#1
I decided I wanted to develop a rhythm playing style based entirely on 4-string chords. I figured open chords are too chaotic and inconsistent (some are 4 strings, some 5, some 6, etc.), barre chords sound too heavy and fatigue my hand when playing full sets, and in general I wanted to play precise, clean chords with little to no note doubling and the ability to play inversions for voice leading.

The problem is, as much as I love 4-string chords, I don't actually play jazz, so I tend to use straight major/minor chords more than anything else. 7, Maj7 and Min7 are definitely useful to me, but they aren't the entirety of what I play (or even the majority).

The problem is, I cannot find any way to play a minor triad as a 4-string chord. Major triads are easily extended to a 4-string chord with a doubled root, but in root position, every 4-string major chord is essentially impossible to play when you flat the 3rd. It creates a totally unplayable fingering position.

So in short, I really wanted to play 4-string chords exclusively, but I can't seem to find any way to play minor chords (that aren't 7th's or beyond). As a pop/rock/indie guitarist, this is unfortunately a dealbreaker. Do I have to resign myself to never really being able to play clean, "voice-leadable" chords? Are open chords and barres my only real options?

I could play true triads, of course, but I find 3-string chords weak sounding and a bit harder to strum since so many strings are muted/avoided. 4-string major/minor chords would be ideal.

Alternate question: Any advice for a guitarist who does not predominantly play jazz, but would still like an alternative to open/barre chords?
Last edited by dragnet99 at Apr 5, 2013,
#3
Can you give an example of one of these "totally unplayable" fingerings?
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#4
Sure, and for the record, let me say that I hope I'm wrong about this!

I've been working through "Chords & Progressions for Jazz & Popular Guitar" by Arnie Berle. This example comes from the very first section on jazz chords.

First, he makes a point that the true major chord is rarely used in jazz. Fair enough, I understand enough about jazz for that to make sense. He includes them as a way to understand the other shapes, though. But he very specifically doesn't include minor chords (only min7, etc.), which further lead me to believe that these just aren't feasible chords.

He begins with a standard split voicing on strings 6,4,3,2. Here's G major:

3x543x

Since the third is on the 4th string, I turned this into a Gm with the following:

3x533x

Now I admittedly have smallish hands, but after a couple days of effort on this one, I'm finding it unplayable. I tried barring the third fret, but that made it very difficult to accurately mute strings 5 and 1, and playing it entirely with separate fingers has proven totally impossible.

Anyway, I know the biggest newbie mistake is to claim something is impossible without putting in the effort, but even day one of learning barre chords as a total beginner felt way more doable than this does. And for the record, I put in the months it takes and play barre chords more or less effortlessly these days, so I'm totally willing to put in the work. It's just that compared to the things I've learned in my couple years of guitar experience, this one struck me as unreasonable.

(And like I said, the author doesn't even include the minor 4-string shape at all. I might be over-interpreting that, but it just reinforced my assumption that it's not feasible.)
Last edited by dragnet99 at Apr 5, 2013,
#5
Ok, that chord is definitely possible to play but I can definitely see why it would be hard for a beginner or even someone who's not very experienced with awkward fingerings to play. I can but I've spent a lot of time messing around with weird and awkward chords.

The obvious thing to do is re-finger it or even re-voice it so the chord is easier to play while you're still working on this version. Any configuration of the notes G, Bb and D will give you that same chord so find one that works for you.

Never be afraid to use less notes as well, lately I'm finding myself quite partial to using the smallest number of notes possible to get the same harmonic effect (quite a jazzy idea in itself) so for that the simplest ones would all be 3 note voicings like these:


e|--------
b|-----11-
g|---3----
d|-0---12-
a|-1-5-10-
e|-3-3----


And so on. If you don't know where I'm getting these shapes from then I suggest you study some theory a bit and find out.

Also while I think about it, you can often get away with missing the root note out if the bass player is doing something relatively simple so think about missing off the lowest G if you feel like it sounds alright.
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#7
Man the fuck up and develop some finger strength, otherwise leave the guitar to those who deserve to play it.

EDIT:
Quote by dragnet99
As a pop/rock/indie guitarist

Oooooh, I get it now.

You gotta learn barre. You can't do shit without them.
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Last edited by TheNameOfNoone at Apr 5, 2013,
#8
one word.

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#9
Thanks Zaphod and TDKshorty, very helpful insights there. My next idea was either to play a different inversion of the same chord or fall back on the triad in that particular shape, so it sounds like I was more or less on the right track.

TheNameOfNoone, I assure you that I am in the process of manning the fucḳ up and look forward to fully manned-up future. These things take time, though.

And like I said, I can play barres just fine and often do. I'm looking to master 4-string chords due to their more precise sound and greater range of possibilities, not because I find barre chords too hard to play.

I also agree with the knock on pop/rock/indie/whatever; 99% of the genre is beginner-level chords and I'd like to approach it from a slightly more sophisticated place.

Anyway, thanks again everyone!
Last edited by dragnet99 at Apr 5, 2013,
#10
Quote by TheNameOfNoone
Man the fuck up and develop some finger strength, otherwise leave the guitar to those who deserve to play it.


R.I.P. My Signature. Lost to us in the great Signature Massacre of 2014.

Album.
Legion.
#11
Quote by dragnet99
Sure, and for the record, let me say that I hope I'm wrong about this!

I've been working through "Chords & Progressions for Jazz & Popular Guitar" by Arnie Berle. This example comes from the very first section on jazz chords.

First, he makes a point that the true major chord is rarely used in jazz. Fair enough, I understand enough about jazz for that to make sense. He includes them as a way to understand the other shapes, though. But he very specifically doesn't include minor chords (only min7, etc.), which further lead me to believe that these just aren't feasible chords.

He begins with a standard split voicing on strings 6,4,3,2. Here's G major:

3x543x

Since the third is on the 4th string, I turned this into a Gm with the following:

3x533x

Now I admittedly have smallish hands, but after a couple days of effort on this one, I'm finding it unplayable. I tried barring the third fret, but that made it very difficult to accurately mute strings 5 and 1, and playing it entirely with separate fingers has proven totally impossible.

Anyway, I know the biggest newbie mistake is to claim something is impossible without putting in the effort, but even day one of learning barre chords as a total beginner felt way more doable than this does. And for the record, I put in the months it takes and play barre chords more or less effortlessly these days, so I'm totally willing to put in the work. It's just that compared to the things I've learned in my couple years of guitar experience, this one struck me as unreasonable.

(And like I said, the author doesn't even include the minor 4-string shape at all. I might be over-interpreting that, but it just reinforced my assumption that it's not feasible.)

Use your thumb in G minor.

But really, pop music rarely uses "correct" voice leading so I wouldn't really worry about that. But if you want to follow the vocal melody with your chords (that's what I like doing), just have the melody note as the highest note in your chord. You can do this with basic barre chords. It doesn't really change the sound that much if you double some notes.
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#12
Quote by dragnet99
And like I said, I can play barres just fine and often do. I'm looking to master 4-string chords due to their more precise sound and greater range of possibilities, not because I find barre chords too hard to play.

You basically said you just want to play triads - why don't you try out all combinations on one chord on the Guitar Pro fretboard and just use the same pattern for all chords?
Example, i use this "D-minor-y" chord shape whenever I want my minor chords to have a little higher tone.
E|1
B|3
G|2
D|0
This is D minor. For example, if I wanted a really high G minor chord, I would play it like this:
E|6
B|8
G|7
D|5
It's basically D minor shape raised by 5 frets (because the chromatic scale on guitar works like this: D-D#-E-F-F#-G-G#-A-A#-B-C-C# - notice that D and G notes are 5 semitones apart, 1fret=1semitone).
Quote by ChemicalFire
You get my first ever lolstack






The image in my head is just too funny for words at this point


Aw yeah.
#13
Try partial barring. For example:
3x533x (the voicing you gave, this is the frets) could be fingered as (it's pretty easy for me):
2x411x (note those are the finger numbers, not the fret numbers). That way the A is muted, and it's a relatively easy fingering to switch too (I was able to do it without to much trouble). The high E could be a little tricky at first, but work on pressing down just the G and B with your index, while letting it mute the high E.
Last edited by Aerynn at Apr 6, 2013,
#15
I've since moved on to the other major string groups (5-4-3-2 and 4-3-2-1), and am having much better luck there so far.

For the 5-4-3-2 strings, root position chords are the same as 5th string root barre chords with the high E string muted, so I knew most of them to begin with. Major and minor are no problem.

For 4-3-2-1 strings, the fingering was relatively easy (especially since I already knew my 3-2-1 triads, and these just add another string). Major and minor are both a bit of a stretch, especially since I'm focusing on fret 1 to maximize the challenge and then working from there, but they're totally doable, and after less than an hour of practice they already feel a lot more natural. In fact, my biggest issue with these 4-string chords is that with four fingers in use, I can no longer "toggle" the sus4 versions the way I do with barre/open chords (or triads, for that matter). I have to re-finger the entire chord, so sus4 doesn't work as an quick-and-dirty chord embellishment the way it does in other fingerings, but that's not a huge issue.

6-5-4-3 chords don't appear to be very popular (and would presumably just be traditional barre chords with the top two strings muted anyway), so that leaves the split voicing 6-4-3-2 string group, and the minor chord "triad" is the only chord I've had trouble with as discussed above. And you guys have had plenty of good ideas for how to get around that (including just playing the actual 3-string triad, which might be the easiest fix), so I think overall I'm in good shape.

Thanks again for all the ideas!
Last edited by dragnet99 at Apr 6, 2013,
#16
One of the distinct advantages of the guitar is it's ability to play chords in a variety of ways. Paring it down to four strings is working away from it's core attribute. Having two extra bass strings makes voice leading much easier as well.

Even if you don't play jazz, it's the go to genre when you want to improve your chord work.
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