Matthew is a studio musician from south Texas. In addition to original recordings, he has provided music for short films and commercials.
1. Switch Up Your Voicings
A voicing is the way you express a chord on the guitar. Many players stick to the tried and true six and five string barre chords to play majors and minors.
For example, they would play D major by barring the fifth fret and placing their third finger on the seventh fret of the D, G, and B strings. (Figure 1). This is a full expression of the chord, containing root (D), major third (F#), and fifth (A).
However, the notes D, F#, and A occur all over the neck, not just in the fifth fret position. Knowing this opens up other possibilities for expressing the chord.
You could play it in the open position, using the open D string, A note on the G string, D note on the B string, and F# on the high E. (Figure 2).
Conversely, you could express it on the 10th fret of the low E string in a traditional six string major chord. (Figure 3).
Or you could play 14 on the G, 15 on the B, and 14 on the high E for a higher pitched version of the same chord. It depends on what sound you're going for. (Figure 4).
If you're not looking for the full sound of the chord and want something tighter and more discreet, try stabbing at two-string voicings while muting the other four strings.
These voicings would consist only of the root (D), and major third (F#). (Figure 5). However, other intervals such as the fifth and fourth can also work.
2. Weave Melodies Into the Chords
Playing the same progression over and over during a song can get old quick. Even with alternate voicings, repeating the same chords still gets stale. What to do?
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Well, a great way to add something new is to weave in melodies between the chords.
This can be done all sorts of different ways. Let's say we're playing a progression in the key of D major consisting of D major, A major, and G major in 4/4 time.
Strum D for one measure, A for another measure, and then finally G for two measures.
Strumming only the chords sounds pretty plain, so let's liven it up with a simple melody using notes from the D major scale. (Figure 6).
Start by strumming the D chord twice, and then play second fret on the D string ascending to the fourth fret for the remainder of the measure.
Next, strum the A chord twice, then play the fourth fret of the D string descending to the second fret for the rest of the measure.
Finally, switch to the G chord and strum it twice. After that, play the second fret of the E string ascending to the third fret, immediately followed by the second fret of the D string to the open D string.
Hold the open string for one beat, then finish it off by playing the third fret of the E string descending to the second fret, descending to the open E string, immediately followed by the D chord, looping it back to the beginning.
Played all together we now have an interesting, hummable melody to enhance our chords.
3. Vary Your Strumming Patterns
It can be easy to fall into the same strumming pattern for an entire song. If it isn't broken, why fix it? Well, the problem is that our ears don't care for hearing the same thing over and over.
To remedy this, it's important to vary your strumming patterns. If you're locked into a down, down, down, up, down, up pattern, try skipping the third beat.
It then becomes down, down, pause, up, down, up. Even a small variation like this can get things sounding interesting again.
Another simple technique is to not strum all the strings with each stroke. On some hits, emphasize the higher strings, on others, the lower ones. Maybe on certain strokes only hit an individual string.
Dynamics also comes into play here. Strumming softer when the song is quiet and louder when it's climaxing is a must for interesting playing.
Strumming softer is also recommended when backing up others solos, as you won't draw too much attention to yourself.
You can also try varying the beats that you strum on. Try upstrokes on the offbeat, skipping beats, and double strokes on beats. These alternatives will keep you sounding fresh.
© 2019 Matthew Scherer