Lesson: using the different timbres of the guitar

What many string instruments have in common is that you can play the same note in different places. If you try this out, you’ll find that while playing on paper the same note, they sound a little bit different in the different places.

All tab examples can be played finger-style or with a pick. By clicking on the image it will open in a new tab. All examples are available as a pdf here >>>

Ex. 1

ex-1

When I talk about timbre here I am talking about the tone quality or tone color produced by playing a note or a chord on your guitar. Over time I have found that using the timbre is important for your guitar playing and assists in adding expression to your music.
I suggest you play Ex. 1 with a pick, with your fingers, with your thumb so you may become aware of how much difference this all makes.

When I am to play a melody (a solo) and or an arrangement of a piece, I consider the different options. In this context, I might also look at the question of having notes of a melody ring together, can I use open strings. Choices to make include but are not limited to:

  • key
  • pick or fingers
  • what type of pick
  • closed position playing, open position playing or a mix of both
  • capo to facilitate specific open string positions

Mary did you know?

In example 2 we will look at the opening phrase of Mary did you know and work this out in different places on the neck to compare timbre and tonal quality while also looking at the option of letting certain notes ring together.

Ex. 2

ex-2
Let all notes ring together for as long as you can.
The pos. III type of phrasing already sounds slightly warmer and allows for the option of letting notes ring together most notably the last three notes before striking the chord.

We’re going to move up a little bit more on the neck, and see how that sounds.

ex-2a

 

 

 

Adding in a Capo

In think we have a clear idea of how different fingerings make a difference for how the melody will project. Since there is something really beautiful about open strings, Example 3 makes use of a Capo on the 3rd fret.

Ex.3

ex-3

 

 
ex-3a

 

 

As for me personally, I prefer to play the song as in the last option, which gives the melody a harp like quality especially when we let all notes ring as long as possible.

Here is how Andres Segovia explains it with some more options added in:

 

Enjoy!

 

Simple Chord Substitutions Minor-Major Parallel

You are working on a song and strumming away. Lets say C goes to F goes to A min goes to G. While it all sounds good, at the same time it sounds a bit familiar. It feels like you are playing a thousand other songs, yet you are trying to create something new. How can you shake it up a bit? How can you find that chord progression -and eventually song – that sounds like it is your own? One way forward is to use chord extensions and chord substitutions. Extending a few chords or substituting them for something else may just be your way forward to lift up your chord progression or come up with new melodic ideas. Particularly with so called diatonic extensions or substitutions you can subtly change the mood or sound of those same old chord progressions while leaving in tact the basic movement of the song. In this lesson we’ll try some simple chord extensions and substitutions.

Chord Substitutions: Minor Major Parallel Chords

Sometimes the atmosphere of a piece can be changed dramatically through the use of minor and major parallels. What I mean here is that a major chord could potentially be replaced by its minor parallel (three frets down) and any minor chord by its major parallel (three frets up). Amazing new colors can be made by just this one simple idea.

As an example: here is the first part of the melody of a song called “Ten Penny Bit”.

TPB1

 

 

 

TPB1

 

 

The chords to go with this melody are in its simplest form

||:  Amin  | Emin  | Amin |   D     |  Amin  | Emin | Amin Emin | Emin Amin :||

 

Now we could change this using the minor an major parallel chords for each chord.

  • Amin –> C
  • Emin –> G
  • D –> Bmin

This would leave us with the following chord progression

||:  C  |  G  |  C  |  Bmin |   C   |  G   |  C   G   | G   C  :||

Try it out and you will hear that the melody get a different character.

Now we could combine the two options and you would get something like this:

||:  Amin C | G Emin | Amin  C  | Bmin D  | C  Amin | G Emin | Amin Emin | G  Amin  :||

 

I have found this simple tool very helpful in songwriting and arranging (especially solo acoustic/ electric) so go and have some fun with this.