Post your playing posers and technical teasers to: Theory Godmother, Guitar Techniques, 30 Monmouth Street, Bath, BA1 2BW; or email me at email@example.com – every wish is your Godmother’s command!
Shaping Up Dear Theory Godmother
The open chords of A, C, D, E, F and G seem unique in their shape, but B is just an A shape only two frets up with the first finger on the 2nd fret, A string. So why isn’t a B just an E shape but dropped down the strings e.g. E string, 2nd fret, A string 2nd fret and D string 1st fret? This would be easier to learn for beginners.
Mark The simple answer is that the chord you describe is a B major (see Ex 1), but only a three-note version – as the minute you play the open G, you run into trouble because it turns the chord into B augmented. It’s also rather low in pitch, too, which is probably why it’s disregarded in many chord books.
You’re absolutely right in saying that A, C, D, E, F and G are unique shapes – the only thing I’d say there is that F is merely an edited form of the E shape (see Ex 2), which leaves us with the other five, and gives us the basis for the infamous CAGED system. Most major chord shapes are based on those five shapes moved to various points on the fretboard either as barre versions or plain movable shapes, which makes memorising multiple shapes much easier. As an example, I’ve plotted some different shapes for a C chord in Ex 3, using the CAGED idea. If you study these you should find the issue of mapping chords on the fretboard becomes far more logical.
Mute Point Dear Theory Godmother
After years of trying, I’m still not able to mute strings very well. The thing I have the most problem with is rhythm parts where you play a chord, mute the strings with the picking hand and strike them again for a percussive attack. I’ve scoured the internet for lessons on muting and watched my fill of YouTube videos, but I still don’t seem to be able to make the grade. All of my muted chords still seem to have notes – mainly open strings – in them, which ring on annoyingly when they should be silent.
Martin It’s a difficult problem to address without seeing what you’re doing, Martin. But picking-hand muting is performed by laying the fleshy edge of the palm on the strings near the bridge, and the way in which the hand is positioned can greatly influence muting efficiency. For instance, do you make a fist with your picking hand when holding a pick? If so, try relaxing it and letting the fingers flex in an ‘open palm’ sort of configuration. This makes that all-important fleshy palm edge more extended, as the fourth finger in particular is no longer curled into the palm, giving you a greater area with which to mute the strings. Another thing worth noting is that muting is a job shared by both hands. While the picking hand mutes as above, the fretting hand helps by relaxing its grip on the strings just enough to produce ‘dead’ notes. So if the chord you’re playing is a combination of open and fretted strings, both ends are covered by the hands collaborating. You will also find players using unoccupied digits of either hand to mute them.
Experiment with bringing the fretting hand into play, and also check your fretting hand position – I’m confident your muting will improve.
Substitute Teacher Dear Theory Godmother
Regarding chord substitution, one thing puzzles me, and that is finding an able substitute for the V chord. This is a chord that performs such a unique role that it’s hard to find anything that will fit in its place. Could you tell me which chords I should be looking at, please?
Alan The power of the V chord resides in the diminished 5th (flat 5th) interval buried (see Ex 4) between the chord’s 3rd and 7th, and how this resolves into the I chord. Play through the example and you will hear how the resolution works. In theory, any chord that contains the same interval will perform a similar resolution, although it will sound different. As Ex 4 shows, in a G7 chord the two notes that form the b5th are B and F. Now look at the Db7 in Ex 5; it has the same two notes – B and F (despite the B being referred to as Cb because of the key signature!), so a resolution into C will still work: try it and compare the two – the G7 to C and Db7 to C – and you should hear the same resolution, despite its different surroundings.
Other chords that contain the b5th between B and F include C major’s VII chord, Bm7b5 (Ex 6) and D diminished (Ex 7) – try both of them before C and you will hear a resolution. Whether these substitutions suit the music at hand is another question – it’s the principle of resolution we are discussing here.
The standard V-I move that we find at the end of many progressions, will always be the strongest resolution, but there are plenty of alternatives that can be called upon to bring their own particular effect to a piece.
Try exploring other chord voicings that have the same resolution at their centre, and I’m sure you’ll discover many more ways of substituting the V-I.