THREE-STRING CHORDS And arpeggios
John Wheatcroft discovers that three is a magic number. Let’s join him for an in-depth exploration of three-string chords and arpeggios.
There’s a wealth of music contained in three notes says John Wheatcroft, whether played as chords, as chord arpeggios, or in riffs and solos.
While it’s undoubtedly fair to say that the luxuriant sound of six guitar strings ringing away in perfect harmony is a glorious thing to behold – who can argue with Yngwie Malmsteen’s philosophy that, in some instances, more is indeed more? However, it’s also accurate to state that it can be an equally fruitful process to refine our guitaristic gaze to super-specific areas of our fine instrument and explore these locations in detail, to provide us with an almost infinite supply of musical gems that we can incorporate as fundamental tools within our musical vocabulary. This article will lead you to a greater understanding of the geography of your instrument; it will give you more options to draw from in both rhythm and lead situations and will get you one step closer to negotiating your guitar with freedom, flair, authority and confidence. Sounds like a plan? Put the kettle on, grab your guitar and maybe a pencil and notepad and let’s get going.
The guitar is a very sociable instrument and it works exceptionally well in the company of others. In this ensemble environment it’s of critical importance to be a ‘team player’. To be a truly effective musician, irrespective of style, you need to have the necessary skills to react to your surroundings, often in real time, and to able to create sympathetic parts that are musically appropriate and fulfilling, both independently and when combined with the group as a whole. One of the best ways to achieve this is to look at the guitar as a series of four overlapping three-string mini-guitars: bass, tenor, alto and soprano ranges, if you like.
Why three-string groups you might ask? Well, even without considering stretches, spanning three strings gives you a range at least an octave from low to high, so each and every note is available to you. Also, a huge amount of music is constructed around triads, which are chords made up from three parts, so any of these can be accommodated in any of these areas. We’re not restricted to just simple triad harmony, as you can accomplish a great deal by picking your notes carefully and selecting specifically those notes in a particular voicing you choose to highlight and those you choose leave out. The smaller, more nimble nature of these voicings and their accompanying melodic equivalent encourages movement in your parts, which can create a greater sense of interest for both the listener and for you, the performer.
There are 10 stylistically-based miniexamples for you to learn, each based around a super-specific areas of the guitar, each broken into two parts to provide you with a pair of options for each genre. This is followed by a four-part bass, tenor, alto and soprano range piece that is designed to work in a loop, starting with just bass and adding all the other layers as we go. Of course, you could practice each part independently against the backing and only move on when you’re completely comfortable to proceed.
I TRY NOT TO MAKE IT HARMONICALLY TOO THICK AND IT’S ALL ABOUT PLAYING GROUPS OF THREE, THREE STRINGS AT A TIME Nile Rodgers