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Sage Wisdom

"Good improvisation communicates harmonic progression melodically. Effective melodies manipulate harmonic content through the use of guide tones and preparatory gravity notes, masterfully woven in systematic tension, release, and transparent harmonic definition."

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August 13, 2009 | Chords in the fingers. Chords in the head.

Think of how these chords are learned. Finger goes here, finger goes there. Strum. Shift, repeat. Pattern. Pattern. Pattern, etc.

It's all very tactile, a physical process. Sure you might learn how a G7 relates (leads) to a C Major chord, or you might actually think of the individual members of this chord are, but basically, you're just thinking fingering block, fingering block, fingering block, as you shift from one to the next. These are "chords in the fingers."

Grip #1

The more advanced music theory enthusiast will have a slightly different, intellectual perspective of what a chord is. This person will have a cerebral awareness of all the actual members of the chord, each tone will have both a functional and relational significance. He/she will be aware of all these notes whether they are fingered or not. This person will have an edge in many ways:

Chord inversion/substitution. Knowing the makeup of a chord allows you to invent your own favorite chords. Sure you can buy a good chord encyclopedia, but if you want good voice leading from chord to chord, this is the most effective way to bridge one to a more efficient voicing. Harboring an extensive internal chord library isn't as big a deal when you know a little theory. Moving blocks of chords or "grips" cuts the complexity of learning hundreds, if not thousands of individual chords.

Chord movement. It sounds jerky, and it looks awful to see someone perpetually jump from one end of the fretboard to the other, simply because they have never learned a good chord vocabulary. You should never have to move more than 3 or 4 frets from any note to the next, not only because of speed, but good voice leading, aurally and kinetically.

Harmonic implication and intent. We preach about this all the time. Matter of fact, our most recent MandoinSessions article explores this and offers a way of working with a diatonic chord progression and shows how you can voice these chords horizontally rather than vertically through arpeggios. Check out Spelling out the Chords. Melodically. It's important that you communicate the chord pattern not only when comping, but when you are soloing! Your solos sound so much more musically mature when you let your audience know where you are in the chord progression.

Again, there's nothing wrong with a person just wanting to play chords. However, if you have an intention to go deeper into the music, this notion of spelling the implied chord voices is a skill you can't do without!

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Posted by Ted at August 13, 2009 7:26 AM

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