires a bit of “bunching”, but not too bad:

Gm7(barre)Gm7(barre)_

It may be easier for some to play the m7 chord with the 2nd and 3rd fingers reversed. Try it!

The simplest chord form out of all of these is the M7, just two fingers:

GM7(barre)_GM7(barre)

As with the 5-string “flip-off” chord from before, the middle finger is raised off the fretboard here, you’re just using 1st and 3rd fingers. Even though the 1st finger is just playing the one root note, it’s a good habit to barre it anyway. This will facilitate switching to other chords more easily. Practice the 4-string forms up and down the neck until you’re comfortable with all five of them, then start combining them with the 5- and 6-string patterns.

Between the 5 open position chord forms and the 3 movable position chord forms that we’ve covered over the past couple weeks, probably around 80% of all rock, metal, blues, country, and even some classical guitar can be played. Naturally, there are plenty of chords and chord types that are not addressed in these series, and we will get to some of those soon (especially suspended chords). But getting the open and movable forms under your fingers will get you a long way toward not just learning conventional chord forms, but how chords are constructed in the first place.

Stay tuned, in upcoming posts we’ll go over chord progressions utilizing everything we’ve covered, as well as strumming and arpeggiation (picking) patterns to try on them. Good luck and have fun!

Movable Chords, Part 2

No doubt you’re having fun practicing your barring, getting that index (1st) finger anchored just right. Good news — moving on to 5- and 4-string forms, it definitely gets easier, as far as how much barring is required to make complete chords.

We’re going to stay in the 5th position, but we’ll be leaving the low E out for these chord forms. Root notes will be on the 5th fret of the 5th (A) string, so all chords in this post will have D for the root.

Here is the D major chord:

D(barre) D(barre)

Most people will find the “bunching” of the 2nd/3rd/4th fingers to be a hassle. This is one of those instances where bending the “rules” a bit is strongly encouraged. It’s still a good idea to practice your barring, and holding your other fingers so that none of the notes get choked out by inadvertent contact. But the note barred on the high E string is redundant, another A note, which is the perfect fifth (P5) of the scale. (Check the appropriate cheat sheet on the Free Resources page for more in-depth discussions on the interrelationships between intervals, scales, and chord construction.)

Especially if you’re using a lot of distortion, it can simpler and more effective to just play this chord as the classic Jimmy Page “flip-off” chord, barring the 1st and 3rd fingers:

D(barre)(alt.)D(barre) (2)

For this alternate formation, consider that A note on the high E string optional. It is possible to barre the 3rd finger in such a way that you can still play the A “underneath it”, with the 1st-finger barre, but it is difficult even for intermediate players to do it so that all five notes ring out like they should. Definitely try both styles, and in an actual playing situation, let the song determine which one to use.

The other four chords are more simple and straightforward. Let’s check out the minor formation:

Dm(barre) Dm(barre)

Should be no problems with this one, including shifting from or to another chord.

The dominant 7th chord requires a bit of stretching, but not too bad:

D7(barre) D7(barre)

The m7 chord is just like the minor chord, with the 4th finger lifted:

Dm7(barre) Dm7(barre)_

As with the 6-string chords, play back and forth between the m7 and minor chords, pressing and lifting the 4th finger, but not moving any other fingers.

Finally the M7 chord, which is the dominant 7th with the 2nd (middle) finger applied:

DM7(barre)_ DM7(barre)

You know the drill by now — play back and forth between the M7 and dom. 7th chords, moving only the 2nd finger. Practice shifting through various combinations of all five chords, in various positions along the neck, using different strum combinations. Except for the alternate major “flip-off” form, make sure all five notes ring clear.

On Tuesday we’ll wind up this series, and there will be several follow-up posts showing various chord progressions and picking (including fingerpicking) exercises to practice.

Movable Chords, Part 1

Hopefully by now you’ve had plenty of time to work on all the open position chords we’ve been reviewing over the last week or so. Those are great, and again, nothing sounds quite like an open string or two ringing in with several fretted notes in constructing a clear, resonant chord that you can build a song around.

But movable chord forms will give you maximum versatility up and down the neck, and all around the fretboard. We’ll take a look at the movable versions of the five main chord forms (major, minor, dominant 7th, major 7th, minor 7th) in three segments, using 4, 5, and all 6 strings. This post will cover the 6-string forms.

As with the open chord series, for this series we’ll assume that you have never attempted this sort of chord before, so we’ll start with some fundamentals. Barring is one of the more difficult things for beginners to do successfully, so follow the fingering suggestions closely, and be patient with yourself. Strum slowly through the chord, making sure all notes ring out clear and clean.

A good way to practice barring before trying one of these chord forms is to just use the index finger, barre it across all six strings (pick any position you like), and strum slowly and evenly, maybe a quarter to half a second between each note. By the time you get to the last note, the first notes should still be audible. If one or more of the notes can’t be heard all the way through, you may be slightly altering the pressure of your finger, and allowing the note to choke or deaden early. This is especially likely to happen midway beneath the finger, along the four interior strings (ADGB). Again, maintain even, consistent pressure throughout, and keep at it until you can hear all six notes.

You might be thinking that it would be easier to start with 4-string forms, and move on to 5 and 6 strings. However, it’s actually simpler to learn the concept of barring by starting with all the strings at once. If you can do six strings, five or four strings will be no problem at all.

All of the movable forms we’re going to be checking out will be done at the 5th position. So for 6-string chords, as the 5th fret on the low E (6th) string is A, these will all be A chords. Root notes are indicated in red. Here’s A major:

A(barre)A(barre)

Try a variety of strumming techniques:  faster, slower, downstrokes, upstrokes, etc. No matter how you play it, you should be able to hear all six notes in the chord.

The interval that determines whether a chord is major or minor is the third, which is played here by the 2nd (middle) finger. So for this 6-string form, to change from major to minor just lift the middle finger:

Am(barre) Am(barre)

It may not be easy to tell in the photo, but the middle finger is actually lifted here, just the barest distance needed. An easy way to build your barring ability is to go back and forth between the major and minor chords, just pressing and lifting that middle finger, without moving the others. When you can play both chords perfectly, moving just the one finger, then you’ve got it nailed.

The dominant 7th form is the same as the major, with the 4th finger (pinky) lifted:

A7(barre) A7(barre)

Again, work back and forth between this chord and the major, this time pressing and lifting only the 4th finger. Work in the minor form also, as that gets more comfortable.

The minor 7th (m7) is the easiest of these 6-string chords to play:

Am7(barre) Am7(barre)_

The m7 may be easier than the others, but it can be deceptively simple. You still want to be sure that all six notes are coming through clearly. Work back and forth between the m7 and the minor, by pressing and lifting the 4th finger.

The major 7th (M7) chord is slightly more difficult than the others, but not too bad:

AM7(barre)_ AM7(barre)

The “bunching” of the 2nd and 3rd fingers in the middle there will probably feel unnatural at first, but stick with it. You may find it easier to switch the 2nd and 3rd fingers. Either way, this will definitely be the most difficult chord in this group to switch from or to another chord.

Try all five chords in various positions, up and down the neck, and in various combinations of chords and strumming patterns.

Stay tuned, we’ll look at 5- and 4-string movable formations in a few days.

Open Position Chords: D Position

The last open position shape in the CAGED sequence is the D shape. Here is the D major chord:

DD Major

For first-timers, this shape might feel a bit bunched or twisted at first, but shouldn’t be too bad. Somewhat more challenging is the D minor shape, which requires transposing the 1st and 2nd fingers:

DmD Minor

Here’s a great little exercise that will help with fingering and dexterity. Play the open D major chord, then shift to the D minor, without lifting the 3rd finger. Then go back to the major chord. Back and forth, back and forth. Keep the 3rd finger pinned down throughout. Feel the burn!

Here’s the D7 chord, very similar to the D major form, but mirrored:

D7D7

You’ll be happy to see that the last two chord forms for this post, the DM7 and Dm7, are very easy to play and to move up the neck:

DM7 DM7

Another nice simple one-finger chord, at least for the open position. You can use pretty much any finger for the half-barre across the G-B-E’ strings, but it makes the most sense to use the 1st or 2nd finger there in the open position. For the movable version, use the 1st finger on the D string for the root note, and the 3rd finger for the half-barre.

Dminor7 Dminor7

I know this is a lot of stuff to go over all at once. Hopefully the chord diagrams and the photos help simplify things, and the text helps to explain the concepts effectively. Over the next few weeks, much of this material will be archived in a couple of different ways, with a PDF sheet on the Resources page, as well as a slideshow of the charts and photos for quick reference.

Also check out the Resources page for basic cheat sheets regarding intervals, triads, scales, and chord construction. The goal is not to make you memorize and recite all the names for things chapter and verse, but rather to show you how these concepts are interconnected, and how they collectively form the basic building blocks of most Western music. Don’t try to learn it all at once — take it a piece at a time, listen to how things sound, and work out some ideas of your own using these ideas.

We’ll finish up the chord series (for now) with barre chords on Friday, and on Sunday we’ll show you a few more useful exercises using chords. Good luck, have fun, and feel free to send any questions.

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!