3 Critical Knowledge to Enhance Your Chord Playing

3 Critical Knowledge to Enhance Your Chord Playing

Hey! Hey! You! You! Play me a C major chord. Do you unconsciously place your ring finger on the 5th string, 3rd fret, middle finger on the 4th string, 2nd fret, and your index finger on the 2nd string, 1st fret and then immediately strum the five bottom five strings? Could you play any alternate versions of a C chord? How many variations on the C chord can you actually play?

Look at the tab at below to find out 6 different ways to play a C major chord.

Playing C Chord in 6 Ways

Why do we play a chord in many different ways? To play a chord in various positions on the fretboard allows (1) different timbres, (2) voicings (arrangement of the notes of a chord) and (3) economical fingering.

(1) Timbre

C Chord Different in Timbre

When you listened to the soundtrack, did you figure out that the timbre (quality of a musical note, sound or tone) of the same chord could vary? In fact, the way you play a chord—up or down the neck—can affect the color (the feeling that a chord produces) of the chord that you play (even when the pitch of the notes is the same). Generally speaking, the chords being played in the lower neck sound thicker and richer, whereas that in the upper neck sound brighter and more acute.

Therefore, do not limit yourself to the lower positions of the neck. Explore the upper areas of the guitar neck in your chord playing and choose to play the chord that best fit into a music piece.

(2) Voicing

Voicing is the arrangement of the notes in numerous ways in order to vary the sound generated. In the following, we will take chord progression I-IV-I-V-I (Don’t know what it is? Click here to view an introduction to chord progression.) in C major as an example.

Chord Progression I-IV-I-V-I in the Key of C

Does the static bass line sound plain and dull? Here’s the animated version:

Same Chord Progression with Voicing Applied

In fact, the chord progression of the piece remains unchanged. So what makes the difference? It is the vertical spacing and ordering of the pitches in a chord—voicing—that is different.

Look at the first two bars. They are both C major chords. What differentiate them is the position of the root note. In the first C-major triad, the bass remains as C. Chord in this arrangement is called the root position. The triad next to it has E as its bass, while its original root note, C, now shifted an octave higher. In this case, the chord has its third in the bass and the root a sixth above it. And this is called the first inversion of a chord.

Exercise: In which bar can we find the first inversion of F chord and G chord respectively? (Please find the answer at the end of the article.)

Though most of the chord diagrams teach you to play a chord in its root position, as long as you learn more ways to play a chord, you can try more variations such as adding or omitting certain note(s). You may even reorder the positions of the note as well. By doing so, you enrich your chord progression and make it sound fresh and interesting. Chord inversion is therefore a very useful device that will add color to your musical palette.

(3) Economical fingering

Apart from the timbre and voicing, what else makes learning different positions for the same chord so important? Consider the following situation and you will know the answer.

Are the first two bars or the third and fourth bars easier to play? Of course the latter ones.

In most of the cases, you do not play one single chord throughout a musical piece. Instead, you need to establish linkage between different chords. Through chord changes, you should move from one chord to another smooth and fast. Or you may lose time and hence the rhythm and flow. Therefore, choose the chord shape that is closer to the other chords in the progression.

After this lesson, you should have known the importance of playing a chord in many different ways. From now on, play a chord in ways as many as you can! When you play, instead of only focusing on how to place your fingers, pay attention to the arrangement of notes and listen to the chords carefully to find out their timbre. Have fun!