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Spacey open chords

Open chords (as distinct from open-string chords) are chords that have more open strings then fretted strings. They sound beautiful and they’re easy to play. Their drawback (and their strength) is that they exist in a sound-world of their own. Using them in progressions with standard open-string chords can be tricky.


But doing the work to explore the possibilities can be a lot of fun.


Moving around

Open chord shapes are simple shapes that you move around on the fretboard to create different chords.  For example, take a 2-finger shape and play it at the 3rd fret. Now move that shape to another fret and play it there.



Here’s a simple power chord shape. Normally, this shape is used on the 6th and 5th strings or on the 5th and 4th strings. Open strings are rarely used. Here, they’re a necessary part of the chord.

This chord has the power chord shape on the 4th and 3rd strings at the 3rd fret.


open chord1


Try strumming across all six strings, or across strings 5 to 1. Move the entire shape to different places on the fretboard. You’ll find other sounds you like, and it’ll be easy.


From open-string chords to open chords

By open string chords, I mean these. Just to be perfectly clear…


open string chords


Try going from the Dmajor open string chord to the open chord above. Now do the same thing with a Dmajsus4 chord (just play the Dmajor, but lift the finger on the high E string).  Which do you like better?


A lot of people like the Dmajsus4, because it has more open strings than the Dmajor. That helps it move more smoothly to the open chord. Depending on what you’re writing, you may not want that smoothness.



As always, there’s a lot of experimenting to do. Play the Dmajor or the Dmajsus4, and then move to open chords at different locations on the neck. Place an open chord between two open string chords, or vice-versa.


Take a progression you know and randomly stick open chords between adjacent chords of that progression. You might get something you like. You might not.


Now move the shape to the 2nd and 3rd strings and try that at different locations on the fretboard.


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Stop Bugging Me About Music Theory!

If you troll through the internet looking for music theory +  guitar, you find people telling you that you need music theory. Some of them are angry about it.


Nobody needs music theory.


Unless you want to make a career out of music. Most people not learning guitar in college or university (which happens to be most people) aren’t interested in going pro.


Some are.


In which case, learn your theory. It’ll be easier to make a living. The rest of you? Don’t worry about it.


Some background

I’ve taught theory and composition in university.


Some truth

You don’t need music theory to play the guitar.


Some more truth

You’d probably be happier if you knew some music theory. You might even be able to play the guitar better.


I’ve tried to address the second truth by posting about note-reading, building chords, defining terms, key signatures, etc, but only when it applies to making something.


I haven’t addressed the first truth because there’s not much to say about that. You either agree or disagree.


Here’s what I think:


Play and learn

Just play the guitar. Theory will follow practice.


Learn a scale and you have a finger exercise. Use that scale to play a solo on a jam track and you’ll know about keys (most jam tracks – from books or internet – tell you what key you’re in).


This won’t tell you a ton about keys, but you’ll know that you need to relate the scale to the key.  If you don’t, everything you play will be hit and miss.


You won’t like that, and you’ll learn more about the key/scale relationship. You’ll learn that you need to use the letter-name of the key as the first note of the scale. In other words, start the scale on C if you’re in the key of C.




  • C minor pentatonic on a blues in C
  • C major pentatonic on a country song in C
  • C major scale on a tune in C major
  • C minor scale on a tune in C minor


If there’s any information in those four statements that you didn’t already know, you’ll search, find, and learn. Or you’ll take a few lessons. You might even want to study theory as a separate thing.


When you get dissatisfied with playing in the same place on the guitar, you’ll learn about modes. These allow you to play the notes of a scale anywhere on the guitar.


When you get dissatisfied with the number of chords you know, you’ll learn more and figure out how to use them. All of these activities are theory-based. Why would you not do them?


Be curious

If you’re curious about music and the guitar, you’ll move down a path of increasing knowledge and interest. At some point, you’ll probably get a teacher if you need advice or direction.


If you’re not curious about music and the guitar, then ask yourself why you’re holding a guitar. There’s no shame in putting it down and finding something you’re more interested in.


Whatever you do, don’t let people make you feel bad for not knowing music theory.


Just play the guitar.


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Rhythm Stretching

This is a fairly standard idea. Simply take a rhythm and stretch the duration of each chord in the progression (or note in the riff) equally. Use the same chords (or notes) from the original rhythm in the stretched rhythm.

To make this idea as clear as possible, the original rhythm that I use will be quarter notes. In each example, the numbers above the quarter-notes correspond to the numbers above the notes in the stretched rhythm example.


Example 1

For the first example, I’ve stretched each quarter-note equally by an eighth note.



rhythm stretch1

…becomes this.

rhythm stretch2 


 Example 2

You can stretch whichever note(s) you want. Here I’ve stretched beats 2 and 4.


rhythm stretch1

rhythm stretch3


Example 3: Gradient rhythm

Another idea is to stretch the notes in an ever-increasing gradient. In the next example, each succeeding note gets longer than the one before it by an eighth note.


To be perfectly clear:


  • Beat 1 – quarter note
  • Beat 2 – quarter note plus eighth note
  • Beat 3 – quarter note plus two eighth notes
  • Beat 4 – quarter note plus three eighth notes
  • Beat 5 – quarter note plus four eighth notes


rhythm stretch4



Don’t be monotonous

Use this technique as a way of brainstorming variations and generating new ideas.  Stretching a couple of notes in the original rhythm creates a related rhythm. Moving from the original rhythm to the stretched rhythm and back relieves monotony.




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