** As featured in issue 50 **
Have you ever studied the genealogy of your ancestors? It’s a fascinating topic. Here, we’re doing a bit of musical genealogy. Whether you’re currently aware of it or not, most of your Country, Soul, and Blues guitar heroes have their influences down the line in Gospel music. Marty Stuart and many other Country guitarists still profess how much Gospel music has affected their Country guitar playing. I think it’s worthwhile to venture a bit in this hybrid that is in more songs than you can imagine! Grab your guitar, sit back, relax, and let me show you some great, effective, and relatively easy (theoretically) techniques to infuse a bit of Gospel into your Country; and at the same time show you another perspective on voicing chords for Country and Blues too.
Let’s get things Started
If you’ve been following my tutorials and playing throughout this series and beyond, you might have picked up on one of the most significant traits that I’ve adopted (and hope you will too). A common approach of mine in arranging guitar is not to be common at all. Step outside of the conventional box that can trap guitarists. Maybe that stems from years of studying orchestration, or just simply a deep interest in other non-guitarist musicians and their instruments; but it’s a practise I use. I like to adopt characteristics and behaviours of other instruments and apply them to guitar, whether it be the fluid phrasing of a voice or woodwind instrument, the bends and slides of a pedal steel or dobro, the percussiveness of the banjo, etc…Here, I’m adopting common characteristics of Gospel piano and using these techniques to add another dimension to the arrangement.
The No.1 TIP: Inversions
Chord inversions, if you’re not completely familiar with this terminology, it simply means putting a chord’s notes in a different order. For example, a C major triad has the notes, C, E, & G. It’s very common for pianists, or other keyed instruments to voice their chords in other inversions, depending on the mood, the melody, and how the neighbouring chords are voiced. So, an inversion of C, with the 3rd in the bass position would be E, G, C. The same chord with the 5th in the bass would be voiced: G, C, E. Technically if you’re using an inversion of a chord it is written as a “slash” chord symbol, with the bass note written after the slash. This means a C chord with the 3rd in the bass is written like, C/E. A C chord with the 5th in the bass is written as C/G.
The piece of music I wrote for this lesson is actually following a standard I-IV-V chord progression, just like many Country, Blues and Gospel songs follow. I chose to play it in the key of F for a couple of reasons. The first reason is because I love the key of F. I think the harmonic quality is very “uplifting”. Certain keys give off special qualities towards emotional subtext in music, and F is one of them. There’s a funny line in Spinal Tap about “D minor is the saddest of all keys”. There’s some truth to that…
The second reason I chose F is because it’s not an “open chord” key. If you know how to voice chords in barred positions, then you can use these techniques in any key, including open chord keys, like E, A, D, and G. (See attached tab)
Here are the inversions of F I’m using in the song. The notes to a F major triad are F, A, C. Inversions would then be A, C, F, and C, F, A.
Bb is the IV chord in the key of F. The notes of Bb are Bb, D, F. The inversions are D, F, Bb with the major 3rd in the bass, and F, Bb, D with the 5th in the bass.
The V chord in the key of F is C. I’ve explained earlier the inversions of C, but look at the video and tabs for a visual presentation.
Occasionally, I’ll voice a chord in root position, but use a different fingering position from the “Caged System” If you’re not familiar with the Caged System, I encourage you to go check out Danny Gill’s tutorials on this at Lick Library. They are extremely useful and easy to follow, even if theory isn’t your thing.
Other extra embellishments I do, “here and there” are adding sus chords in the mix. That means that I’ll replace a standard major chord with a sus 2 or sus 4 chord; OR, use the “sus” as a grace note to getting to and from the major chord, by using hammer-ons and pull-offs. This is also very typical for pianists to do in their arrangement; especially in Gospel music. This technique can be heard by Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, John Mayer, and many others in their playing.
To get a slow swing approach in Gospel, Blues and Country, the time signature of 6/8 is used here and worth exploring in your own music.
The IV of IV
In Blues and Gospel, it’s common in instances to follow the “circle of fourths” to an extent. A useful technique is when on the IV chord to go back and forth between the IV chord and the IV of the IV chord. Ex: If Bb is your IV chord, briefly go to the IV of that, which is Eb. It’s a little more bluesy than just making a sus 4 chord out of Bb.
Lastly, pedal steel type bends are also considered “icing on the cake” when doing any kind of genre where Country is infused in it.
I hope you get a lot out of this lesson. It truly is a “go-to” approach in my way of thinking and expressing myself on guitar over many genres; not just Country. …Looking forward to see how you use these techniques yourself!
Thanks for watching, and see you next time!