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VH1 Save the Music: How to Use Fingering “Extensions” to Make Open Chords Come to Life

VH1 Save the Music: How to Use Fingering “Extensions” to Make Open Chords Come to Life

Hello, my name is Joe Egan. I teach guitar, piano and voice at Holland Elementary School in Boston.

One thing I like to do after teaching my students basic chord forms on the guitar is show them how to arpeggiate the chords — pick the notes out one at a time while letting them ring together — and also show them how to create little fingering “extensions” that offer them neat and fairly easy ways to make their chord playing sound more interesting and melodic than simply strumming or arpeggiating the chords.

In this lesson, I’ll show you some of these musical “tricks” that I teach my kids.

Two common techniques that pop, folk, country and bluegrass guitarist-songwriters typically employ to achieve musical movement within chords are the use of hammer-ons and pull-offs to and from neighboring notes that are easily reachable while forming the chord shape.

In this first musical example (see FIGURE 1), Iʼm arpeggiating open Am, Dm and E chords while adding little fingering extensions to them and letting the strings ring. In the Am and Dm chords Iʼm doing pull-offs from what’s called the third of each chord to the sus2 as I arpeggiate the shape. On the E chord I’m moving from what’s called the sus4, which in this case is the note on the G string’s second fret, to the third of the chord, which is at the first fret.

When pulling-off, it’s important that you pull, or yank, the string downward slightly, in toward your palm, as you release it. If you just lift the finger straight off the string, the note you’re pulling off to will sound weak due to poor string vibration. It’s the pulling motion that gives the pull-off note its volume.

Joe Egan FIGURE 1-1.jpg

part 1 B.jpg

In FIGURE 2, Iʼm moving from a standard open G chord strum to what’s called “C over G” (notated as C/G) by hammering-on from the open D and B strings to the second- and first-fret E and C notes with my middle and index finger, respectively, all the while holding down the low and high G notes on the outer strings with my ring finger and pinkie.

Notice that the A string is not brought into play at all here; while fretting the low G note, I’m using the underside of my ring finger to mute the unused A string and prevent it from ringing as I strum across all six strings with the pick. When playing this example, make sure your hammer-ons are quick and firm. As is the case with pull-offs, the goal with hammer-ons is to make them as loud as the picked notes.

Joe Egan FIGURE 2.jpg

FIGURE 3 is a country/bluegrass-style rhythm accompaniment pattern using open G, C and D chords with hammer-ons from open strings to fretted chord tones integrated into the strumming. On the G and C chords, we’re hammering-on from the sus2 of the chord, which is on an open string in each case, to the third of the chord, fretted with the middle finger. On the D chord, we’re hammering-on with the index finer from the sus4, which is the open G string, to the fifth of the chord (at the second fret).

Joe FIG 3-1 wowo.jpg

Joe FIGURE 3-2 wowo.jpg

Our final example, FIGURE 4, is also in the key of G and features melodic extensions within each chord, on one or two strings, which creates that classic Neil Young-style “picky-strum-y” kind of folk-rock accompaniment. What we’re doing here is taking advantage of open strings and moving from the fifth of each chord to the major sixth and also from the root to the second, or ninth.

Joe Egan FIGURE 4.jpg

Notice in all of the above examples how these chord extensions, used in conjunction with selective strumming of the strings— meaning not just constantly strumming across the entire chords — help give the rhythm pattern a driving forward motion that would be absent without these techniques and makes hem come to life and sound like real songs.

Joe Egan teaches guitar, piano and voice at Holland Elementary School in Boston.

Photo: Rob Davidson

The VH1 Save The Music Foundation is a nonprofit organization dedicated to restoring instrumental music education programs in America¹s public schools, and raising awareness about the importance of music as part of each child's complete education. Get involved at vh1savethemusic.org.



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