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I'm a beginner guitarist.

On the piano it sounds fine: G to C. Perfect!

On the guitar it sounds ... meh ... blah ...

In a minor scale, however, such as A minor, the dominant (E7) resolves definitively, with gusto, into Am.

What am I missing? What am I doing wrong?

Correction: G7 to C: the same problem.

Update: I'm attaching the sheet music. The problem I'm having with the final two chords of the verse ("... fill high, girl, and join us ... to-night").enter image description here

enter image description here

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    What voicings are you using on each instrument? That can make all the difference. Also: To make a fair comparison, you should be using G7 rather than G.
    – Theodore
    Nov 28, 2023 at 17:31
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    What @Theodore is asking is, how are the notes in the chords "stacked up": what's the lowest pitch, the next higher, and so on. That can make an enormous difference in how convincing things sound.
    – Aaron
    Nov 28, 2023 at 17:36
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    @Ricky That helps a little, but not enough to clearly answer the question. What's needed is to know exactly how you play the chords on guitar and piano. That is, which piano keys, specifically, are you using, from low to high. Same for guitar: what strings and frets, from low to high.
    – Aaron
    Nov 28, 2023 at 20:04
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    When strumming the guitar chords, do you strum all the strings or only some of the strings? I have a feeling that strumming the E on the lowest string in your C chord results in many, if not all, of your problems. Granted, strumming that same E in your Am chord should sound even worse resolution-wise...
    – Dekkadeci
    Nov 28, 2023 at 22:19
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    @Ricky Perfection. :-) Thanks.
    – Aaron
    Nov 28, 2023 at 22:54

4 Answers 4

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The acid test, of course, would be to play exactly the same voicings on each instrument. That means deciding if you actually play all 6 strings on guitar, and if not, then only play the appropriate same notes on piano.

That should give the same 'feeling' for both cadences. If it does, there's your answer. If it doesn't, then you need to adjust notes (voicings) until you get the same feeling for each.

Bear in mind that on guitar there are at least 3 ways to play G7, leading to at least 3 to play C, and the same for E7, although Am (open) generally has 1. But that Am could be played as a 5-string (root position), or a 6-string (2nd inversion), which will aurally make a difference. Neither is more 'right' than the other.

What is happening with both cadences (G7>C, and E7>Am) is a tritone is formed, which sounds quite unstable, but is resolved to the 2nd chord.

Another thought - with any voicing. The piece is in key C. Going into Am gives a feeling that we're moving somewhere different. Were the piece in key Am, then modulating into C, via G7, would give a similar feeling.

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The most likely problem is the chord voicings. On the piano, the root of the chord is always the lowest pitch, which is a safe bet and will generally give a decent resolution.

However, on guitar, there is some variation.

Based on the diagrams in the question:

In the G-C case, the G chord(s) have G (the root) on the bottom, but on the C chord, the third of the chord (E) is on the bottom. This will tend not to sound resolved. I'll return to this.

In the E-A case, the chords always have E in the bass. Ideally, the A chord would have A as the lowest pitch, but since the lowest pitch is at least consistent across the chords, that mitigates the situation.

So the simplest solution for the G-C case is to make G the lowest pitch of the C chord. In other words, E string, 3rd fret.

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  • I think a C chord with a G in the bass won't sound any more "settled" than the C chord with an E in the bass. There's bound to be a position that lets you play the C chord with a C in the bass. Nov 29, 2023 at 12:47
  • This answer seems to be imply that, when we play a chord on the guitar, we play all 6 strings by default. This is false. The standard C chord on the guitar consists of 5 notes with C being the lowest; the low E string is not strummed. Same goes for the A chord. It's possible I'm misunderstanding something though. @Aaron Could you clarify this?
    – Lee White
    Nov 29, 2023 at 14:20
  • @BrianTHOMAS You're correct about the C chord in isolation. I'm proposing that by have the same note (G) in the bass across both chords is more stable that having the root of the G chord (G) but then the third of the C chord (E).
    – Aaron
    Nov 30, 2023 at 6:12
  • @LeeWhite I was basing my answer on the diagrams provided, which indicate six-string chords. I've added a brief sentence to better indicate that. Please let me know if it's sufficient.
    – Aaron
    Nov 30, 2023 at 6:13
  • @LeeWhite - 'by default'? We could play anywhere between 3 and 6 notes - it's just that a lot of guitar sites have decided that we MUST only play chords in root position. No default there, really.
    – Tim
    Nov 30, 2023 at 14:41
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Generically, you are asking about a dominant seventh chord resolving to a tonic (or implied tonic) major or minor triad.

The resolution of those chords, in terms of voice leading, involves the tone of the seventh in the dominant seventh chord moving down by step to the third of the "tonic" triad, and the "leading tone" of the dominant seventh chord moving up by half step to the root of the "tonic" triad.

Notice in the description above there are two "voices" resolving by scale step movements. That step-wise movement, especially when it is by half step, is what gives the strength of the resolution. If you move those voices around so that they don't resolve by step, ex. the seventh moves to the root of the tonic chord, or the leading tone moves to the third of the tonic chord, etc. it will weaken the strength of the voice leading and the clear sense of resolution.

That is why you got so many follow up questions about the exact voicings of the chords you used.

On guitar if you play G7 320001 to C x32010, you should sense a strong resolution, because the 1 in G7 is the seventh and it moves down to the 0 on the first string for C which is a half step movement down, and the open B string 0 of G7 moving to 1 of C is the leading tone moving up a half step to the root of C, which is the other half step movement.

When you play E7 to Am as in your guitar neck diagrams, you basically get the same voice leading movements but transposed to A minor. E7 022130 to Am x02210 where the seventh resolution is the 3 moving down to 1 on the B string, and the leading tone resolution is the 1 moving up to 2 on the G string.

Play the two chord progressions with those specific voicings and compare them. You should feel the same sense of resolution, because you are using the same voicing for the critical resolution of the seventh and leading tone.

If you aren't familiar with 022130 type notation, that gives the fret numbers across the strings by order EADGBE where 0 zero means an open string and x means don't play a string. So, for 022130 it's low E string open, A string fretted on second fret, etc.

One final thought: your barre chord diagram for G7 does not lack the step-wise resolution of the seventh, but it puts it in a lower octave than my suggested voicing of G7 320001 where the seventh is in the upper voices, and makes a more appropriate comparison to the E7 and Am guitar chord diagrams. Little changes of octave like that will change the harmonic feel. You could even put the seventh resolution in the bass and change the feel even more.

When analyzing harmony, pay close attention to voice leading/chord voicing, along with the more obvious chord root movements.

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I assume you are playing in open position. Basically is has to do with the voicing of the guitar in that position A couple of ideas. (1) On the guitar, the E7 to Am change is lower, hence "stronger" or fuller. (2) The E7th has a 7th (obviously, the note D in addition to the E G# B triad) which clearly identifies the chord as dominant chord (i.e., a V chord) in relation to the A minor. Whereas as the G to C has no 7th and could occur as various progressions besides V to I.

When a Dominant 7th, "flat 7th" or whatever you choose to call it is introduced into the chord structure, it's an aural tip off as to where the tonic (I chord or "key") is, and is often used to push the chord structure to new key.

Confusing enough? As you become more familiar with the guitar and harmony, you will be able to voice "strong" V7 to I progressions in any key.

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