Voicings, inversions, and diversions, pt.3


Typically, the first chords we encounter when taking up the guitar are open chords, or chords in open position. That is to say that they are in the first 3 frets with open notes added. An open note being that is played on a string that is not fretted.

So, some very common chords encountered early on are:
E=022100, D=X00232, C=032010, A=002220, G=320033, etc.
These are not the only types of chords that use open notes though.

Consider for a moment the concept of a "Drone" note. A drone note is a note in the bass that is sustained/maintained while melodies or chords move above it. Consider the following progression:
Here D is the drone note. Tr some of the following voicings for the progression:
D=XX0232, C/D=XX0010, G/D=XX0033,
D=XX0775, C/D=XX0553, G/D=XX0433,
D=XX0 11 10 10, C/D=XX0988, G/D=XX0787.


It is common in folk music (by which I mean contemporary american folk music) to her chords with open notes in them. The notes could be in the bass, treble, or mid-range.

Let's look at some examples.
Recall, that in standard tuning, the open notes are EADGBE (6th string to 1rst).

1.) Sometimes, one of the open notes is part of the chord. Consider the following voicings with open notes:
E5=079900, Em=0 10 9080, Em=079080, Dadd9=XX0 11 10 0,
A=X07650, Aadd9=577600, Am9=505500

2.) We can take a single chord shape and move it up and down the neck while playing other strings open. Try the following chords (Based on E-shape major chord for fretted strings):
E=022100, Fmaj7#11=133200, F#7/11=244300,
G6=355400, Aadd9=577600, Badd4=799800,
Cmaj7=8 10 10 900, D7/11=10 12 12 11 00.

Here's another example using the "A-shape" of a power chord for strings 5,4,3 and open strings 6,2,1.
Asus2/E=002200, Bsus4/E=024400, Cmaj7/E=035500,
C#m7/E=046600, D6/9/E=057700, E5=079900,
F#7sus4/E=09 11 11 00, G6/E=0 10 12 12 00,
G#mb6/E=0 11 13 13 00.

3.) It's common to hear the fretted parts come from chords which come from a tonal context such as a key.

Consider the chords D-Em-F#m-G-A-Bm-C#o from the D major scale. here we have chords in "D-shape" with a D drone:
D=XX0232, Em/D=XX0453, F#m/D=XX0675, G/D=XX0787
A/D=XX09 10 9, Bm/D=XX0 11 12 10, C#o/D=XX0 11 13 11,
D=XX0 14 15 14.

We can take the same context and omit the 5's in the chords (So we're playings 3rds above a drone):
D=XX0X32, Em/D=XX0X53, F#m/D=XX0X75, G/D=XX0X87
A/D=XX0X 10 9, Bm/D=XX0X 12 10, C#m/D=XX0X 13 11,
D=XX0X 15 14.

Consider the chords E-F#m-G#m-A-B-C#m-D#o from the key of E. Chords in "E-shape" for strings 5,4,3. Open strings 6,2,1.
E=022100, F#m7/11/E=044200, G#mb6/E=066400,
Aadd9/E=077600, B7/11/E=099800,
C#m7/E=0 11 11 900, D#ob6b9/E=0 12 13 11 00.

4.) We do not need to take our fretted fingers from any specific harmonic context. We can pick arbitrary fingers to place down on the fretboard and play as many other strings as we like open. Choose fingers to place down and open strings to use , then move the hand fret by fret. find the chords you like, let your ears be your guide.


It is not necessary for the unfretted notes to be EADGBE. We can change one or more of these notes by either altering our tuning, using a capo, or both.

Alternate tunings for the fun of it
5.) let's say you're playing a song with a tonal center in D. You could drop the low E string to a D. This could then be used as a drone note.

6.) You can tune your guitar to an open chord (major, minor , suspended, etc. EADGBE can be seen as Em7/11). Keeping with the D tonal center, we could tune to any of the following D chords:
DADGAD = open Dsus4
DADF#AD= open D (major)
DADFAD = open Dm
DADGBD = double drop D (open G)or D6sus4

Try tuning to one of these and :
a.) playing chords you know , and seeing how it feels to physically play something familiar and have something different come out. Enjoy the happy accidents.
b.) try using ex.#4 above - random finger placement. write down the tuning and draw or TAB out the sounds you like.


Capos come in several varities, and they are generally constructed to hold down all the strings in one fret, so as to produce something like a moveable nut. without getting into the acoustics involved, let's just say that most people use capos to change keys, and play open chords, thus eliminating the need for barre chords. You can think of a capo as creating a temporary barre for you.

In the context of chords with open notes, we can view capos as a way to change our open notes. we can combine capos with alternate tunings for more open note possibilities.

It's common nowadays to see people cutting their capos so as to let some strings be capoed while other strings ring back to the nut. Probably the most common example is taking a dropped-D capo by Kahler and cutting off a piece of the capo that would hold down the 1rst and 2nd strings.

If you have a capo with the elastic you could cut out a piece of it to let any string pass through without being held down.

Seems to me there used to be a capo that was/is called the third finger, and it is constructed with movable pieces, so that you could choose which strings to capo, and which ones not to capo.

Kahler and Shubb capos clamp down from one side only, so you could slide the capo to one side, leaving a couple of strings uncapoed ( i do this quite often). I like Shubb capos better for this since you can vary the tension in the capo.

And last, if you have capos that don't cover all the strings, you could use multiple capos on your guitar.

Have fun with it. Take it in small bites. Play with it.

Christopher Roberts

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Last updated September 6, 2001
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