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Sam Bell - The Bluffer’s Guide To Playing In A Covers Band - Part 2: Chords

Lesson Notes

** As featured in issue 48 **

Hi bluffers! Welcome to the second instalment of my quick guide on how to survive in your first covers band. Last issue we took a look at how to memorise chord progressions in songs with some basic fretboard knowledge and the use of basic major scale harmony in Pop and Rock music. Please remember this is the bluffers guide, not a definitive in-depth guide! My aim is to highlight what is important to get an understanding of first, from my pointers here you can delve much deeper and add more tools to your hired gun tool belt and become a versatile guitarist as a result!

In this issue we are going to go a bit deeper with the chord visualisation we looked at in the last issue, be sure to check that out if you haven’t already. Some of this knowledge you may or may not know already, but either way hopefully it either enlightens you or re-affirms certain aspects of your current technique. In this instalment we are going to really delve into why you should get really familiar with the CAGED system on guitar and how it can add to your style pallet. But rather than just tell you that it’s what you need to know, I am going to break down how you can apply it. Be sure to check out the video and tab section of this lesson to pick up some of the playing examples I play.

CAGED Chords and Tone.

In the last issue we took our basic E and A shape bar chord patterns and looked at a way of using these shapes within a major scale structure to find six chords that all pop tunes use. This gives us a nice ‘block’ pattern we can remember certain chord structures in and makes it easier to move around if we need to change key for a singer etc. However in order to play stylistically relevant to the song we need to get a bit creative. The first thing we need to do is be able to play and visualise ‘Parts’ of our E and A shape CAGED chords. Not all guitar parts use full 5/6 chord shapes, especially in electric guitar playing, we need to be able to split up our voicings for various reasons. For example, in a band with two guitarists and keys, it may sound messy if everyone is playing the same voicing of the same chord, sometimes splitting up the voicing between instruments lets them sit in the mix much better. By taking only a few strings of a chord shape you can drastically change the timbre of the band. A good example of this is in classic Motown songs where the guitarist normally is only playing two or three higher register notes of a chord, leaving space for vocals, keys and bass. It is also very useful if you have lots of quick chord changes, it is better to have less to deal with fingering wise, it’s much easier to move around a three note voicing than a big six string voicing.

Register and Style:

We may have found the right chords and harmony for the song that you are learning for the cover set, but making sure you are playing in the right place is also key. The beauty of the CAGED system is that we can find many places to play one chord, being able to find these on the fly is very helpful for many reasons beyond just rhythm playing, (it helps with soloing as we shall later discuss!) but let's for a minute take guitar parts in Rock. Sometimes these aren’t straight chord strumming grooves, they are ‘riffs’, these riffs are made from chord shapes. A classic example is the Rolling Stones tune Brown Sugar, the intro riff if played in standard tuning uses A and C shape chord voicings moving through different chord sequences, it creates a certain sound and is quite easy to get under the fingers using the CAGED shapes. Not only does the CAGED system appear in our strumming and riffing, but it also outlines arpeggio patterns found in riffs of songs. Lots of Funk and Reggae guitar parts use fragments of these CAGED patterns in order to create arpeggiated riffs to compliment bass lines and other rhythmic parts of the arrangement. 

In Summary:

Combining the chord knowledge and song learning approach of the previous instalment of this series and adding in the knowledge of the CAGED system you should be able to figure out, analyse and perform most Pop, Rock, and basic Soul songs with increasing ease. As I mentioned at the start of this column, it’s a journey and of course this approach goes much deeper, but things only through application and study these things get easier, so good luck, keep it up and see you next time for some soloing concepts!

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