A common theme throughout my ideas is altering chords slightly in the same position using a variety of scale tones within the vicinity. I like to make the most of the position I find myself in, exploring the various options available so that I can create the most interesting sounds possible.
The ideas presented here are deliberately simple, and will hopefully reveal the underlying principles I use when playing in this fashion.
In this feature, we’ll explore some changes starting with an A minor chord and altering it to arrive at a variety of voicings. These progressions are unique in that the bottom (lowest note) of each chord never changes, creating a droning effect. They are very useful when trying to build an atmosphere and can be repeated again and again to set up other progressions using chords that employ changes in the root.
Each voicing features the open A string as well as the E note at fret two on the D string. These two notes form an open A power chord. This is our foundation. We will then use scale tones from the first three strings to build the different voicings.
So let’s look at our options. The diagram below illustrates the scale tones available to us. These are derived from the A Natural Minor scale. Remember, we will only be switching notes around on the first three strings. Sometimes this will involve removing the fretting finger to use an open string, whilst at other times, one fretted note will be replaced by another. In the case of example 1c, both actions will be performed simultaneously.
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The focus here is subtracting fretted notes to include more open strings. Firstly, we take the index finger off the C note at the 1st fret on the B string, which gives us an open A sus2 chord. Next, we remove the 3rd finger from the A note on the G string to arrive at an Em chord with an A in the bass (lowest note, on the bottom). Lastly, we return the 3rd finger to its original position to form an open A power chord.
All the changes taking place here occur on the B string. This produces a somewhat melodic effect in tandem with the droning E and A strings. With regards to suspended (sus) chords, these involve replacing the 3rd of the chord with the 4th or 2nd degree. Refer back to the scale diagram at the top of the page and you’ll see how we did this using the A Natural Minor scale.
After starting out again with the open A minor chord, we then proceed to introduce an uneasy, tense sort of sound into the progression by taking away the C note at fret one on the B string and replacing it with the F note at fret one on the E string. If we hone in on just the B and E strings for a moment, we will see a tritone interval in action. In bar 3, the F note is replaced with the G note two frets higher on the E string. Another way of looking at bars two and three is as sus2 chords with the addition of either the F (bar 2) or G (bar 3) notes.
Although knowing the names of chords can be helpful for identification purposes, I actually find it more helpful to understand how the fretboard works as a whole, so that when I’m in any given key, I am then able to see everything available to me, not as separate groups of voicings, but a whole system where everything is fair game and I can experiment with whatever combination of notes I feel like. With experimentation, concern for sounding good must be left behind for the higher path of intrepid exploration so that one is able to let go and use as many different combinations of notes as possible. And that’s all chords are to me; combinations of notes. Once one knows their scales inside out, the possibilities are endless.