15

Well everything is in the title: Why one shouldn't play the 6th string of an A chord on guitar?

A chord on guitar

As you may see on the diagram above we are supposed to strum the 1st string. But the 1st one is the same as the 6th one. So this is why I don't understand why we don't strum the 6th string on the A chord.

Thanks

17

You can play it; you'll be playing the a second inversion of the A major chord, with the fifth (E) in the bass.

However,

  • The bass notes of the guitar are quite low, so playing two notes a fourth apart can sound rather muddy. (See this recent question, among others)

  • In many cases, an 'A' notated as the chord is intended to also indicate that A is the bass note. If that's the case, you might want to avoid the low E string, and ensure that the lowest note is A (especially if playing the piece solo, without a bassist) to get the correct movement of the 'bassline' from one chord to the next.

  • Just curious - do most people actually mute that 6th string? Or is that usually just noted for tabs, but in practice, people leave it open? – BruceWayne Jan 8 '17 at 6:20
  • You learn to strum accurately so as to be able to strum 6, 5 or 4 strings. – Neil Meyer Jan 8 '17 at 7:37
  • 1
    @BruceWayne Oh I mute the heck out of the 6th string, so that I don't have to be as accurate as Neil suggests. It's probably worth noting that I play with a thumb over the top grip, which means I can mute the 5th and 6th strings with my thumb, which makes muting them much more practical than with other grips. – Todd Wilcox Jan 8 '17 at 7:59
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    @BruceWayne I probably go for a combination of Neil and Todd's techniques : aiming accurately, but also muting where necessary. Even with accurate strumming, a string might start vibrating due to energy it picks up from the air or the instrument body. – topo Reinstate Monica Jan 8 '17 at 23:17
5

As topo says, you can. In fact, sometimes, you have to. If you are playing a bar of A, and the accompaniment is open A, A chord, open E, A chord, it's what you do. Yes, often, the chord sounds better without the V underneath, but if you're strumming along to something, and yoe happen to hit tha E as well, it won't be wrong. A lot of the chord windows try to show chords in root position, as this is.Open C is another, yet with a G on bottom string, it's not bad at all. Same goes for all the barre chords that use the A shape - Bb on fret 1, B on fret 2, etc.

4

Even when strumming a chord, the notes aren't played simultaneously. There will be a time when only one string is sounding. Consequently, since the first string which is plucked will be more noticeable than all the others, one should try to make that be the note one wants to be most noticeable. The two most important notes in the A major chord are usually the A and the C#. The A is what establishes the chord as some kind of A chord, and the C# establishes it as a major chord. Further, if the chord is being used as the dominant for the key of D, the C# serves as the leading tone for the key, making it a very important note. Consequently, when playing an A chord one might want to emphasize the A or the C#, but would less often want to emphasize the E.

If one were playing a guitar with the lower strings reversed (as I usually do), then the most prominent note of A-E-e-a-c#'-e' would would be initial A even though it's not the lowest note. When plucking rather than strumming I usually avoid the low E, but it's pretty harmless so long as it's not the first note played. When strumming a standard-tuned guitar, however, the only way to strum an A chord without the low E being the first note is to omit that note altogether.

BTW, in some styles of bass-strum accompaniment it may be useful to have the bass line go between two notes of each chord; one should generally be the root of the chord, and the other should often be an "important" note in the key, such as the tonic, dominant (fifth), or leading tone (major seventh). In the key of A or E, it may be good to have an A chord that includes the low E following an A chord without it; that's less likely to work well in in D major, though.

  • 3
    The time between striking strings when strumming with good technique is so short that human hearing considers them all to be struck at the same time. The choice of lowest sounding note has a much greater psychoacoustic and musical impact than simple note order. What might be making you think the first plucked string is important is that you might be playing it more loudly than the others, which is quite common. – Todd Wilcox Jan 8 '17 at 8:06
  • @ToddWilcox: Have you actually tested how things sound with a guitar strung as I have described? i have. A not terribly good recording I made some time ago can be found at youtube.com/watch?v=aRwT3E9iRfA (listen for the Bm and A chords). The low F# and E are audible within those chords, but the Bm and A are more prominent than they would be in standard tuning (sorry I don't have a recording using the same amp with a standard-tuned guitar for reference). – supercat Jan 8 '17 at 18:28
  • I wasn't trying to say it doesn't sound different. Only that the timing of striking the strings is not part of the difference. One merely has to take sample of each string and play them back in different orders with spacing of about 1ms to hear that. – Todd Wilcox Jan 8 '17 at 18:53
  • I would be interested in learning more about the reason for reversing the E and A string. Why don't you make it a question and answer your own question. Perhaps someone else can add to any any advantage or disadvantage of it. – Rockin Cowboy Jan 8 '17 at 19:12
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    Looks like a casual strumming rate for me creates less than 7ms delay between strings. The Haas effect for complex sounds occurs with delays as long as 40 ms, and even with clicks (which are more easily distinguished) it can be as long as 5 ms, so it's reasonable to conclude a Haas delay as being between 5 and 40 ms for guitar, and likely it's greater than 7 ms. Forgetting all of that for a moment, not muting the open low E string when playing an A major chord sounds just as bad whether one plays upstrokes or downstrokes, so order of striking strings is not important. – Todd Wilcox Jan 9 '17 at 2:22

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