Remember when you first nailed a barre chord? When you first got all six strings ringing out you were delighted, but after a while, the gloss starts to wear off.
This lesson covers a small trick to give barre chords in the key of E Major a new sound, increasing their power level to well over 9000.
The Barre Chord Power Up
When it comes to barre chord abortions, I'm what you would call a liberal - I'm very much pro-choice. I think barre chords should be avoided at all costs, because they sound terrible. Sure, you should have used protection and learned to play in DADGAD, but it's too late for that now - you'd have to relearn all the chords and no-one wants to be the a-sehole who can only play in DADGAD.
What I offer below is my solution to the barre chord problem - What I call the guitar friendly key of E Major.
I've split this lesson into two parts - The first part is just what the key sounds like and how to play it, and the second is the theory and how to use it.
Part 1: How To Play
Before you read anything, check out this video to get a feel for what this key sounds like and why it makes barre chords more interesting.
Let's Hear Some Examples
In a nutshell, we're going to play in the key of E Major, which uses almost all barre chords, but instead of playing barre chords, we leave the e and b strings open. Check out the tab to see what I mean.
() Brackets indicate optional notes.
Ex.1 and Ex.2 - The chords are the same, except for the open strings in Ex.2
Ex.1 - Uses barre chords only
Ex.2 - Leaves the e and b strings ringing out. To play this we have to change the fingering slightly.
Here's how the key sounds when you use it in a full song
In order to play in the new GF key, we need to learn two new shapes - an open major and open minor barre chord. Check it out below.
Open Major Barre Chord*
Open Minor Barre Chord*
*My computer crashed last week and this was the best I could do in Mac preview edit.
I ii iii IV V vi vii
Remember: I, IV and V are Major, ii, iii and vi are Minor. Forget about vii for now. Check out the video below for a quick walkthrough.
Part 2: The Theory: Gloss over if bored.
The standard chords of E Major are:
Dreadfully dull. Let's spice things up shall we? Let's turn these boring chords into a Guitar Friendly or GF key. When we start playing in the GF key, we end up naturally playing these chords:
It's a fancy list of chords, and it looks more like the result of someone smashing their keyboard. The beauty of the GF key is that you would likely never play these chords in this combination, but in the GF key it comes together quite naturally. As you can see from the tab in part one, all you have to do is leave the e and b strings open.
The theory of GF keys is that in any key, there are the two most important notes - the root and the fifth, or the tonic and the dominant if you're being fancy. We take those two notes and play them with every chord. This will work because they are the most central notes in the key.
My song isn't in E Major, can this still work?
Yes, either use the transpose button on the UG website or manually transpose the chords. You can google "transpose chords" into Google, but if you have any specific questions feel free to email me.
Can this system still be used higher up the neck? What if I have a capo on the 8th fret?
The system can still work, you just have to change it around slightly. To do that, you would play chords IV V and vi on the a string. See the tab below to try it out.
Do you have any examples of this being used in a song?
It probably has been used, I just can't name any songs. I'm sure a few people will recognise it and share.
So to use this system, I just play the same chords with the e and b strings left open? How do I play that?
Yes. Check out the specific fingering guide under the "Part 1: How to Play" section in this article.
What would you use this for?
I personally use for three things:
1) make barre chord based songs more interesting.
2) To make a cover I'm doing sound fuller, mainly if I'm playing the song in a one or two piece situation.
3) As a way to make chord progressions sound more interesting - ii-vi-I-V sounds pretty boring to me in G Major, but in E Major it sounds awesome.
I'm sure there are other uses, but those are the main ones for me.
Are there any other keys like this that would spice up my acoustic guitar playing?
Yes, I'll being doing more of these in future posts.
About the Author:
By Eoghan O'Neill. Sign up to his newsletter to catch these lessons.