Full Chords

Blues Guitar Lessons

These next examples deal with accompanying in full chords. These chords might be of different shapes than you're used to. In Swing and Jump music we avoid bar chords unless they serve a very specific function.

This is done because bar chords sound thick and cover a range that is being used by the bass and possibly other chord instruments. The thicker you play, the more you're in their way.

Full Chords Ex 1 - CD 30   (mp3 click here : )

TAB Full Chords Ex 01

Use a steady motion of down and up strokes; down strokes on the beat and up strokes in between. Make it sound relaxed, lazy even, with a swing feel. Every chord on the one is preceded by a guiding chord 1 fret below.

The 9 chords in the last bar can also be played in a form that doesn't have the tonic on the bottom, but the fifth of the chord (see Full Chords Ex 4). Some swing players prefer these forms, since you already have a bass player who's playing the tonics. Why bother? If your hands are big enough, you can try to play the tonic of the Bb9 chord with your thumb.

Note: This laid back timing can be practised by making big circles parallel to the strings. Hit the strings near the neck of the guitar with down strokes and play near the bridge when you play up strokes. Once you get into the feel you can make the circles smaller. Make it sound like you're always a bit too late. Try to feel where the beat is and experiment with your timing.

Damping is an important part of playing rhythm in swing. Because we don't usually play full bar chords, we can't dampen by just lifting our left hand. With some chords we'll dampen the open strings with the side of our fingers. Sometimes we'll have to dampen with the right hand. Use your palm to stop the strings from ringing right after you play a stroke.

Varying these damping patterns will give you different grooves.

Full Chords Ex 2 - CD 31    (mp3 click here : )

TAB Full Chords Ex 02

A variation of the R.J. Lockwood groove. Wrap your hand around the neck and use your thumb to play the tonic. Beat 1 incorporates a feature that is used a lot in blues. You play the minor third of the chord first and then immediately hammer on the major third with your middle finger.

That minor third creates a bluesy sound, because it is a part of the blues scale. The chord is a major chord. The best of both worlds.

In this groove you're actually playing two chords where you'd normally play only the tonic. In fact you're alternating continuously between the I chord and the IV chord. Keep your hand wrapped around the neck and play this IV chord with your ring finger.

Move this grip 5 and 7 frets up to get the IV and the V chord.

The next example is a follow-up to example 2.

Instead of alternating I and IV in a pattern you add sort of a V minor 7 chord.

Sounds like blasphemy? Well it works, because all the notes you're playing in this riff are part of the mixolydian scale of the I chord. You do NOT move to another mixolydian scale. You are NOT changing chords in that sense. Although you could argue that you are playing a full IV chord and a V minor 7 chord, try to hear them as extensions of the I chord - because they are.

Full Chords Ex 3 - CD 32

TAB Full Chords Ex 03

The Bb7 chord contains Bb, D, F and Ab.

The Bb mixolydian scale contains Bb, C, D, Eb, F, G, Ab, Bb.

The notes you've added with these "IV and Vm7" chords are (check the TAB) Bb, Eb, G for the IV chord and C, Eb and Ab for the V minor 7.
As you see: these are all notes from the mixolydian scale of Bb.

Note: the IV chord we're using as an alternate to the I chord is not a IV7 chord. This 7th (a Db on the IV chord Eb) is from the Eb mixolydian scale and would suggest a different harmony.

Move this pattern up 5 and 7 frets to get the corresponding riffs on the IV and the V chord.

Full Chords Ex 4 - CD 33

TAB Full Chords Ex 04

The same type of accompaniment can be played in the 1st Blues position.Again we're using the inner logic of the mixolydian scales.
Move this pattern up 2 frets to get the corresponding groove on the V.
Keep your thumb wrapped around the neck with these examples. Try to play only the top three strings in example IV, they sound the best and give you a change from the sound you get in example 3.

Experiment with hammering on the added "chords". Try, for instance, to hammer on that V minor 7; your grip on the neck is pretty tight and you only have to add your middle and ring fingers. Also play around with "scratching" the up strokes, meaning keep your left hand on the strings and damp them while you play an up stroke.

Have fun and keep the groove goin'.

Full Chords Ex 5 - CD 34    (mp3 click here : )

TAB Full Chords Ex 05

A beauty, isn't she? Very light and open. The Bb11 holds a "sus 4" like tension, which is resolved in the next bar. It's basically the same tension and resolution you create by playing a campfire D chord and adding your pinkie on the 3rd fret of the high E string.

The sophisticated 11 sound is achieved by keeping the tonic on top and hiding the sus4-to-major-3rd-movement (D# to D) in the insides of the chord.
Dazzle your competitors when you play this one!

Full Chords Ex 6 - CD 35

TAB Full Chords Ex 06

One of the very few "minor" grooves we find in the Chicago blues style. Magic Sam was the one who played these types of grooves. The groove on the I chord is minor, but what's happening with the IV and V?

Full Chords Ex 7 - CD 35

TAB Full Chords Ex 07

Magic Sam would use a very open sounding voicing for these chords. They don't have a third!
Approach them as major chords and, although officially you can't call them major or minor, they are written as major chords.

The next type of chord is called an organ chord because Hammond organ players love this voicing. Stay away from it in the lighter grooves, this one's pretty intense. It's actually a stack of tritone intervals. Mark your tonic accurately, it'll sound spooky if you're off.

Full Chords Ex 8 - CD 36

TAB Full Chords Ex 08

Leave the tonic to the bass. Move this chord back 1 fret to get the corresponding IV chord and move it up 1 fret to get the V. Add a bass line.
No bass player around to jam? No problem! Look at these next full-chord accompaniments with an added bass line.

Experiment with different bass lines and see what works for you. Moving from a chord to a single note bass can be challenging, but think about the advantages: one less musician to pay, one less opinion...

Full Chords Ex 9 - CD 37    (mp3 click here : )

TAB Full Chords Ex 09

Full Chords Ex 10 - CD 37

TAB Full Chords Ex 10

The rhythm in Example 11 is a great one for playing way in the background. If you're playing with a second guitar player, try to pull this one off.

Full Chords Ex 11 - CD 38

TAB Full Chords Ex 11

It's hard to play 'cause you tend to speed up. And it's a good idea to play the "one" now and then to give your rhythm some basis. Then again, you could start growing dreadlocks.
Dampen the strings with your right hand right after you hit them.

And to make it really fancy, add a few chords, intervals and stir.
Don't try this at home without parental guidance, kids.

Full Chords Ex 12 - CD 39

TAB Full Chords Ex 12

The last two bars seem more difficult than they are. The chord progression you're playing is a I-VI-II-V-I, a turnaround with full chords. In this key that would come down to:

Bb7 - Gm7 - Cm7 - F7 - Bb7.

To make each chord change more powerful, we're replacing every minor chord with its dominant version (you could call it a very short modulation - going to a different key).
On top of that, we're approaching each chord with a chord 1 fret higher (or lower).

This "chromatic" way of playing is often used by bass players. No marshmallow fluff, more like chocolate chip cookie dough. Use only as an arrangement and if there is a bass player around, talk to him first.

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