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Blues Guitar Lessons: Essential Chords

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Now when you play blues, or
any style of music of course,
it's made up of different elements.
There's rhythm,
there's pitch, there's form,
you know all these kinda technical
ingredients that go into a piece of music.
In blues in particular, rhythm is
really kind of the starting point.
That's how you get the feel and
it provides that context for
everything else that you are gonna play.
So, we're gonna spend a bit of
time here talking about rhythm.
And get you to play the standard blues
rhythms that everybody has been using for
decades now.
And when you're comfortable with that,
then when we turn to soloing you'll see
that the link is pretty easy to make,
and the music will sound a lot better.
So when we talk about rhythm
there's rhythm, just the beats, but
there's also the chords.
And so we're gonna learn some chords, and
then we're gonna put those chords together
with the specific rhythm that's so
common in blues called the shuffle.
And that way, we'll be able to come up
pretty quick with some very usable,
very musical rhythm parts.
Now, playing chords on the guitar, it
involves all the basic techniques you use.
And again, it's not a style thing,
it's just a guitar thing.
We talked in the lesson about equipment or
gear, about your strap.
And how if you stand up and your guitar's
in a different position then when you're
sitting down, it changes your technique.
The angle of your wrist and so on.
So I practice both sitting and standing,
I've been playing for a long time and
I've gotten used to standing up.
My strap is a little lower
than my sitting position, but
I'm able to make that transition
because I've practiced it enough times.
So practice standing up, and practice
sitting, and get comfortable with both.
Very important.
Now, when we play the guitar,
we're using two hands.
Talking about and
forgive me if you're left-handed.
I will tend to say right
hand to mean picking hand.
And I'll say left hand
to mean fretting hand.
I'm not trying to exclude you
from the conversation here.
But right hand technique is how it's
commonly referred to picking technique.
There are two basic ways
that you play the guitar.
It's a choice and
you can play it with bare fingers and
just strum it with your thumb.
Or your fingers like that when you first
picked up the guitar ever in your life
that's probably how you did it because
it's just the natural way to do it.
And then somebody says,
hey you should use a pick.
So you pick up this little
piece of plastic and
you stick it in your fingers and
it feels very awkward.
Now holding a pick there's no real
specific art to it until we get into
some very specific techniques.
But basically it's an easy thing to do
if you're not sure how to hold a pick.
Here's how you hold a pick.
Just let your hand flop like this, okay?
Now, turn it over, and your thumb and your
first finger will naturally fall together.
You stick the pick in there.
That's how you hold a pick.
Now the specifics of how much
of that pick sticks out,
I'd probably use about a eight of an inch,
I would say.
Sticks out just a little bit.
It varies with the kind of
pick that you're using.
And with the kind of technique
that you're using as well.
But for right now that's a good one.
You wanna hold it tight enough that
it doesn't fly out of your hand.
But at the same time you don't wanna have
a death grip because it will make your
hand get tired.
So you just kind of hold this securely,
notice how my finger is bent a little
bit there, it's a natural position.
No effort involved in that.
So I've got the pick in my hand,
and we're gonna use a pick.
I'll show you how to use
your fingers as well, and
I'll show you how to combine the pick and
the fingers.
Very valuable techniques.
So we've got a right hand position.
And for right now that's all we
need to know, just keep it lose.
And now when you put your fretting hand,
your left hand on the neck.
If you were to study classical
guitars one of the things we tell you,
first of all you use
a different sitting position.
You hold the guitar between your legs and
it's elevated and you have a foot stool,
well we don't do that.
When you play the blues, you got it on
your lap just like I'm holding it now.
So the other thing that they'll
tell you when you play classical is
that the thumb is always behind the neck.
And it's approximately
opposite the first or
the second finger,
depending on the technique.
When we play blues, we use what I
call the baseball bat technique,
where you just grab ahold of it like that.
Thumb over the top,
just like a baseball bat.
Now that if you were gonna play classical
music that would be a big problem.
But when we play blues it's
actually an advantage and
as we get into the different techniques,
you'll see why.
So left-hand thumb position, over the top.
Sometimes we'll put it back there.
But often,
it's gonna be up here just like this.
So very natural again, intuitive.
The finger placement, now when you
put your fingers on the neck, and
you're gonna play a note.
What's very important is that the finger
goes down vertically on the note.
In other words, I want the tip of my
finger to strike the string more or
less at a right angle, to the neck.
So if I'm gonna play a note
on the first string here,
my finger comes straight down.
When I move to the second string now,
here's the tricky part is that I
want to play the second string.
But when I play chords,
I also want to here the third string and
the first string open around it [SOUND].
So I wanna hear all three notes but
I'm fingering or
fretting the note in the middle.
That means that the finger has to
come down directly vertically so
that I avoid touching the first string or
the third string [SOUND].
That takes a little bit of practice.
And that's true of all fingers is that
they come straight down vertically,
and unless I'm telling you to do
otherwise, which I will from time to time.
The fingers never touch
the adjacent strings.
Now, if you have a very thin neck and
you have big wide fingers,
that can be a problem.
But on most guitars it's just a matter
of refining your technique a little bit.
So let's put that concept to work and
learn the first chord.
And the first chord we're gonna learn is
one of my favorite chords of all time.
It's the open E chord.
It's the biggest sound
you've got on the guitar.
I love it.
So, [SOUND].
Now to play that E chord.
What you're gonna do, and
we'll go from the bottom up in this case.
We got the open low E string, 6 string.
Your second finger, middle finger goes on
the fifth string at the second thread.
Next to it, the third finger at
the second thread on the fourth string.
And then, finally your first finger on
the third string at the first thread.
So I've got three fingers down [SOUND].
And when I strike the chord running across
all the strings it should sound just
like that, where every string,
the ones I'm fretting and
the ones that are not fretted or
open [SOUND] should be clearly heard.
No disruption,
no interference from one to the other.
Now that's called an E chord
because the root [SOUND] or
the basic note, is on the low E string.
Most guitar chords that
we learn at this point,
the lowest note in pitch
is gonna be the root.
So an E chord has E in the base,
and an A chord has A in the base,
and C has C in the base, and so forth.
Pretty easy to remember for
the time being.
When we learn chords,
I'm showing you the chords and
I'm showing you how the fingers
go down on the neck.
But for your reference,
you'll find a PDF that shows you
what I'm showing you,
but shows you on paper.
And it uses a couple of different
methods that are very common for guitar.
One of them is called tablature.
You probably already familiar
with tablature or tabs.
They're all over the place and they've
become kind of the common language for
guitar players.
If you study music in a traditional sense,
you learn to read music notation.
And I highly recommend it.
But it's not essential in order
to play blues or popular music.
Tabs are a way of translating some of
the information that notation gives you,
into a system that applies
specifically to the guitar.
Now, tablature means it's a visual
representation of the strings on the neck.
And so when you look at tab, the top line,
the uppermost line, is corresponding
to the first string, high E.
And it's as if you're holding your
guitar and looking at it like this.
There's the top line,
there's the bottom line.
Now the numbers that go on
the tab represent the frets.
So when I play that open E chord there.
What you see is that on the fifth string,
the fifth line from the top,
there's a two [SOUND].
And next to that, on the fourth line
from the top, another two [SOUND].
And next to that, the third line
from the top, there's a one [SOUND].
So that means second fret,
second fret, first fret.
And then if there's a zero
[SOUND] that means open.
So it's open, second, second,
first, open, open [SOUND].
And that's the tablature
representation of an open E chord.
What that doesn't tell you is what
fingers to use when you play that chord.
So fingering will sometime be included
separately below the staff or
above the tab that is as
a separate string of numbers.
Or you'll see the chord diagram and
a chord diagram is another way of
representing music on the guitar neck.
Chord diagram is if you're holding
the guitar up vertically and
you're looking at,
you've got the nut up here.
And you're looking at the chord as if
you're staring at it spot on like this.
Now, it shows you the same information but
it's a graphic design that
represents the image of the guitar.
As you see the dots, second fret,
second fret, first fret.
And then usually below
the diagram is the fingering.
Second finger, third finger, first finger.
So between me showing you on camera,
tablature, and
chord diagrams you pretty
much can't go wrong.
Everything else is just execution.
Now when you play that
open E chord there's really only
one way that people finger it.
And that's the way that I just showed you,
that's the standard way.
The next chord I'm gonna show
you is the open A chord [COUGH].
And that has A in the bass,
A is the open fifth string, right?
Now, here's a funny thing about the A
chord, it's one of the most common chords
that guitar players play and it's got some
of the most confusing fingering [LAUGH].
People haven't figured it
out after all these years,
how do you figure the dang A chord?
And there's at least three different
ways to do it involving different
finger combinations, and it gets tricky.
Okay, we're gonna do it the blues way.
I'm gonna show you.
This is the easiest way to do it,
one finger [SOUND].
You just lay it flat
across the second fret.
Now that's a barre chord,
it's not a full barre chord but
what we call a partial barre [SOUND].
Barre is spelled B-A-R-R-E,
it's the old school word of bar.
[SOUND] Okay?
Now again, I want all those
notes to be nice and clear.
If I'm getting any [SOUND]
any dead notes like that,
it means my fingering is not accurate.
So I shift the finger slightly,
just a little bit,
until all the notes come
through clearly [SOUND].
Now notice my thumb is behind
the neck at this point.
I can also finger that chord without,
with my thumb over the top,
because all the pressure comes down
between the end of the finger and
the first knuckle there [SOUND].
And also you see my finger
is angled a little bit,
that's just the way the finger comes
across the neck in a natural position.
As long as the pressure is equal,
it's all good.
Now what about that high E string?
I don't care.
I don't need it.
I'm playing the inside four strings.
Now with my thumb.
Hanging over the top, baseball bat style.
I can use it as an extra advantage
by muting the 6th string.
Normally you'd say,
well you don't wanna mute the string.
You wanna finger around it.
But in this case [SOUND] by muting
the string I can actually [SOUND] strum
the chord with a much
easier stroke over here and
not worry about hitting
a note I don't wanna hit.
So I'm muting the 6th string and
the 1st string deliberately.
All right, let's review quickly.
Now, A [SOUND] if I pick the note
separately, that's the way it sounds.
If I strum [SOUND] that's
the way it sounds were [SOUND].
Got the muted first and sixth strings.
Strum the E chord [SOUND].
Every note clear.
Strum the A chord [SOUND].
Every note clear [SOUND].
Right hand technique is
very easy because I really
don't care what strings I hit they
all kind of play into it [SOUND].
So right there I've got two
of the most useful chords and
the two of the most useful
keys that we're gonna
encounter when we study blues
Now, being able to play in E and
play in A is good, there's a guitar player
from Texas named Lightning Hopkins,
he probably made more records
than just about anybody in
the history of blues,
maybe an exception being John Lee Hooker.
Lightning Hopkins made dozens and
dozens, hundreds of records,
and about 90% percent of them at
least were in the keys of E and A.
So he didn't spend a lot of time
learning a lot of different chords,
he just learned to master those keys and
it didn't seem to hurt his career any.
However, the rest of us do tend
to play in different keys.
And for that reason,
we need to learn how to take those shapes,
those chord shapes, or
voicings, as we call them.
I'll explain that more later.
And translate those into other keys.
How do I play a G chord, for example?
Well I'll show you.
Play that E chord.
Now we're going to refinger and
the reason we're going to refinger it
is to prepare for another move here.
So instead of my second finger I'm
going to use my third finger on
the fifth string.
My fourth finger and my second finger.
Now my first finger's kind of waving
in the breeze here, same chord.
[SOUND] But it's fingered different and
it feels weird.
But I don't care because I'm not
really going to use that fingering.
I'm just setting it up so
that now I move my hand up in
pitch one fret and
then use my first finger.
[SOUND] To lay across the first fret.
Now what I've created is a barre chord.
[SOUND] We used a partial barre to play
the A chord now we are using a full barre.
What that means is that the first
finger lays across all six strings.
I'm using my other fingers to fret
the fifth, fourth, and third strings,
but my first finger has to
take care of the sixth,
the second,
and the first strings.
Now that's tricky because your finger,
naturally, you've got those
spots where it bends, and
those are spots where you can't really
put any pressure on the strings.
So what you have to do when you play barre
chords is, you move your first finger back
and forth until you find the spot where
all of those notes come through clearly.
Now playing that chord right there,
that's F by the way.
And we'll explain why,
why the chords are numbered or
named that way,
the alphabet in another lesson.
But when you play F that's the hardest
chord you're going to play on the guitar,
pretty much.
Because it requires the most pressure.
It's the hardest to get
those strings to lay down.
That's the first fret, so
if you've mastered the F chord,
everything goes downhill from that,
in the good sense.
So there's your F chord.
We go from E to F.
Once I've got F It's like
shifting gears on a car,
once you get into first gear,
you're pretty much good to go.
So if I've got F, I can play any
other chord, in any key I want.
Go to the sixth fret,
go to the third fret.
Go to the eighth fret.
Now I've got freedom.
I can move all over the the neck I
can play in any key, and I've got
the foundation from being able to play
blues up and down the neck, anyway I want.
So theres my six string barre chord,
we'll call it.
we'll do the same thing with that A chord.
I was fingering it with my first finger,
[SOUND], in preparation for
moving it up the neck, I'm going to
substitute my third finger, [SOUND],
and now I'm going to move that finger up
a fret, put the first finger in position.
And now that's called, for
reasons to be explained later, B flat.
Again, I don't care about the six string,
I let the tip of my finger mute that note,
I let the side of my finger
mute the high E string, and
now I've got a movable [SOUND] major
chord, with the root on the fifth string.
I can move it up to the third fret.
[SOUND] Fifth fret.
[SOUND] All right?
Now, here's another trick here.
Another thing to practice.
Let's go from the sixth string barre
chord to the fifth string barre chord.
So, play that F chord.
[SOUND] Now play B flat.
[SOUND] Now strum the F chord.
[SOUND] Just run across
all strings quickly.
Now strum the B flat.
[SOUND] Go up two frets,
play that chord, that's called G.
[SOUND] Now play the fifth string.
[SOUND] It's called C.
Now I've got a little bit of
that six string in there.
That's okay that note is acceptable but
most of the time I want to mute it.
G, C, and so on.
So the first thing to practice
is just moving back and forth.
Now already you're going to feel
some strain in your fretting here.
That's normal.
The pressure of the thumb against the
fingers, there's a lot going on there, and
it's going to hurt.
This is a skill that
you develop over time.
Your muscles get stronger.
There's a point where you definitely
want to stop and take a break and
let the hand kind of relax a little bit.
You don't want to strain your hand
because that'll stop you from
playing all together.
You practice for a little while.
Take a little break.
Practice some more.
You get to the point where you can go
you want to be able to instantly grab
those notes.
Your hand comes down and all the fingers
come down on the neck simultaneously.
That's muscle memory.
You've taught those fingers where to go.
So, you wake up in the morning,
first thing before you've your first
cup of coffee you grab that guitar.
That chord just pops right out.
That's what you're going for.
Same thing with a fifth string root.
So we've got open A open E.
They're yeah that's right.
Open A and open E.
We've got the six string barre chord and
the fifth string barre chord.
Now let's be specific to blues.
When you play blues there's
a certain kind of chord that is
the fundamental sound in blues harmony.
That's the dominant seventh chord.
What the dominant seventh chord is, I'm
not going to get deep into theory here,
is a major chord in which [SOUND]
the octave, which is E, and
then [SOUND] the next E up,
which is an octave higher than the low E.
[SOUND] The octave is lowered by a step,
or two frets.
[SOUND] Now, in the case of E,
it's very simple,
all I do is I lift up my third finger.
[SOUND] So here's E major.
[SOUND] Here's E dominant seven,
or just E seven.
[SOUND] Now that's a tricky chord,
because you've got to get those
fingers to lay exactly vertically.
[SOUND] And avoid all of the other notes.
So that takes a little bit of practice,
this is where the thumb
might come behind the neck.
So you can be extra accurate.
Now, to move that to a movable chord,
a barre chord,
again, I'm going to refinger it,
use my third finger and my second finger.
[SOUND] Move those fingers up one fret,
lay that barre in there.
[SOUND] And, now I have F,
7, F dominant 7.
Now this is the basic sound of blues,
when you listen to blues
you hear this all the time.
Right, so we are laying
the foundation for some hip,
more music rhythms here.
[SOUND] That's the sound,
F dominant seven.
Now [COUGH],
let's do the same thing with that A chord.
I take A major, and
to make it dominant I take the octave,
A, A, same pitch, up an octave.
Lower it two frets,
which is an open string,
finger it, little tricky to get
those fingers out of the way.
Now I'm going to refinger it with
the third and fourth fingers.
Same notes just different fingers.
Move my hand up a fret.
And there's B flat dominant.
So I go from F dominant 7 barre chord
to B flat dominant 7 barre chord.
Now ironically because
you're using your little
finger to play that note there, you can
actually hear the high note as well.
So you get more notes out
of that dominant seventh.
F chord.
So F seven.
And B flat seven.
F seven.
B flat seven.
All right, now [COUGH].
To practice these chords you're going
to basically play them in whole notes.
Again, without getting too far into
music theory, when we talk about rhythm
a whole note is for all practical
purposes in almost all popular music.
It's four beats and so
I'm going to tap my foot four times.
One, two, three, four.
And I'm going to play the chord and
sustain it for four beats.
Now I do that with E 7.
Two, three, four [SOUND] E, two, three,
and then play A7 [SOUND] two, three.
Back to E, [SOUND] and
then back to my A [SOUND].
Now I'm going to go to F7,
barre chord [SOUND].
And then B flat 7, [SOUND] and
sustain it, and then back to F [SOUND].
And so on, and then back again [SOUND].
And I can repeat that all over the neck.
I can move up and down, and play those
chords in all the different keys.
I don't have to know what the keys are,
I'm just using my hands and moving up and
down the neck and getting comfortable.
In the different positions.
It actually gets easier
as you go up the neck.
Play at the eighth fret for example sixth
string barre chord at the eighth fret.
[SOUND] Its easier to fret that chord
than it is down at the first fret.
Same thing with the F seven.
A very helpful.
In fact, I'll say an essential
ingredient in this whole equation
is to have a metronome.
You gotta have a source that'll
help you stay in tempo.
Tapping your foot is great, but
your foot is subject to your brain and
if your brain isn't quite sure what to do,
the foot will waver.
So you need an external source and,
once again, I can.
Go to my phone here.
And find [SOUND] a metronome.
That's kinda fast,
I don't wanna play it that fast.
[SOUND] Crazy here.
All right, I'll set it right
about at 60 beats a minute.
That's one beat per second.
Two, three, four.
Now, how fast do you set the metronome?
We're going to talk about that in
a couple of minutes, how to practice.
But basically you don't want to chase
the metronome, you don't want to set
the metronome at a tempo where
you're teaching yourself to fail.
You want to set the metronome where
you can execute perfectly and
give yourself time to think and just get
in the habit of making changes in tempo.
That's essential for
everything that we play from here on.
So you've got two open chords,
[SOUND] E and A.
Two open dominant chords,
[SOUND] E7 and A7.
You've got a [SOUND] movable or
a barre chord, sixth string root.
Dominant chord [SOUND].
And you've got the major
[SOUND] equivalent [SOUND].
So, that's actually,
it's two different sounds.
Major and dominant.
And two different fingerings sixth string,
fifth string and
then you got two different
locations open and movable.
So those are foundation chords,
you're going to use those shapes for
as long as you play the guitar.
So now is the time to get your
hands around those shapes and
really master that technique there,
getting the notes clean and clear.
And being able to make
the changes in tempo.
Work on that for awhile, and then when
you come back we'll tackle the next thing
which is to actually
start playing some music.