Food For thought

Justin San­der­coe of justin­gui­ lends GT his in­sight as one of the world’s most suc­cess­ful guitar teach­ers. This month: Beauty in dis­so­nance (pt 1).

Guitar Techniques - - INTRO -

In this ar­ti­cle, I thought I’d share with you some­thing that only men­tally clicked with my brain re­cently, but that my ear had fig­ured out some time ago – some­thing of a ‘se­cret in­gre­di­ent’ that all the coolest chords have. And that se­cret is, that beau­ti­ful sounds of­ten (but not al­ways) rely on some dis­so­nance.

Dis­so­nance, for those not fa­mil­iar with the term, means, “a ten­sion or clash re­sult­ing from the com­bi­na­tion of two dishar­mo­nious or un­suit­able el­e­ments” and mu­si­cally this would mean adding some notes that don’t har­monise ‘nicely’. We’ll play some dis­so­nant note pairs shortly and you’ll hear them for your­self.

Rather than just tell you about it, I’d like to give you some ex­am­ples and show you some ways you might start ex­plor­ing it on your own. There is blank chord box pa­per to print out on my site (see justin­gui­­mag) and I’d sug­gest you print out a few pages to write down your dis­cov­er­ies.

Notes that a semi­tone or tone away from each other (or the oc­tave) are usu­ally notes that cre­ate the kind of dis­so­nance that be­comes pleas­ing in chords.

Mi­nor 2nd. Let’s start by ex­plor­ing the sound of a semi­tone (mi­nor 2nd) so you can hear the clash – and an great easy starter is to play the note C on the 1st fret of the sec­ond string us­ing the first fin­ger; and the note B on the 4th fret 4 of the third string at the 9th fret us­ing the fourth fin­ger. Played together, most peo­ple would agree that it sounds pretty ‘wrong’ or ‘off’ and can’t imag­ine that it could sound nice in a chord.

Now we’ll try adding in a semi­tone in­ter­val (the most dis­so­nant in­ter­val) into a mi­nor chord but we can’t just start adding in ran­dom notes; they would want to come from a scale re­lated to the chord. You can add ran­dom notes if you are a real ex­plorer, and you might find some gems, but it’s a much more hap­haz­ard ap­proach and un­likely to bring us­able and cool sound­ing chords as quickly.

In the Do­rian mode (one of the most use­ful mi­nor scales) there is only one semi­tone op­tion near to a chord tone which is found be­tween b3rd the 2nd and de­grees (B and C in A Do­rian: A-B-C-D-E-F#-G). The other semi­tone be­ing be­tween the 6th and 7th de­grees which, while also fun to ex­plore, is harder to make use­ful.

As if by some strange co­in­ci­dence those notes B and C are the very same ones we now want to get into an A mi­nor chord. So how might we do it? There are a bunch of fun op­tions here to ex­plore.

First, we could try just adding that note to a reg­u­lar Am chord.

Tech­ni­cally it could have a few names; I’d likely call it Am add2, but more com­monly I see it called Am9 (but that name im­plies the in­clu­sion of the b7 which this chord doesn’t have).

Am add2. You can also swap the places of the C and B notes and play the B on the open string which also sounds cool.

Am add2 v2. And that leads us to an­other vari­a­tion which is very easy to play and you could use al­most any time you see a reg­u­lar Am in a song…

Am add2 v3. More ad­vanced play­ers should now go through and play all the Am shapes they know and ex­plore where they can add a B note – in any oc­tave; don’t be wor­ried about the place­ment of a 2 or a 9, it’s the same in this con­text. The Am add2 chord is a fun one to ex­plore be­cause of the open sec­ond string which you can pop into many chords eas­ily – but look at ‘closed’ (no open strings shapes as well).

An­other trick to ex­plore is adding in the G note as well which would make it a true mi­nor 9 chord. For that you’ll want the notes A-C-E-G-B like this su­per lush shape that, while be­ing a tricky one to jump to, sounds amaz­ing.

Am9. Those with long or flex­i­ble fin­gers might like to try this one which leans on the dis­so­nance cre­ated by the in­ter­vals of a tone be­tween the G and the A and the A and the B, as well as the low C and B notes (ma­jor 7th in­ter­val, the in­ver­sion of mi­nor 2nd). This one has a whole lot of dis­so­nance go­ing on but I love it, and I just opened an­other can of worms for you… the dis­so­nance of tones… more on that next is­sue. Am9 v2. I will add some more re­lated chords on the justin­gui­tar. com/gt­mag web­page for you to see as well. Now go and ex­plore your mi­nor shapes and we’ll look at some ma­jor chords next month. Happy trails!

There’s blank chord box pa­per on my site; I sug­gest you print a few pages to write down your dis­cov­er­ies

Get more info and links to re­lated les­sons on all Justin’s GT ar­ti­cles at www.justin­gui­­mag

Justin: not sur­pris­ingly smil­ing with this lovely ’60s Gib­son ES-335

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