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Rick Graham - Guitar Roadmaps Part 8: Extending Your Chord Vocabulary

Lesson Notes

** As featured in issue 9 **

If ever you find yourself in a scenario where you are comping a rhythm guitar part in a duo, trio or band situation, you will quickly realise the limitations that using ‘standard’ guitar chord shapes can have on your inventiveness. This is especially true when you have either a static chord or a chord which doesn’t move to another for a considerable time. The standard chord shapes are extremely important and highly useful but can become somewhat of a trap in the aforementioned scenario.

One highly effective way that you can circumvent this and get creative with your comping, is to look at creating chord voicings using formulae. This is very much like approaching chords in a more scalar fashion and seeing scales and chords as a whole rather than segregating the two. You will find that you will go from being stuck with two or three chord shapes to literally having thousand of voicings to choose from!

The chord voicings that we are going to create will be using the upper three strings only and will be in the key of G for the moment. Before we go diving head-first into the deep end, it is vital that we keep our diatonic triad shapes, which occur on the top three strings, in the forefront of our minds. This is so that we can relate them to our new voicings. By doing this, it will really help us to remember exactly where we are in relation to the Tonic. More often than not, when we learn completely new approaches to something that we already know, the brain has a hard time taking it on board, especially when we don’t relate the new approach to what we already know. So, we are going to take the upper voicing (top three strings) of the diatonic chords built upon a G Major scale using chords whose root is on the bottom E string. This presents us with:

G major – A minor – B minor – C major – D major – E minor - F# diminished

The formula of each of these chord voicings is as follows:

3 - 5 - 1

that is based upon the intervals we are using from the root of each chord. OK, let’s start making alterations. What we are going to do now is replace the 5th degree in the triad with a 4th degree by moving it down a whole tone on the B string. The formula and notes (G major) will be as follows:

3  - 4  - 1

B - C - G

Sounds beautiful doesn’t it! Now that are armed with our formula, we can apply it to each of our diatonic triads on the top three strings to create some really stunning chords.

Let’s take things further by altering another note. This time we will replace the Root with a 9th degree. The formula and notes (G major) are as follows:

3  - 4  - 2

B - C - A

Once again we apply the same approach as before with our diatonic triads. If you’re anything like me then you will love the sound of these voicings. Strangely enough, some of the voicings can sound a lot more ‘exotic’ than they actually are. Due to the nature of these type of scalar chords, they lend themselves very well to melodic comping, especially as every note in the scale is present on the top string giving you a chance to create some interesting chord melodies. I suggest you experiment with different formulae for yourself to see what kind of voicings you can come up with and as always, keep the ones you like and discard the rest. Have fun!


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