Guitar in Two Weeks, day 12: Chords, chords, chords

This lesson is all theory, but it’s theory that you’re going to have use for more often than any other theory item so far. It answers two questions: “What the … does F#m9-5 and E+ mean?”, and “I made up this great chord, but now I want to write it down before I forget it. But what do I call it?”

You could of course call it Gerald, or write down the fingering, but if you want a piano player to know what you mean you might as well give it the correct name.

What’s (in) a chord?

So far, we’ve treated a chord mainly as a way to place the fingers on the fretboard, with some consideration given to the most important tone, the fundamental tone or keynote.

But we should define it more precisely:

A chord is a selection of tones which are perceived as a unity and not just as several notes sounding at the same time.

This sounds almost obvious to someone who is used to the guitar, where the default is to think not of single tones but of groups of tones: chords, that is. In that sense, we’re more fortunate than the pianists, not to mention the poor violinists and flutenists (ha ha), who hardly ever get to play more than one tone at a time. This may also be seen as yet another explanation of why tones — even the keynote sometimes — can be left out of a chord: as long as we perceive them as a unit, that takes precedence over which tones we actually hear.

On the other hand, a guitarist may easily forget that the chords he (and since one of the comments has revealed that there is actually a woman following these lessons, I’ll deviate from my not-pc principle and add “/she”) is playing actually consist of single tones.

Let’s revisit the scale, which we presented in an earlier lesson, and do a quick recap of some major points.

   -----------------------------------------
   -----------------------------------0--1--
   -----------------------0--1--2--3--------
   --------0--1--2--3--4--------------------
   --3--4-----------------------------------
   -----------------------------------------
        c#    eb       f#    ab    bb
     c     d     e  f     g     a     b  c'
   prime  2nd  3rd  4th  5th   6th   7th octave

I’ve marked the three most important tones in red and shaded the least prominent ones: the accidentals, as they are called (these are the black keys on the piano, but since pianists tend to think they rule the universe, I’ve done the opposite of what they do) (ha ha).

You may recognize the four highlighed tones as the keynote/prime, the third, the fifth, and the octave, which is nothing more than a displaced prime, so to speak (meaning: it’s the same tone, only sounding higher).

These three notes are the core of a chord. Actually, it’s more than that: it’s virtually the definition of a chord. If you see “G”, that doesn’t just mean “g and some extra tones”, it means “g b d”, i.e. the first, third, and fifth note of a G major scale.

The difference between the major and minor third is what decides the most fundamental character of a chord: whether it is major or minor. C-e-g is a C major chord, c-e flat-g is C minor. Don’t confuse these two ways of using “major” and “minor”, though. E.g. the C minor chord contains two thirds: one minor (c–eb) and one major third (eb–g).

A note about note names: western music is based on a scale of seven steps. The note names (c, d, e, etc.) refer to these steps. In C major, all the steps have simple names. In a key like E flat major, some of the basic names are modified to indicate that they are lowered: e flat (or Eb), f, g, Ab, Bb, C, D, Eb), but the alphabetic sequence is still the same. Thus, the fifth above D# is called A# (d-e-f-g-a), not Bb, and the major third above G# (should you ever need to play such a note) is B sharp (B#). If you object: “But that’s a C! Why use such a stupid name as B# when I already know a much simpler name?”, you’re not the first. I still recommend to do so: it preserves the integrity of the system.

Intervals: more than a peeing opportunity

The building blocks of chords are intervals. Whereas a chord is a group of tones perceived as a unity, an interval is simply the distance between two notes (or: two notes at a certain distance; the word can be used both about the distance in a more abstract sense and about the note pair).

A fundamental feature of our (i.e. the western) tonal system is that some intervals come in one flavour, others in two. There is only one fifth above any given tone:

C  ->  G
F# ->  C#
Eb ->  Bb etc.

But there are two thirds and two sixths, which are called “major” and “minor”:

Thirds: major and minor
=======================
C  ->   E         C  ->  Eb
F# ->   A#        F# ->  A, etc.

Sixths: major and minor
=======================
C  ->  A    and   C  ->  Ab
F# ->  D#   and   F# ->  D, etc.

The same goes for seconds and sevenths:  C–>D is a major second, C–>Db a minor second.

What, then, about an interval such as C-->G#? According to what I’ve said about note names, it must be a fifth, because “C” and “G” are scale steps a fifth apart?

Well, it is a fifth, but for fifths, fourths, octaves, and primes, any deviation from the pure form is considered such a violent intervention that it is not called a “major fifth”, but an “augmented fifth”: it is not a natural form — something has been done to it (cf. the kinds of augmentation that most spam folders are full of). Likewise, the interval C-->Gb is called a diminished fifth, not a minor fifth.

Another peculiarity about intervals is the notion of inversion. There is a special relationship between thirds and sixths, and between seconds and sevenths: the major version of one corresponds to the minor version of the other. E.g., C-->E is a major third, and E-->C is a minor sixth, etc.

This is a knowledge that may come in handy once it’s time to figure out exactly which tones to play if the chord chart says “F#m7-5”. We’ll return to this below.

The stack of thirds

The three notes of a simple chord, e.g. the C E G of C major, could then be seen as a stack of thirds. This stack can be built higher:

A   13th
G
F   11th
E
D   9th
C
Bb  7th
A
G   5th
F
E   3rd
D
C   prime

There is no point in going higher, since with the 15th, we are back at C again.

What’s in a (chord) name?

This full stack of thirds is the key to all the note names you will ever meet (at least those that follow the standard way of writing chords).

Rule #1 is that

a single number (e.g. 11) indicates the last member of the stack to be included, not just a single tone: C11 consists of the all the tones in the stack, up to the eleventh.

This might easily lead to some monstruous chords that one can perhaps play on a piano but which are more difficult on a guitar with only six strings. We therefore need Rule #2:

Feel free to leave out the fifth (it’s there anyway, as an overtone, remember?), and you may also leave out the third, since in a chord like C11, it’s not the major/minor character of the original chord that is the important thing, but the colouring that all the added notes give.

Rule #3 has to do with the seventh. In the table above, I’ve written Bb, although that note doesn’t belong in the C major scale — B does. So why is it Bb and not B? That’s just the way it is:

the seventh is always the minor seventh unless otherwise noted. For all other intervals, one uses the “proper” note as it appears in the scale (i.e. D, not D#, A, not Ab).

But what if you need, say, a d# or some other tone that doesn’t belong to the scale? Enter Rule #4:

If the chord includes tones that are not part of the basic scale, this is indicated with “+” or “-” (or “#” and “b”) before the step in question.

E.g. Dm7-5 does not mean Dm2 (7-5=2), or “Dm-with-everything-from-seven-to-five” but a Dm with the seventh added and the fifth diminished: d-f-ab-c (xx0111 on the guitar).

And finally rule #5:

If you don’t want the whole stack up to, say, the 11th, but just add an F to the chord, use “add” instead: Cadd11 = C E G F.

Since there are only seven different steps in the scale, the second is the same as the ninth, the fourth is the same as the eleventh etc. In chord names one will usually use the higher of these, except where the basic triad is altered;  e.g. C9 and not C2 (but Csus4 and Cm7-5).

This is because they will usually be considered as parts of the “stack”, which begins at 7. If you write or see something like Cadd2, this will be an indication that you specifically want that extra tone to be close to the bass, and not “just” to be a colourful element high up in the sound spectrum. Compare the two chords Cadd2 = x30010 and Cadd9 = x32030 to hear what I mean.

Symbol Name Example Meaning
7 (minor) seventh x32310 the minor seventh is added to the root chord. Note that “minor” here refers to the tone on the seventh step (which can be both major and minor: Bb and B), not to the chord itself – cf. the “m7” chord below. Note also that “7” always refers to the minor seventh. If the major seventh is used, it has to be indicated with “maj7”.
maj7 major seventh x32000 The major seventh is added to the root chord. Whereas the seventh chord usually has a dominant function, i.e. is used to lead back to the chord five steps lower (C7->F), the major seventh is rather a colouring of the chord, without this “driving” effect.
m7 x35343 The (minor) seventh is added to the minor chord. Cf. the “7” chord above.
m7-5 x34340 The fifth of the m7 chord is lowered by a semitone.
9 ninth x32330 The ninth and the seventh are added to the root chord.
11 11th x33333 The seventh, ninth and eleventh are added to the root chord. Since these three tones make up the chord on the tone one step below the root (for C: Bb), this chord usually functions as a conflation of these two chords. Another way of writing this, then, is as a Bb chord with a C in the bass: Bb/c.
13 13th x35355 If the rules are followed, this chord contains all the notes in the scale, but that’s rarely the case. In fact, the 9th and 11th are usually omitted, so that what remains is a 7th chord with an added 13th. Since the 13th is the same tone as the 6th, one will sometimes see this chord written C7/6.
7-9 x3232x A more jazzy chord
7+9 x3234x The blues chord par exellence. Since it contains both the major and the minor third, the chord corresponds to the ambiguity of the third step in the blues scale. Since the extra tone really functions as a low third (=tenth) and not a raised second, I would have preferred the name 7-10. The raised ninth and the lowered tenth are of course the same tone on the guitar, but functionally they are different. Subtleties, subtleties!.
add Any added tone that does not fall within the stack of thirds, upon which the rest of the system is based. Ex. Cadd9 = c e g d.
x / +x Lowers/raises a scale step by a semitone (one fret). E.g. Cm7-5 and C7+9. Note: “+” does not mean that the 9th is added, but that it is raised.

These are the main cases where the chord name relates directly to the stack of thirds. In addition, there are a number of special cases:

Symbol Name Example Meaning
+ (aug) augmented x32110 The fifth is raised by a semitone (half step=one fret)
o (dim) diminished x34242 A stack of minor thirds. Since all the intervals in the chord are equal, any of the tones can function as root. Thus: Co=Ebo=F#o=Ao. Hence, there only exists three different dim chords.
6 sixth x35555 The sixth is added to the root chord.
sus4 suspended fourth x33010 The third is temporarily “suspended”: raised to the fourth, and left there hanging in wait for a resolution back to the root chord. Thus, in a true sus4 chord, the third is not included. If that is the case, the chord would be called add11 or add4.
sus2 x30010 Same as the previous, only that the third “hangs” below, on the second.
5 “Power chord” x355xx A chord containing only the prime (the root) and the fifth. In other words: a chord without the third. Since the third is the tone that defines whether a chord is major or minor, the “power chord” is neutral in this respect.
(iii) x35553 A chord in the third position, i.e. fingered so that it begins in the third fret: C(iii)=x35553. Thus, the contents of the chord is not changed, only its sonority.
There is no uniform way to notate this.

So how do I play it, then?

One thing is knowing which tones are in a chord, another is to make that into a chord shape on the guitar.

Any chord can be fingered in many different ways. “C” does not “mean” x32010 – that is just the simplest and usually most convenient way to finger it. To get from chord name to a chord, you have to know where the tones are positioned on the fretboard.

We’ll start with a table of how to find the intervals on the guitar. I’ve indicated the most common chord symbols in which you will encouther the intervals. Remember that 9=2, 11=4, and 13=6.

                        | symbol | Up  |  Down
----------------------------------------------
minor second/aug. prime |   -9   |  1  |  11
major second            | 9 or 2 |  2  |  10
minor third             |   +9   |  3  |   9
major third             |        |  4  |   8
fourth                  |  4/11  |  5  |   7
aug. fourth/dim. fifth  | +11/-5 |  6  |   6
fifth                   |        |  7  |   5
aug. fifth/minor sixth  | +5/-6  |  8  |   4
major sixth             |  6/13  |  9  |   3
minor seventh           |    7   | 10  |   2
major seventh           |  maj7  | 11  |   1
octave                  |        | 12  |

E.g. if you see a chord like F#9-5, you will need to go a ninth up from f#, which means two frets (i.e. find a tone which sounds like the tone two frets up but in a higher octave), and a diminished fifth, which means six frets up from f#.

A few comments on the table:

  • +9 is given as the symbol for a minor third. As I wrote above, I’d have preferred this to be “-10” instead, but convention is against me here.
  • Also, there is nothing indicated for the major third and the fifth, since these are the standard tones in a chord.
Going nine frets up doesn’t mean that you have to stay on the same string all the time: since the tones on the fifth fret are (mostly; except for the third string) the same as the next string open, getting from f# to the sixth above — nine frets — would mean:

e'||-f'-|-f#'|-g'-|-g#'|-a'|-
b ||-c'-|-c#'|-d'-|-d#'|-e'|-
g ||-g#-|-a--|-bb-|-b--|-c'|-  etc.
8 ||-9--|-e--|-f--|-f#-|-g-|-
3 ||-4--|-5--|-6--|-7--|-8-|-
E ||-F--|-F#-|-1--|-2--|-3-|-

I’ve added a column for frets down as well. This goes back to what I said above about inversion: a major sixth up is equivalent to a minor third down: from C, you will get to A in both cases. Theoretically speaking this is a little cheating, but it may come in handy in practice.

Let’s say you want to find out how to play F#m7-5. There are two ways to go about this (well, there are three, actually: you can also look it up online or in a book, but that’s not as much fun as figuring it out yourself, right? Right!)

One is to start with the basic chord and make all the adjustments from there. F#m is played 244222. First we need to add the minor seventh (Rule #3). From the interval table above, we know that a minor seventh up from f# is the same as two frets or a whole tone down: an e. In practice, we have two “e”s within reach from a F#m chord: on the second string and on the fourth (Basic chord in red, seventh in blue):

e'||-f'-|-f#'|-g'-|-g#'|-a'|-
b ||-c'-|-c#'|-d'-|-d#'|-e'|-
g ||-g#-|-a--|-bb-|-b--|-c'|-  etc.
d ||-d#-|-e--|-f--|-f#-|-g-|-
A ||-Bb-|-B--|-c--|-c#-|-d-|-
E ||-F--|-F#-|-G--|-G#-|-A-|-

In other words: the two options for F#m7 are 242222 and 244252 (or 242252, but that would give a little too much attention to that seventh: it’s only there to colour, not to take center stage).

Now the next note: the “-5”. Either you go to the table above, find the diminished fifth and see that it’s six frets above the key note.

Actually, as you can see, it’s six frets below too. The diminished fifth is special that way. One might imagine that this symmetry would make it particularly pleasant or something, but on the contrary: this interval (or to be more precise: the augmented fourth, which in modern tonality is exactly the same…) is the so called tritone, the “devil in music” (diabolus in musica).

You should find that the tone we’re after is a c, and this time there is really only one option: on the fifth string:

e'||-f'-|-f#'|-g'-|-g#'|-a'|-
b ||-c'-|-c#'|-d'-|-d#'|-e'|-
g ||-g#-|-a--|-bb-|-b--|-c'|-  etc.
d ||-d#-|-e--|-f--|-f#-|-g-|-
A ||-Bb-|-B--|-c--|-c#-|-d-|-
E ||-F--|-F#-|-G--|-G#-|-A-|-

It seems like we could use the first of the F#m7 variants 242222, and go for a very simple chord: 232222. But if you play that and agree with me that it sounds like shit, look at the second string: with the barre chord, we get a c# there, against the plain c of the 5th string. That actually gives us no other option than to use the e’ on the second string (5th fret) to avoid that clash. The chord we end up with, then, is 234252.

It looks more intimidating than it actually is: it’s a barre chord where the other fingers fall quite easily and naturally in place. But is there an easier alternative?

We might instead try to mark out all the tones we may use, and then pick the ones that makes for the best chord shape.

As we now know, the tones we want are f#, a, c, and e. Here they are, including the open strings:

e'||-f'-|-f#'|-g'-|-g#'|-a'|-
b ||-c'-|-c#'|-d'-|-d#'|-e'|-
g ||-g#-|-a--|-bb-|-b--|-c'|-  etc.
d ||-d#-|-e--|-f--|-f#-|-g-|-
A ||-Bb-|-B--|-c--|-c#-|-d-|-
E ||-F--|-F#-|-G--|-G#-|-A-|-

From this, it seems that we can actually get away with a much easier chord: we can use the open e’ on the first string, the open A on the fifth string, and the c, a, and e on the second to fourth strings. So far, that leaves us without the F# that defines the chord, but that’s ok, because very conveniently, there is one available on the sixth string, right where a bass string should be.

We then end up with 202210. If you use your thumb, this is considerably easier to play than the barre-with-lots-of-fingers version we found earlier.

You may recognize this as an Am chord with an added F# in the bass. Or you may look at it like a D7 with an added e, which is in fact a D9 chord. In other words: the same chord can be written F#m7-5, Am/f# (or to be absolutely correct: Am6/f#), or D9/e.
Why not just pick one and stick with that? Because the function the chord has, decides if it is a D-type, A-type or F#-type chord.

A third useful alternative is xx4555, which can easily be played with a half-barre.

Using one of these two methods, you should be able to figure out any chord
that is thrown at you.

Open strings

One last tip: There is always the chance that a complicated name is just a way of indicating the use of open strings. Take the chord Dadd4add9. It’s a D chord with an added 4th (g) and 9th (e). You may scratch your head for a while, until you realize that those two notes are the open first and third strings, and that if you play a regular C major chord (x32010) and move that shape two frets up (x54030) you have exactly what you’re looking for.

You may remember this chord from “Boots of Spanish Leather” in lesson 10. There we called it Em9, which is a much simpler name. So why the long name? Again, it’s the function that decides. The simple test is: could you substitute it with the plain chord?
“Boots…” is an interesting case, since Dylan has played it in two different ways: with the chord shapes x54030D7G, as in the album version, or x54030CG, in various live versions. In the first case, where the second chord is D7, it would be strange to replace “our” chord with a D, but in the second case, where it’s followed by a C, it makes perfect sense to regard it as a kind of D, since G, C, and D are the three main chords in G major. Ah — subtleties…

For losers, cheaters, six-string abusers

There may be times when you either can’t figure out exactly how to play Abm6-9, or — if you do figure it out — can’t play the result, or, if you’re at some singalong and you just got the chord book and the guitar placed in your hands because everybody knows that you’re such a good guitar player, you may simply not have the time to be bothered with chords like that — what do you do?

You cheat.

Here are three general hints to that end.

(1) All chords, basically, go back to the three fundamental chords in a key (in C: C, G and F). Most frequent are the variations of the dominant step (G in this example), where the various “strange” chord alterations function merely as different ways of creating and sustaining tension before the return to the key note. This means that you can usually simply chop off from the end until you get to something that is easier to play: Gb+, E7+9, Dm7-5, Cadd9 then become Gb, E (or E7), Dm(7), C).

This does not happen without loss: the extra stuff is there for a reason (e.g. E7+9, the quintessential blues chord, brings all those associations with it, which the plain chord doesn’t), but functionally the plain chord will usually do the job adequately.

(2) Chords can be replaced with their relatives. When I was nine, before I had the finger strength to play barre chords, I discovered that I could replace most F chords with Dm or Am – one of those would usually work. Now I know that the reason why it works is that they both share two out of three chord tones with F, which often is enough. I don’t recommend this method, however (unless you’re nine). It is cheating, and the only person you’re fooling, in the long run, is yourself.

(3) Some songs are consistently noted with chords like Ab, Eb, Bb etc. That is because they are played with those chords, as barre chords, and in those cases I’ve seen no reason to introduce a capo. The easiest way to avoid those barre chords, is to drop all the bs, and play E, B, A instead. This only works if all chords have a b attached to them, though. Other chords you’ll have to transpose based on the thorough knowledge of the outline of the fretboard that you’ll gain as you keep playing.

*

I intended to write something more about the circle of fifths and which chords belong together in families, but I think I’ll have to make space for that in a later post. Stay tuned.

Also, thanks to all of you who have commented, either here or in private. Much appreciated! If something is not clear, don’t hesitate to ask. I would also like to hear if someone has actually been able to follow the lessons from day one and through to today, with no former knowledge in the fine art of guitar playing. It doesn’t have to having been done one lesson a day, but on the whole: I’d like to hear from someone who a while ago hadn’t played a single tone but who can now, say, Travis-pick some simple song. Somehow, I doubt that it is possible, but I’m all for being surprised!

All the Lessons

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19 thoughts on “Guitar in Two Weeks, day 12: Chords, chords, chords

  1. Another great article, I’m particularly fascinated with chords. What I think would interesting, and you may or may not agree, is an article on transcribing chords. That is, what to listen for in a song to identify the general chord being played. Then again, that might put your dylanchords site out of business!

  2. Oh, I doubt it. :) It’s not that hard — it’s all about hearing the character of the different chord shapes. I’ve mentioned it here and there: a G major chord sounds in a special way, C major sounds differently, and D major different from that again, all because of how the tones in the chord are distributed (the third on the top; full bass; tight or loose; how deep is the keynote, etc.).
    Also, if one knows the main principles of chord families and how “strangers” are treated (e.g.: how does an E major chord function in a song in C major?), the rest is merely a matter of writing it all down.
    I’ve written a short note about it here, and occasionally in the blog (search for “transcribe” and “Wichita”)

  3. Hey thanks for these lessons they’re great! Been playing guitar almost 2 years now but have totally ignored the theory side of it, but now I’ve been trying to learn some theory and I’ve found this blog the most helpful!

    One quick question thoug, could you explain that table about the intervals and frets on a guitar, it went totally over my head!

    Thanks!

  4. That’s what I feared. From the outset, I intended that section as just a recap, but as I wrote, it took on a more independent character, but I see that it needs more explanation. I have revised it now — see if it has become any clearer.
    Thanks for asking (and I mean it)!

  5. Thanks! Its all making sense now, i think! Dylanchords has taught me a lot on its own, so this blog is great! Thanks!

    And might as well plug it, check out some of my quite badly recorded songs on http://www.superdoor.bandcamp.com people say I sound too Dylan like so you might like it :P Though i admit I don’t come close!

  6. Not bad. Not bad at all. For the record, I don’t consider “Hey, you sound like Dylan” a compliment (“Hey! You express like Dylan!” might be one, but I don’t think anyone expresses like Dylan), so you deserve better than that. :) So you’re right: you don’t come close, and be grateful for that… :)
    (Re. your bluebird: you really should ask… Or at least play her the song.)

  7. Ha ya I get what you mean. But I got to say I love how Dylan sounds, in fact I once had an English teacher who said “Dylan plays with sounds just as much as he does with words” and I can’t help but think of that when listening to things like “See the primitive wallflower freeze/When the jelly-faced women all sneeze”, its got like a beautiful dripping quality to it I find!

    But ya thanks for even taking time to listen to any of it! Glad you liked it even a little bit! I always find you can’t dwell on Dylan’s amazingness much or you just won’t write or play anything! Thinking of recording an album properly with some more musicians though! And yup I’ve played her the song, and we are now actually happily going out :D

    Just read through your lessons again, thanks so much!

  8. I’ve noticed that there has been quite a wait for the next article and just wanted to tell you that we do appreciate these articles. They are always well written and very interesting.

  9. Thank you for all of the songs and the guitar lessons. It all has made playing Dylan tunes a pleasure. I’ve listened to Dylan for 35 of my 50 years and now to be able to play and sing the songs; WOW!
    thanks Eyolf
    Dave

  10. I have been following your lessons and was wondering what ever happened to Days 13 and 14? I can not tell you enough how much I appreciate your site.

  11. Awesome Eyolf. Ended up at your Dylan site last night whilst looking for help with “Is Your Love in Vain?” I really like your writing style and range of material you’ve covered in your guitar lessons. I’ve already learnt a lot reading them for a few hours today, and look forward to digesting them in greater detail over the next month. (As well as learning some more Dylan songs!)

    Thanks heaps for all your time and effort.

  12. Sir,

    I have not fingerpicked for about 15 years, and have started to re-learn again. My neuromuscular issues have weakened my hands, but I am building them up again. The “F” on the 6th string is a real challenge at this time, not to mention thumbing the 5th string. I want to thank you for all your hard work which I’m sure is a labor of love.

    I’ve started going through the “Anthology of American Folk Music” where I hear Dylan and Dave Van Ronk to name two sort of “cut their teeth”. That collection would be a worthy task (as though you aren’t already busy enough).

    Anyhow, your work has accelerted my learning both physically and as regards music theory. God Bless and thanks.

  13. Love these articles!

    It’s been 10 months since the last installment! My girlfriend is going to leave me! Help!

    -lesson_fan

  14. I think this series is awesome, although it might more accurately be titled ‘.. in 12 weeks’. I’ve been playing for about 10 months, and have gotten a lot from your writings. I’ve been working with this series for about 2 weeks, but have in no way mastered even the middle lessons, much less the later ones. This last one, on chords, is really great – a lot of stuff I had read before really settled in.

  15. Hi Eyolf,

    I don’t know if you’re still paying attention to this post, but I wanted to thank you for the series. I’ve been switching from right-handed to a more comfortable left-handed position. I used your series to learn better technique from the beginning. It’s been great.

    I have a question, I’d be grateful if you could answer. How exactly would you play a climb from G to E, like in All Over You. Usually I just play the bass notes solo with my thumb, but should I be doing something fancier? It sounds like the climb in You’re No Good, but I know its different.

    Cheers, and thanks for all the amazing work you do.

    Scott

    1. Oh, I’m paying attention alright, although the series stumbled just before the finishing line; I still have a half-written draft of the chapter on open tuning, which was supposed to round everything off.
      To your question: if you can play those notes comfortably and smoothly with the thumb, then by all means. I would do it with some of the other fingers, for two reasons: (1) it is much easier to get a smooth, even line that way. The thumb is, after all, a bit inflexible. (2) Played with the index and long fingers, you can mute the adjacent string(s) to bring out the bass line even more.
      In principle, I don’t think any more fancy is necessary. Play what the circumstances call for – anything beyond that will produce a more difficult guitar part, and besides, it may draw the attention away from the important parts. That said, it is perfectly fine to play something like:

        :   .   .   .     :   .   .   .    
      |-3---------------|-0---------------|
      |-0---------------|-0---------------|
      |-0---------------|-1---------------|
      |-0---------------|-2---------------|
      |-2-------1---0---|-2---------------|
      |-3-------2---1---|-0---------------|
      

      if you can do that without loosing the smoothness.

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