How I Approach a New Song

Description of triads
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How I Approach a New Song

Guitar Level: Intermediate

As a guitarist who has been playing for almost 35 years, and playing in a three piece band that has another guitarist who has been playing for 3 years, I will do a little more than strum the basic chords.   I need to leave this job to the less experienced guitarist, because that’s what she knows best, and the arrangement will sound muddy if we both attempt to play the same chord shapes at the same time.

So here’s an example of one way to embellish the rhythm accompaniment of a song.  Let’s use the key of G as an example.

Here’s the major G scale:
G A B C D E F# G

Most songs in this key will use some combination of the following chords:
G, Am, Bm, C, D, Em and F#dim7

A nice contemporary sound involves using the base G note in each of the above chords.  In musical circles, these are called pedal tones.  I will often use triads – played on the high three strings (G, B and E strings) to keep a good pitch separation between what I am doing and what the rhythm guitarist is doing.  The key to this technique is centered around that open G string and how we can use it as a root to all the chords.

Here’s the finger patterns for each triad (listed in an order that climbs up the neck):

C/G     xxx010
D/G     xxx032
Em/G   xxx053
F#m/G xxx075
G         xxx087
Am/G  xxx0-10-8
Bm/G  xxx0-12-10

These will result in some interesting and colorful sounds.  The Dm, F#m, G, Am and Bm chords do not contain a fifth (just a first, a third, and are played over the root G).  In some songs this sounds very nice, in others you might have to add the fifth into each triad.  Let your ear be the judge.  As it turns out, the C and Em chord already have a G note in their make-up so these two triads are complete chords.  Also, experiment with either strumming the triads or playing the notes individually, or as arpeggios.  The feel (or groove) of the song will dictate what sounds best.  Arpeggios might sound best if the song is in ¾ time because each measure will have three beats and each chord has three notes, so the timing works fine.  Finally, consider using these triads as passing tones or ways to climb from one chord to another.  For example, if the song has a chord change from D to G, consider climbing from the D to the G by using the above triads in this sequence: D/G – Em/G – F#m/G – G.  You can play this even if Em and F#m aren’t used in the song.  This is a very common trick of the trade that not only guitarists, but bass players and pianists use as well.   

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