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”

Power Chords

The most basic building block of rock and metal is the power chord. It’s a great place for beginners to start learning rhythm guitar, as only three (or even two) fingers are required. Below, check out the chord diagram and photo for the basic A5 chord, on the low E-A-D strings at the 5th position:

A5A5

As you can see from the indications below the chord chart, this chord consists of the root, the fifth, and another root note an octave higher. (We’ll try to keep the references to intervals at a minimum here, but there will be a free cheat sheet posted on the Resources page.) There are several advantages to knowing these simple but effective boxes:

  1. They can be moved anywhere along the neck, and across the neck with minor adjustments.
  2. They are the basis for the more developed major/minor barre chords.
  3. The interval that gives a chord a major or minor quality is the third. Since the power chord has no third, it can be played in either context.

Let’s move the box across the neck by one string, from the E-A-D string trio to the A-D-G grouping, staying at the 5th position. Now it is a D5 chord:

D5D5

So far so good. But as you might guess, the next string grouping will need a small adjustment in our box formation.

Continue reading “Power Chords”

Guitar Notes

A big thank you to everyone who’s been checking out the site so far, we’ve had folks checking in from around the world — Brazil, Russia, India, Macedonia, Australia, and elsewhere. That is awesome, and again, we very much appreciate all of your comments, suggestions, and questions. Keep ’em coming!

We have a lot more cool things in the works, for players of all levels. We’ll be posting a series on basic chord formations throughout this coming week, starting Monday. We also have several publications in the works; some will be posted for free on the Resources page, and a few others will be offered here in PDF format for a couple bucks, as well as on Amazon in Kindle format. Stay tuned!

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”

Back to Basics: 2-Finger Patterns: Stretch Type Thing

Before we move on to symmetrical/chromatic patterns that utilize three and four fingers, let’s add to the patterns we looked at previously, which involved all the combinations of two fingers.

You might be wondering why we don’t just go straight to working out various combinations of all four fretting fingers. It’s a valid question, and the main reason for it is because beginning with the simplest, most fundamental motions possible allows you to more quickly identify and isolate any mechanical issues that you may have with either hand, including synchronization.

Next week, we’ll take a look at how to sequence these patterns, and starting with basic two-finger ideas makes the concept easier to learn and apply to more complex melodic ideas (such as scales).

In the meantime, check out these “stretch” variations of those patterns, where an extra fret or even two might be inserted into the pattern. Neck diagrams are shown below:

2fs01 2fs02

Notice the fret markings under each diagram; it is recommended that you try each pattern at the 7th fret at least. You may want to start even higher up the neck, at the 12th or 15th fret, and work your way down. These larger stretches will feel uncomfortable and difficult at first. If you feel any actual pain or acute discomfort, stop right away and give your hand a rest, and try the pattern at a more comfortable location.

Once you have the stretch patterns down, make sure to go back through all the basic ascending and descending tabs from before, and apply the new stretch fingerings. Again, take it slow at first and don’t strain anything. Have fun!

Back to Basics: 2-Finger Chromatic Patterns

Following up from last week’s diagram of the chromatic scale, let’s take a look at some basic patterns derived from it. There are six possible two-finger combinations, diagrammed below:

1-2_1-4

2-3_3-4

This is where the terminology can be somewhat tricky if taken literally; while we’re referring to the above fingering combinations and patterns as “chromatic”, they really aren’t. “Chromatic” means a descending or ascending sequence of semi-tones (half-steps). These are two-finger patterns that replicate on every string, which is symmetrical, rather than truly chromatic. But “chromatic” is also commonly used to refer to patterns which are atonal, or not derived from any clear scale or key.

As always, these are just names for things, and you should feel free to call them whatever works for you. For our purposes here, “symmetrical” and “chromatic” can be used more or less interchangeably to refer to these patterns.

Anyway, let’s take a look at the basic 1-2 pattern being worked across the strings and back in several variations (see tab below):

1-2(1)

Use strict down-up alternate picking until you’re comfortable with each pattern, then reverse the picking sequence (start with an upstroke). Check out the triplet/sextuplet variation below:

1-2(2)

It sounds pretty cool at higher speeds. As with any new exercise or pattern, take it slowly, use a metronome and work your way up to speed.

Finally, be sure to try out the pattern with hammer-ons and pull-offs. It may take a bit of practice to work in the alternating pick directions from one string to the next, but it’s an efficient way to develop the picking hand.

1-2(3)

Keeping in mind that these tabs are highlighting just one of the 6 possible 2-finger combinations in just a couple of positions, there’s a ton of useful practice material to be mined just from these simple patterns. Use the neck diagrams at the top of the post for reference, and work through all the above tab variations with the other possible finger combinations.

Next week, we’ll combine some of these fingerings into more challenging patterns, and we’ll also show you how to sequence these patterns to produce more interesting musical ideas. See you then!

Back to Basics: The Chromatic Scale

The Back to Basics series will profile fundamental concepts and patterns, in order to provide “building block” ideas for players of all levels.

The chromatic scale encompasses all 12 notes of the octave. (For guitarists especially, the term is also used to refer to exercises which are not based on any particular tonal or scalar root, and incorporate patterns of some or all of the fret-hand fingers.)

Since all of the fingers come into play, the chromatic scale is ideal for warm-up patterns. Musically, since by definition all possible combinations are included, short chromatic patterns can also be useful for connecting scalar or modal ideas to one another.

There are two common ways to play the full chromatic scale:  in open position, from the open low E (6th string) to A on the 1st string (2 octaves + perfect 4th), or in any position, with a small shift on most strings, ascending and descending. (See corresponding diagrams and tabs.)

ChromOpenChromOpenTab

Chrom5 Chrom5Tab

Continue reading “Back to Basics: The Chromatic Scale”