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I would like some alternative Chord Voicings if I don't want to play the standard barre chords for major/minor/dominant voicings: Thanks!!

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3 Answers 3

Major 7th Voicings

These are some GM7 chords; move them around as needed.

Edit: Just in case it wasn't already clear, by "move them around as needed", I mean if you ever find yourself in a situation where you want to play a chord with a different root than G (I know, seems unlikely, but you never know), just move the chord shapes up and down the neck until you find the root you're looking for. For each of the shapes below, the root is the lowest note, with two exceptions: for the second examples in the Minor 7th and Dominant 7th sections, the highest note is the root.

$E.3.$D.4.$G.4.$B.3 | $A.10.$D.12.$G.11.$B.12 | $A.10.$D.9.$G.7.$B.7 | $D.5.$G.4.$B.3.$e.2 | $D.5.$G.7.$B.7.$e.7

Minor 7th Voicings

These are some Gm7 chords; move them around as needed.

$E.3.$D.3.$G.3.$B.3 | $D.3.$G.3.$B.3.$e.3 | $A.10.$D.12.$G.10.$B.11 | $A.10.$D.8.$G.7.$B.6 | $D.5.$G.7.$B.6.$e.6

Dominant 7th Voicings

These are some G7 chords; move them around as needed.

$E.3.$D.3.$G.4.$B.3 | $D.3.$G.4.$B.3.$e.3 | $A.10.$D.12.$G.10.$B.12 | $A.10.$D.9.$G.10.$B.8 | $A.10.$D.9.$G.7.$B.6 | $D.5.$G.7.$B.6.$e.7

There are many, many more.

Great Exercise For Learning Still More Variations

Here's an exercise that will help you to figure out more on your own:

Take, say, the first G7 chord I showed above. It's voiced on the E-, D-, G-, and B-strings, with the chord tones 1-7-3-5, respectively. So take that chord and, continuing to use the same four strings, move each chord tone up to the next chord tone. In other words, move the 1 up to the 3 (so it becomes a B, but still on the E-string), 7 up to the 1 (a G on the D-string), the 3 up to the 5 (a D on the G-string), and the 5 up to the 7 (an F on the B-string). The resulting chord has the same four notes, so it's still a G7, but the order of the tones is switched around (this is called an inversion), so it sounds very different.

Do it again, and do it a fourth time. You get four chords, all of which are G7's, all of which use the same four strings, but each of which is a different inversion. Here they are:

$E.3.$D.3.$G.4.$B.3 | $E.7.$D.5.$G.7.$B.6 | $E.10.$D.9.$G.10.$B.8 | $E.13.$D.12.$G.12.$B.12 |

Now repeat this exercise with all of the chord shapes I showed above---some are easier than others, and there's some overlap. That will keep you busy for years learning new and interesting variations on chords.

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Hey just read this again; and noticed an err' in the third voicing of the Major examples; there is a 5# and no 7 –  DRL Feb 5 '11 at 20:37
    
Oops, you're right. Those 8's should both be 7's. Fixing it now. –  Alex Basson Feb 5 '11 at 20:42
    
+1 for the TABs! Whew! –  Shimmy Jul 8 '11 at 12:22

In jazz, guitarists often use shorthand chords when comping, which are four-note basic Barre chords that usually use the 7th or can be easily modified to add the 6th, major-7th, flatted/normal/sharp 9th, flatted/raised 5th, etc.

For instance:

G7

which is played with the middle finger performing the barre on the third fret, and the ring-finger pressing the G string. An A7 is simply a matter of sliding up two frets (a whole step).

Now, to learn some theory as it applies to the guitar.

The lowest note is a G. In music theory we have variations of chords known as inversions. This is the root form of a chord which starts on the note we're using as the basis of the chord; In other words it's a "G" chord so the root note of the chord is G. (We're ignoring the fact that it's a G chord with some incidental notes added right now.)

Gm7

is the same, only the ring-finger is NOT used to fret the G string. The middle finger is used to play the entire chord. (Note: The software being used to display the chord doesn't show a tie across the notes, but we play all four notes with the middle finger.)

Since the difference between the two chords is one fret press, and theory tells us the difference between a major and minor chord is the flatted third, we can easily figure out that the third string (the G-string) is where the third of the chord is coming from.

The third of the chord is important because establishes the modality (major, minor, suspension).

Fourth Fifth

Note: In rock, when playing into a distortion box or heavily distorted amp, we tend to leave out the third, instead we emphasize the root and fifth or sometimes the fourth. The frequencies added by the third tend to result in undesirable overtones after the distortion. But this is a lesson about making "pretty" music where we want to hear the chords so I'll leave the distorted stuff to another time.

Standard octave form for G

On the guitar in normal tuning, an octave is two strings up plus two frets. In the above form it's a G and octave G. If we look back at the previous two chords, G7 and Gm7, we see that the low G is there, but the octave isn't. Instead, what would be the octave is now a whole step down, making it a flatted-7th.

So, we've got two parts of building the chords figured out, the 7th and the 3rd, leaving the note on the B string. We're three frets up from an open "B", so, B, C, D. Counting from the root of the key/chord, G, A, B, C, D puts us at the fifth of the key, so we have a chord built from the root/G, 7th/F, 3rd/B, 5th/D.

Second octave form for D Second octave form for G

And that leads to one more discovery about octaves. Not only can they be two strings up plus two frets, then can be three strings up minus two frets when you're crossing the B string. If you're not crossing the B string then the shape changes a bit:

Second octave form for G Second octave form for A

Now, if you've been paying attention you might notice that the second octave form for A could also be played more easily in a standard form:

Standard octave form for A

The guitar's neck, when tuned to standard tuning, is full of these symmetrical forms that reoccur all over the neck. By learning them we quickly learn the notes on the neck, and, from there can quickly learn how to build variations on the shorthand chords. Based on the above information the following chords should start to make sense. If they don't, study theory, especially as it applies to building chords in inversions. That's the key to understanding the guitar's chords, whether they are open, barred or hybrids.

A7 Am7 Am7b5 A7#5

The last two can't be played barred like the first two, so we revert to using multiple fingers. "Am7b5", as we move across the fingerboard, uses the 3,4,5,2 fingers so the index is on the high note and the 3rd is on the lowest. For "A7#5" the fingers are 2,3,4,5 with the index on the lowest and the little finger on the highest.

Back to chord inversions: A three note major or minor chord has three inversions: root, first and second. Root is the 1, 3 and 5 of the key, first is 3, 5, 1 (octave) and second is 5, 1 (octave), 3 (octave).

A four note chord continues the same way, ending with the third inversion with the added note acting as the lowest/root of the chord.

Each inversion has a power or strength to it, because of the notes occurring in the traditional order, or in decreasingly less standard forms. So, the root form is considered the most stable and powerful inversion. The first inversion is a bit less powerful because it starts on the 3rd but it's also a nice harmony chord to the root note, so if a bass-player is covering the root, the keyboard or rhythm guitar can play a first-inversion chord and get a nice over-all sound. Second inversion starts on the fifth of the chord, which is a bit less powerful sound because of the wider gap in tones from the fifth to the octave of the root. If we're using a 6th or 7th and use the third inversion, we're using a very tense voicing because the starting note of the chord wants to resolve - to pull to the root of the key - making the chord sound unstable. If you play fusion or jazz this is uber-powerful because the melody can really roam but for regular rock it'll be too much for most of your listeners.

The piano is called the "composer's instrument" because every note is laid out in front of us where it's easy to see the intervals. If you have a piano, sit down in front of it to learn intervals, then transfer the knowledge to the guitar. I started with the piano so all my guitar interval knowledge came via thinking in terms of the keyboard.

Wikipedia has what looks to be some really good information about building chords using theory as it applies to general composing or a piano/keyboard. That page has lots of jumping-off links so you can follow them to a good page about jazz chords. Again, the guitar has limitations when it comes to voicing chords, so the information on those pages doesn't directly apply to the guitar, but with a knowledge of where the notes occur on the neck, and what notes can be used to build a chord.

I hope this made sense.

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If you take any barre form you can usually drop the barre and still play a usable chord. After all, a "chord" is really only 3 notes. You can play only on the inner strings (forget the 1st and 6th) and that's 4 notes - you have 4 fingers to use.

There are many chords that are difficult, but there are many more chords than barre chords. You can play a major chord using 3 strings in about 100 ways (guessing, probably more like 1000). These actually sometimes sound better depending on the context.

Also, many substitutions work and many forms look similar. For example, Bbmaj7 on the inner 4 strings without the Bb in the root(use open A if you want) is really a Dmin chord and can be used as such. It's very easy to play, and as long as someone is playing the Root of the chord you can ignore it.

My suggestion is to first learn the simple 3 string major, minor, dom forms (there are a lot). These allow you to play the chords and their inversions quickly and easily and have great use for improvising.

But don't stop working on those barre chords! You may think they are not needed but unless you aren't playing any country, pop or rock, you're going to wish you had learned them one day. It's not as hard as you think. What you can do is learn the barre forms without the barre, basically keep your index finger free and use the other 3 fingers to fret and gradually work your index finder into the picture. You have to build up strength with it and it will take time. Figure out the best way to use it to do the least amount of work(sometimes you can get away with certain angles or "arcs" of the finger that make it easier to do with some chords).

Also, if your action is high or it is an acoustic guitar it will be more difficult. My hand gets tired about 10 times faster on an acoustic(and I use 11's on my electrics).

The more you can do the better you'll be; barre chords are a staple of many styles of music and you'll be missing out of you can't do them.

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Note that just playing the inner strings may not play all the unique notes of the chord (first, third, fifth, seventh) -- you may be playing a power chord (no third) and multiple roots and fifths, or with the seventh and with no third. –  Anonymous Jan 28 '11 at 15:48

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