Eric Johnson Lesson: Expand Your Chordal Vocabulary with Open-Voiced Triads

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I often get asked about my chord work, particularly about the voicings I use.

My chord style initially developed as a result of my dissatisfaction with the way traditional guitar voicings, particularly triads, sounded.

As most of you probably know, I'm a stickler for tone. And when I was starting out, I quickly realized that the garden-variety triad voicings sounded pretty gnarly when played with distortion-they were muddy and lacked clarity.

To remedy the problem, I would try to figure out ways to voice them where they would sound good even when played using a crunch tone. I quickly realized that open-voiced triads-ones in which the individual notes, or voices, are spread out-lent themselves best to distortion.

The whole trick to creating open-voiced triads is to take the middle note of a close-voiced triad (named so because the intervals are stacked as close together as possible) and play it an octave higher or lower.

Let's apply this concept to a root position (where the root is the lowest-sounding note) G chord. Take the third (B) and move it an octave higher, to the E string, and you get the rich-sounding voicing illustrated in FIGURE 1. You can apply this principle to inversions of both major and minor triads.

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As shown in FIGURE 2. I use almost all of these voicings regularly-I really love the way they sound. I often do to spice up my solos using arpeggiate open-voiced triads, that is, play the notes of each chord in succession. The beauty of these chords is that when arpeggiated, they sound even better!

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Play FIGURES 3 and 4, which depict the harmonized C and G major scales respectively, and you'll her what I mean.

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Once you're comfortable with them, check out FIGURE 5, which is similar to a passage I play in the intro solo to "Cliffs of Dover."

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It seems that a lot of guitarists like to focus their energy on their single-note chops, and as a result, they'll play voicings that are not nearly as sophisticated as their single-note lines. However, if you spend as much time working on chords, as you do on single-note ideas, you can come up with not only innovative rhythm parts, but great chordal-based soloing ideas as well.