Volume TWO 2010
Chord Enhancement, Tuning Tips, Fretboard 101
This section is going to start out precisely as its name implies (BASIC). It will be enhanced with video demonstrations of the things we talk about so you can see from a practical standpoint why we bring each subject to your attention. Although most of our readers may be well advanced from this starting point, there are a surprising number of players I have seen and met (including many who play for a living) that are missing a couple of key adaptations of the three basic chords at right. So using the hand graphic at left as your fingering guide, incorporate the three chords at right with this precise fingering. A video link will appear below to show you why these particular configurations of first position, standard tuning chords are a vital addition to your playing arsenal, IF you have not already incorporated them.
The first you will see on the video below is a much more efficient version of the G chord that allows you not only complete freedom with your index finger for nuances, but sets you up, as well, for far faster, more efficient changes to the other chords in this three chord progression (G,C,D). We will discuss chord progressions in greater detail in the second part below, as they are at the heart of truly understanding what you are doing on the guitar rather than simply playing what you have seen or been shown by others. It will continue to be the focus of this publication to share with you ideas that have consistently improved the capabilities of a lot of players.
The second chord in the progression is C and this fuller C chord (shown above right) is often not used to advantage by players, even when strumming. We will show in the video the advantages of this chord configuration over the typical three fingered C. This configuration also makes the transition to a thumb over full F chord much more efficient. This thumb over methodology is a very handy one and is used by many fine players. It is less restrictive for many than traditional bar chords and is easier on your wrist as well especially when playing low on the neck (near the nut). Many players incorporate both styles, and in the video below that sums this section up, you will see some of the advantages. As always, incorporate that which is of use to your style. Give new ideas a reasonable try before discarding them. Any new method may feel uncomfortable at first. For instance, I taught myself chords at a very early age using the thumb over method. It seemed logical at the time and while I use bar chords as well (usually further up the neck), I simply cannot get comfortable with a bar chorded F in the open (first fret - no capo) position.
And finally, the last chord is a much more robust sounding D chord with simply the E 6th string covered by your thumb on the second fret. This one will also allow for far more interesting transitions throughout the G progression. We will also show the more traditional ways of playing all of these chords and some of the inherent weaknesses and strengths associated with the more traditional configurations. The bottom line is that you should be able to play ALL configurations (there are many) of these first position chords and use them as necessary to get the most out of your playing. Click the video link below to see the demonstration. ***Note the .mpgs are for Mac users who can't use the Window's Media Video Format. Windows users are encouraged throughout this publication to always try the .wmv versions first. Because of the size of some of the files, obviously broadband is going to be a great help to you. However, even at 56K, once you download these files, you can save them to your computer for future, more efficient viewing at your convenience. We can't emphasize enough how important it is to save these files so you can look at them off line. You'll find it much easier to relax and internalize those things you feel important. Remember adrenaline, and anxiety are not good partners to learning.
Tuning the Guitar
Next we want to show you a video of a tuning technique that we have found to be far superior to others we have witnessed or that are often taught. The basic concept is using the G (3rd) string as your tonal basis rather than the bass E or A string which we often hear recommended. While we subscribe to guitar tuners for getting the overall pitch accurate to concert pitch if necessary, we do not feel one should develop a dependency on them for tuning the rest of the guitar. In other words, get the G string to concert G if that is your goal or the G string to whatever pitch is necessary to match the instruments or music you are going to accompany and then tune the rest of the instrument using your EARS. Tuning the strings in PAIRS is vital and we will show you why and how as well as the ever important 0/5 relationship between most string pairs. It should come as no surprise to those who have used tuners that the G string is the most easily "heard" by such tuners and is almost always the most stable once you get the pitch right. In other words with a tuner, the G string "wanders" around less (from attack to release (the sustained note) on the tuner's scale than do other strings. It is also much easier for the human ear to hear slight variations in the pitch of a G string when compared with lower frequency strings. And since the B and E 1st strings are always a compromise to some degree, we think focusing on the initial G will give you the most efficient method of tuning to the proper pitch and ultimately quickly tuning the whole guitar to itself. Below is a video showing the advantages of using the G String as a tuning reference. The popular "electronic tuner" is used to achieve concert pitch. However and again, we cannot overemphasize the disadvantages in becoming dependent on such devices, except for getting that initial reference string pitch.
Now on stage or in a very noisy environment you may require some kind of electronic tuning device but frankly, as mentioned above, depending on them is not helping your ear or your playing. Often during a performance, the instruments you need to be in tune with may not be capable of achieving concert pitch, so relying on a perfect pitch device is often counter productive to an overall in-tune sound. Your ears, unless you have a physical defect, are plenty good to tune any guitar (at least if the intonation is decent) even under noisy conditions. For the following video tuning demo, we'll be using a very cheap guitar with very dead strings and very cheap tuners - in other words the very worst-case scenario, (except for the fact that even low end Takamines have outstanding intonation)- so you can witness for yourself that the art of tuning a guitar need not be so traumatic and your financial resources can be better utilized on things other than expensive electronic tuners.
One last issue about tuning before we show the video. There always exist the possibility of temporary tone "blindness". This comes about from trying to listen too hard or for too long to a single tone. It is this very tendency of one's ears to go a little "dead" after frustrating attempts at fine tuning that causes us to encourage the tuning process to be both accurate and FAST and done in pairs. Even the anxiety one feels in front of an audience can cause your ears to misbehave. Tuning needs to remain adrenaline free, a mellow and rewarding activity, so relax and be fluid and flexible in your motions. Moving tuners in tiny increments can exacerbate a negative experience so what you will see in the video is a wider range of tuning peg movements rather than the small, often maddening attempts to minutely "inch" the tuners into the proper position. And the act of tuning, well below and above the desired pitch alternatively, especially using the "pairs" method, we think you will find can definitely make your tuning life easier and your ears and your playing much better. The video follows below: A brief note: In the video, remember the B string sounds flat when playing an "E" chord if the B is tuned to match perfectly with the G string. A slight bump up in pitch for the B string tuning makes for a good compromise for playing in both keys. Also don't forget the huge advantage of internalizing the sonic 0/5 relationship that exist between most of the string pairs except the G/B.
Finally as our last and perhaps most important part of the debut of this Guitar Basics Section, let's look at an overview of the guitar neck (fretboard) and its relationship to music theory. Believe it or not this simple exercise should take most of the mystery out of figuring out what you are playing and where you want to play it. The diagram at right is basically a course in music theory in a glance and should provide great insight into why a guitar is tuned the way it is (standard tuning of course for now) and how it relates to transposition, scales and all other issues that arise when using or attempting ANY chord progression. First, for those that need to hear it, a chord progression is simply a pattern of chords that logically and musically fit together. There is almost no limit to the variations available for a chord progression to exist but nearly all follow fairly simple and uniform rules and most popular songs ever written vary between a half a dozen or so progressions. Music theory is simple math while the music itself, at its best, is pure heart. One would be wise to get the theory internalized in as logical and easy to use way as possible in order to get to the far more important business of playing music with your heart rather than your brain. I know the listener will greatly appreciate this distinction.
First look at the diagram of the guitar fretboard at right. As you can see and probably know there are 12 frets per octave. If one reduces each of the notes, using the bass (E 6th) string as a reference, the notes up the neck, starting with Open being E are laid out. I would suggest that there is no more important single piece of knowledge for the budding or even proficient musician than that which is made apparent by this diagram. The real issue is developing your ability to think of each note as a number, where, for example, G is always 3, A - 5, D, 10, B - 7, E - 0 or 12, and so on. Once that relationship in ingrained into you subconscious, you will never again question what key you are playing in or what notes chords are appropriate to any given progression.
For example, lets take first the progression considered at the top of this article. G,C.D. Look at the spacing of those notes on the bass string. G is 3, C is 8, and D is 10. Now G, C, D is precisely the same progression, relatively, as E, A, B, the old blues and ever prevalent rock standard. Of course, within these progressions there are many, many possibilities as to the order in which you play these chords or notes but they share in common a mathematical relationship that will make future transposed progressions seem very simple. That code is found in the E, A, B, or 0, 5, 7. You will notice that the fret count spacing between the E progression chords and the G progression chords is identical. More to the point, this spacing now allows you to instantly transpose to any starting chord this three chord progression. For example if you start in F, then go up 5 frets to B flat, then two more to get to C, Do this for yourself until you can immediately recognize the three chord progression based on 0, 5, 7, no matter where you start. Looking at the notes on the fretboard (some actually, as I did at the age of 6 will initially put some masking tape along the neck showing each fret value and count up five and then two more to seven). Simple rock songs like Louie, Louie use these very chords. A quick video is in order here to show how no matter where you start, this three chord progression holds true for a song like Louie. Watch the video.
Now that you've seen it, try to play this quick piece starting in every fret position up the neck, concentrating mostly on the bass string. The 0, 5, 7 relationship is unwavering. Now most music teachers will refer to these three notes as 0, 4, 5 which is often the cause of much confusion with beginning players. While it is true that the WHOLE notes are 0-E, 1-F, G-3, A-4, & B-5, the fact is the in-between sharps and flats are every bit as important and used as much as these whole tones. The 0, 5, 7 concept includes all the notes on the neck with equal importance and frankly is a lot more logical, especially if you are starting in a non whole note key like B flat, or F sharp.
So far we have discussed major chords like E, A, B, or G, C, D. Now it is time to simplify the MINOR keys as well and extend the scenario to the relative position of these more moody minors to any beginning chord progression. One of the most commonly used four chord progressions is C, A minor, F, G (From here on all minors will be noted with simply a small "m". Thus C, Am, F, G. Now play it. Simple right? NOW - look at the mathematical relationship between these 4 notes or chords. As C is 8, then A(m) is 5 or minus three from the starting position, F is either down 7 or up 5 and G is either down 5 or up 7 from the starting point of fret 8.
Because a guitar neck only has so much length, often we go down the neck to reach the subsequent chords in any progression rather than go up and wind up playing on the 15th fret. By the way, what is the note on the bass string at the 15th fret? Well 12 is E, same as 0, so 15 is three higher or G. It is the G at the next higher octave up from the lower 3rd fret position of G. As you can see in a Three chord progression like C, F, G you can go down 7 or up 5 to get to the next chord F. 7+ 5 =12 This is no accident. Whichever way you go adds up to 12. So if you are starting high on the neck for your first chord, you will likely go down the neck rather than up. It is important to note here that I always refer to down or up as related to tone. In other words down the neck means heading lower towards the nut. I also use this strategy in referring to the 6 strings on a guitar. For example when holding the guitar, I will refer to the next string up as being the higher pitched string, NOT the one closer to your chin. So the A 5th string is UP from the E 6th. Some people when you tell them to go up a string will invariably to up towards their chin but not here. This is very important to remember when watching the videos that have audio commentary). To internalize this whole thing quickly, think simply of numbers and tones. So C, F, G, is EITHER 8, 1, 3 - OR 8, 13, 15. To simplify, from C (8) it is 8, -7, -5. Now throwing in the Am to get the FOUR chord progression C, Am, F, G, you get, starting at C, 8, -3(m), -7, -5!
So now here comes the fun! Say you know only how to play C position chords. But you need to sing a song in E flat, (Eb). Where do you put your capo. Look at the fret board. Eb is 3 notes up the neck from C. So you put your capo on the third fret and playing the fingerings of C, Am, F, G you are actually playing Eb, Cm, G# (sharp), and Bb. Try that without a capo and you'll quickly see why they were invented and about the same time the first guitar-like instrument was. Now do the preceding with other starting points until you "know" exactly which chords must be played or are played when you move your Capo. Put your capo on the 5th fret. Play a G chord (G fingering) what chord are you actually playing. G is 3 + 5 = 8 or C. That's right, your are playing in the key of C even though you are using a G position fingering. So even though you are playing a G, Em, C, D fingering, because your capo is on the fifth fret you are actually playing in the key of C the chords C, Am, F, G. You basically now have in front of you all that is needed to transpose to any key. See video at end of this section that illustrates the highpoints.
And finally let's finish the discussion of minor chords in their mathematical relationship to a given major starting chord. The easiest to illustrate (and play for most people) is the key of C again (C, F, G). There are three predominant minors that relate to C. There are others that work in certain arrangements but let's stick for now with the 3 most common. They are Am (already discussed above) Em, and Dm. Each have names and while we don't subscribe to secular terms that often lead to confusion, there is simply no better way to describe the common minors of any key. So here goes. The relative minor of C is Am (-3 frets and make it a minor). Em is the dominant minor of C. It is also the relative minor of G, the third chord in the C, F, G progression. Likewise Dm is the sub-dominant minor of C or the relative minor of F. Now if someone came into my studio for a session and starting speaking in terms like these it is likely I would throw their butt out. Why? Because of the very secular nature of musicspeak, like legalese, it is an impediment to communication and understanding. So instead, lets go back to the numbers. The three major chords listed above each have their own relative minors and all of those relative minors are 3 frets (notes) down from their major. They are also, in relation to the original or (tonic) key of C, the following: Am is 3 frets down from C (then make it a minor). E(m) is 4 UP from C. The parentheses around the "m" is to remind you that you go up 4 frets and make it a minor. Dm is 2 frets up from C and then make it a minor. So you can look at any progression and EITHER figure out by subtracting 3 from any chord in the progression to find the relative minor but in most music it is far more logical to concern yourself with the tonal relationships of these three minors to the original C chord. The video below also addresses this and will let you hear that relationship. But first a little table to show you the relative positions of the notes associated with the chords.
These relationships are identical in all keys. Remember them and practice finding them quickly. Play all 3 majors and all three minors starting in G (3) position. Which are which. Then using the neck diagrams above work out the the predominant minors in all keys. When you can correlate that way quickly, you get your transposition badge and you will no longer have that puzzled expression on your puss when someone asks you what KEY your playing in.
There is however, one last thing that is so obvious that we've not addressed it. The guitar has 6 strings. Damn!!! No - its a good thing!!! So now rather than wandering up and down the neck, this marvelous instrument was designed to play these chords with little lateral movement. This is called the FIRST POSITION. You, in reality, simply may go to higher or lower pitched strings to accomplish the same result as going up or down the neck. Most of you know the basic chords and already do this. Now it is up to you to use the above information to internalize the math driven relationships that exist by both traveling the neck and using higher or lower pitched strings. As we said at the beginning of this last part, the fretboard diagram above is your map. Instead of going to the 5th fret to play a bar chord Am, you can play it in the "first" position as most of you know how to do. (You can also put a capo on the 5th fret and play an Em).
However and most important, it is WHY you play an Am, or Em, or Dm after a C and how it fits musically in the song that is far more important to the world in the long run. The premise is always taste and economy of motion. The less distance you have to move, the smoother your playing and the quicker you will learn which chords are appropriate to any piece. And don't forget the capo. Segovia used them as do nearly all great guitar players except for certain jazz aficionados and lead players, when they are playing lead and especially bass players who are simplified lead players as well (some not so simplified these days). This is so because they are usually playing with a group of musicians and don't need to provide the entire music bed of any piece. There is nothing more boring than watching and listening to some solo performer playing a Bb progression using bar chords when they could have used a capo on the third fret, played in G position and had a lot of fingers and open strings left over for those little nuances and string tickles that make music infinitely more enjoyable to the listener. Now as promised, here is the video so you can hear how these minors relate musically to the base C chord. Remember the relationships seen in the C progression below are identical in all key progressions. Learn them using the neck chart above and the table under it. Do the math. It will make all of this quite logical and thus simple in the long run. Until further updates, of which there will be frequent and many - experiment, internalize, and enjoy. There will be much exploration in the near future of blues, jazz, as well as lead technique. It is our recommendation that you get a CAPO if you don't have one already and you might consider thumbpicks and fingerpicks as well. Over time I think you will see there are distinct advantages to these little tools. This magazine will be here a very long time and we will cover an awful lot of ground. Hope you continue to enjoy.
The next area we want to cover quickly is thumbpick technique. I realize this magazine is and goes by the name of "Fingerpick" but truly the thumb work is without doubt, the most vital part of the fingerpick style. The whole point of fingerpicking a guitar is to provide both bass line, rhythm, and lead simultaneously and just like drums and bass in normal arrangements, those thythm tracks often carry the entire song to success or failure. I think the following videos will help get you started. Again thumbpicks may seem somewhat ungainly at first but the power and and accuracy they offer is hard to beat while providing very clean tone when playing even lightly.
We recommend the Fred Kelly "Speed Pick" in either Light gauge (yellow) or Mediums (orange). I've used nothing else since I discovered them a couple of years ago. I especially like the light for many pieces as the shaft is very flexible - enough so in fact, to use it at a moments whim as a lead flat pick as well. The orange is about as heavy as I usually go with the exception of Dobro performances which I will cover shortly. For that I will use the Heavy (white) gauge Kelly speed pick. You can see these picks at www.fredkellyspicks.com and Elderly www.elderly.com has them at a great price. Buy yourself a dozen or so though, as you will lose them before you ever wear one out, your friends may tend to "accidently" put them in their pockets like some folks do with pens and lighters. Now the videos you are about to watch (Remember the .WMV's are for Windows users and the lower quality, poorer resolution MPGs are for Mac folks. Even though the MPGs are lower quality, they are larger files which is yet another reason we prefer the Windows Media format. Quicktime is even less efficient (much more so) than even MPGs so we don't even bother with it. Apple would do well to write some new compression algorithms). Anyway the three videos below showcase the thumb as well as the index and middle finger (using fingerpicks as usual - we find them unmatched by nails which are a pain to maintain while the power one gets with certain fingerpicks is quite impressive). Of course, like thumbpicks they take some getting used to but the Jim Dunlop Brass light gauge .015s (also at Elderly www.elderly.com) are very flexible, easy to fit and have some give in the right places for nuance, making them seem much more natural than the harder traditional nickel steel Nationals many use.
On last note here: The pieces below are all played with the capo on the third fret in standard tuning. We concentrate on the position of Am and there will be a follow up video tomorrow which show what I'm doing with the left hand in case you get lost. Hmmm . . . capo on third fret, Am positon . . . what actual key are we playing in? Anyway, remember, the real exercise is for the thumb. Let that sucker dance over the strings. The thumb is your dancing, tapping feet. Stay loose and enjoy the rhythmic capabilities of that most important human appendage - the thumb. More will be added daily to this section showing both hands together and frame-in-frame shots as well. Also we'll concentrate in the future on how the bass (thumb) pattern changes as you change chords, You'll notice this if you watch carefully in these preliminary videos but we'll inspect this process more fully in the next day or so. The point is, the bass "riff" is a counterpoint tonally that is pretty similar to what a bass player would play if you were fortunate to have such an addition to your music ensemble. Keep at it:
"G" Tuning Demo
Now the following videos deal with "G" Open tuning (from 6th to 1st = D, G, D, G, B, D) This video will eventually windup on the Acoustic Guitars page and if you read that page and the Editorial Page as well (when they are ready), you'll understand why. Basically, we find that there are those who are under the impression one needs extraordinarily expensive instruments to produce a very good sound to an audience or in the studio. We find the point silly. Its the performance that really matters and as long as your instrument has good intonation and balance and the action is easy on the fingers, you should never feel inadequate. More on that on the other pages we mentioned but for now enjoy the G Tuning preliminary. We will of course over time go into much greater depth regarding alternate tunings and variations on the G specifically. We just wanted to show you the versatility of the tuning from sweet to funky in a few clips. I think you'll enjoy. We'll let you know about the guitar itself soon. For now, take our word for it that high quality, wide neck slotheads exist that are perfect for blues, and the sweet things as well, AND at a reasonable cost. Remember, the MPG's are for Mac Users or others who, for whatever reason, can't use the Windows Media Format - and also remember, that your creativity and playing will always be far more important to us than the cost or brand of guitar - or computer - you own. Take this stuff and run with it and let us see it taken to new heights. Please note that in the last two videos we use a capo. We have not had any problems tuning the guitar slightly to compensate for minor pitch changes that accur at times when using a capo. There are many theories about placement and I try to keep the capo as close to the fret back as possible. I also like to have tha capo parellel to the frets but often (as you will see in the video) I don't take the time to fuss over it. So when using your capo, feel free to adjust the tuning (usually the lower strings) a bit to keep your instrument in tune with itself. However never tune from say a standard tuning or a co,pletely out of pitch guitar with the capo on. This can cause fret wear. Again if you're going to change tunings, do it with the capo off and then "tweak" the strings as needed when the capo is in place. Never leave your capo on the strings (fretboard) when the guitar is not being played. This is bad for both the capo and the frets. I suggest keeping the capo, especially the Kyser style, on the headstock, if sufficient flat surface is there as this will flatten the rubber pads of the capo and keep it true longer and make it usable on many different guitars with different string spacing.
There's still more to come in this initial section so get busy and get ready - Doug
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