Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Creating Chords in Alternate Tunings

I see a ton of posts on various guitar forums about chord shapes and charts for this tuning or that tuning.  And inevitably the most prolific responses are: figure them out yourself.  Truth be told, there really aren't a lot of resources out there for alternate tunings, especially the more obscure ones, and the best way to learn the chords is to, well, figure them out yourself.  But that may be easier said than done without the right tools in your box.

In my last post, I explained how chords are constructed and how that plays into open tunings.  Now I'll talk about how I come up with chords for those tunings.  Some people are blessed with pitch perfect ears, and I curse you if you are one of them because I am not!  So if you're like me and can't just fiddle with the guitar and find a C#m7 chord or whatever, then this is for you.

I'll use a tuning I saw on a forum earlier this week for the examples here, since I've never seen it tuned precisely this way and I get a little tired of writing and rewriting chords I already know.  The tuning is Dsus2:

D A D E A E

Notice it's close to Open D (DADF#AD), but the 3rd (F#) is dropped in lieu of the 2nd (E).  You could just leave it there and still have Dsus2 as DADEAD, but for this particular example the high D is also tuned up to E.  The original post said it was used in a song by Boyce Avenue, so we'll stay true to that.  It's also interesting because, as I mentioned in a previous post, generally tunings that make a chord have 1st and 5th with only one string tuned to the "accent" note.

When I first sit down to come up with some chords for a tuning, I usually write out the first 5 frets of the guitar with the appropriate notes, as follows:

   1fr       3fr       5fr
E|| F  | F# | G  | G# | A  |
A|| A# | B  | C  | C# | D  |
E|| F  | F# | G  | G# | A  |
D|| D# | E  | F  | F# | G  |
A|| A# | B  | C  | C# | D  |
D|| D# | E  | F  | F# | G  |

So now you have a visual representation of where all the notes lie across the fretboard in Dsus2 tuning (I'm a visual person, so this works well for me).  Next, I come up with the chords I want to work out.  Major and minor are obvious choices, and dominant 7th as well as minor 7th are also common.  I use a lot of suspended chords in my music as well, so I usually work those out and some oddballs like add6 and add9, maybe some diminished and augmented as well, but for this example we'll stick with major and minor.

If you need a refresher on what notes in the scale make up each chord, check my previous post on chord theory.  Since the alphabet is arbitrary anyway, let's start with A major.  The notes that make up the A major triad are A, C# and E.  Now just look at your fretboard layout and find the best way to play those three notes.

   1fr       3fr       5fr
E|| F  | F# | G  | G# | A  |
A|| A# | B  | C  | C# | D  |
E|| F  | F# | G  | G# | A  |
D|| D# | E  | F  | F# | G  |
A|| A# | B  | C  | C# | D  |
D|| D# | E  | F  | F# | G  |

Or in a more aesthetically pleasing form:




You'll notice there are quite a few E notes in there, as there happen to be a lot of open E notes in this tuning, so you could even drop the first string and mute the third string if you wanted.

Now let's make an A minor.  We know that a minor chord has the same formula as a major chord except the 3rd is minor, or dropped half a step.  So you can reexamine the fretboard if you want, or just realize that you can drop the C# to a C and get this:

Also feasible to play.  You'll notice I dropped the high E like I'd suggested before.  No reason, just all those Es have a droning effect, which may be what you're looking for, so do what sounds right to you!  With that, I should also mention it's a good idea to have your guitar close at hand and appropriately tuned since what looks good on paper might not sound so good to the ear!  And might be a stretch when it comes to actually fingering it.

Next let's move on to D to make some points about open tunings and multiple voicings.  Since this is Dsus2 tuning, then playing all the strings open gives you, surprise surprise, a Dsus2 chord.  Now think about that a minute.  With one or two frets, almost anywhere on the fretboard, you can achieve really any variation of the D chord.  The second fret on the first and third string would give you a D major; moving that down to the first fret gives you a Dm.  Up to the third fret and it becomes a Dsus4.



All you're really doing is moving that middle note around and leaving the 1st and 5th as is.  So say you want something really crazy, something that you're maybe transcribing from a piano to a guitar, like Dm7add13.  Unsightly on paper, unplayable in standard, but let's break it down.  The formula for a minor 7 chord is:

1 - b3 - 5 - b7

Then the added 13:

1 - b3 - 5 - b7 - 13

In D, those notes would be:

1 - b3 - 5 - b7 - 13
D   F    A   C    B 

So taking a look at the fretboard layout (and adding a few frets) we could come up with:

   Dm7add13
E|-7-------|
A|-8-------|
E|-7-------|
D|-0-------|
A|-0-------|
D|-0-------|

You could split hairs here and say the F played on the 8th fret is too high and makes it not technically correct, but this example suffices to make the point. 

One final note here: going back to D major.  You could play it as mentioned before, but you'll notice a few other ways you could play it:

E|-2--------------2--|-------------------||
A|-0--------------0--|------0------------||
E|-2----2---------2--|-5----2---------14-||
D|-0----0----4----0--|-4----4----7----12-||
A|-0----0----0-------|-5----5----9----12-||
D|-0----0----0-------|-----------0----12-||


As you can see, these are all D major chords, but just like standard tuning they can be played in different positions.  The take-home message here, however, is that the first measure chords are all in first position, so there in more than one way to play the right chord!

So have at it!  Use what you learned from the last post and apply it to whatever tuning floats your boat.  If you want some practice, work out some chords in Dsus2 tuning and I'll post at least a partial list below.  


Dsus2 Chord Chart

As promised, here is my chord chart for the most common chords in Dsus2 tuning.  I went for variety here, choosing different shapes in place of repetitious movable chords, especially with the sus2 chords, though as I said before, there are multiple ways to be right!  

 The chords at the bottom can be moved anywhere on the fretboard, the two "power chord" fifths, then a couple ways to play octaves (which can give a really full sound to riffs).  I also included moveable shapes for suspended 2nd and 4th, because as I was working out the shapes I realized that the 2nd is the 5th of the 5th, and the root is the 4th of the 5th...  all that means is that playing all the strings at a given fret makes a sus2, playing all of them but the 6th string makes a sus4.

   Gsus2  Dsus4
E|-5------5----|
A|-5------5----|
E|-5------5----|
D|-5------5----|
A|-5------5----|
D|-5-----------|

Long days and pleasant nights!

5 comments:

  1. i see you well....nice lesson.i injured my fretting hand back when i was learning to play.flexor tendon repair.im always looking for easier fingerings...thank you.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for making the chord chart -- hard to play a bad sound in this tuning.
    Will explore your site further

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thanks for making the chord chart -- hard to play a bad sound in this tuning.
    Will explore your site further

    ReplyDelete
  4. Now I understand that open a is Spanish tuning as is open g tuning relevant to each other as open e and d are. I have the complete chart for open g but I use open a a lot so if I'm right here all I need to do is alter the name of each chord in g tuning. What is the quickest way to do this since I can't find an open a chart anywhere

    ReplyDelete
  5. Now I understand that open a is Spanish tuning as is open g tuning relevant to each other as open e and d are. I have the complete chart for open g but I use open a a lot so if I'm right here all I need to do is alter the name of each chord in g tuning. What is the quickest way to do this since I can't find an open a chart anywhere

    ReplyDelete