IN THE WOOD SHED
Give your fingers a good stretch, says Charlie Griffiths, and reach out to some close-voiced diatonic chords.
Charlie Griffiths gets up close and personal with chords this month, as he uncovers the wonderful world of close voicings.
Close voicings are chords in which the notes are played in order from low to high. Often guitar chords are played in ‘open’ or ‘drop’ voicings such as those used in typical barre chords. Close voicings can open the door to more creative guitar parts akin to shapes usually associated with piano parts. For example, Cmaj7 with the root on the 5th string is typically played with the voicing 1-5-7-3 (C-G-B-E). The same notes played as a close voicing are 1-3-5-7 (C-E-G-B).
Our examples are all based on harmonised scales; diatonically shifting through one octave from low to high. Our first two exercises are based in the key of G Major (G-A-B-C-DE-F#). The first uses a R-3-4 voicing, which essentially means play the root note, then the 3rd, then the 4th interval all at the same time; we can call this Gadd11. This shape alone illustrates the atypical fingering and cool clashes that can be achieved with close voicings. Usually we use 3rd intervals to build chords and these naturally sound harmonic and pleasant. In this case we have a root and a 3rd, but the distance between the 3rd and 4th (B-C) is a semitone, which is an inherently dissonant sound often used by players like Allan Holdsworth and Wayne Krantz.
Physically performing the wide finger stretches involved with these chords can take a toll on your hand if not approached properly. Before even touching the guitar it is a good idea to warm up your fretting hand by massaging the forearm, palm and fingers and gently stretching out your fingers to get the muscles and tendons supple. When playing the chords you can alleviate the stress on the hand by experimenting with the position of your thumb. For example, keeping it near the centre line of the neck and pointing it toward the headstock can often allow for more comfortable wide stretches. As you ascend the scale, make sure the notes remain diatonic to the key - check this by ascending each string and naming the notes individually.
Example 3 shows that close voicings can be used more traditionally, using four-note chords (tetrads) - 1-3-5-7 - from the key of E (E-F#-G#-A-B-C#-D#). This exercise is played as sustained, ringing arpeggios on the middle four strings, and is a great way of checking that all the notes are fretted cleanly. Example 4 also uses these voicings, but this time played on the highest four strings within A Dorian mode (A-B-C-D-E-F#-G). The final example uses add9 chords which have the intervals 1-3-5-9, played diatonically within A Lydian mode (A-B-C#-D#-E-F#-G#).
Play through the examples slowly at first, only building up to speed when you are ready; and remember to have a go at playing along with the backing tracks. Then, once you are comfortable with the shapes you can take them further by using them to create your own guitar parts.
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Try this stretchy but great sounding Am7 chord you’ll find in Example 4