Creative Edge Spread Em Out

October 1, 2010

WE GUITARISTS ARE SUCH restless souls. More than anything, many of us enjoy discovering new sounds and ideas. Whether it’s learning another altered tuning or fingerpicking pattern, or maybe finding a fresh way to solo over a dominant chord using a half-whole scale, or even adding a looper or tone-warping pedal to our rig, we’re on a perpetual quest to make another technical or sonic breakthrough. I find it particularly rewarding when I stumble across a simple idea that has been right at my fingertips for years, just waiting for me to see it. The concept of open-voiced triads, which we began exploring in last month’s lesson [“Open Wide,” August 2010 GP] is one of those basic, yet potent concepts that can yield incredible dividends if you spend an hour or two to probe it.

In our previous lesson, we examined open-voiced major and minor triads located on the inside four strings. These grips covered two string-sets, 5-4-2 and 5-3-2. Now let’s see what happens when we fret open voicings on the top four strings.

For starters, let’s review the concept. It’s pretty easy: We simply take a triad that’s voiced within one octave (this is called a closed or close voicing) and relocate the middle note one octave above or below its original position. This yields an open-voiced triad that spans two octaves. 1 illustrates the process on the top four strings. In this example, we’ll be moving the middle note of each closed-voiced triad up an octave. We begin with a humble G major triad on strings 4, 3, and 2. This is a closed, root-position triad—G, B, D. To create our second voicing, we raise B an octave higher. To make the grip more comfortable, notice how we refinger D, moving it from the second to the third string. Take a moment to listen to these open and closed voicings. They’re both G major triads, yet they sound remarkably different., let’s shift to the next pair of G triads in this example. We begin with a 1st-inversion, closed-voiced G triad (B, D, G) and then raise its middle note up an octave to create another open voicing (B, G, D). Repeating the process a third time, we wrangle a 2ndinversion, closed-voiced G triad (D, G, B) into the final chord in this example—yet another open-voiced triad (D, B, G). Because they extend into a second octave, all three open voicings sound bigger than their closedvoiced, single-octave siblings. (If any of this sounds perplexing, check out “Chord Inversions” in the July 2010 Creative Edge for a more detailed explanation of stacking notes within a voicing.)

In Ex. 2, we repeat the process we just completed in Ex. 1, except this time we’re spreading out an Am to generate open-voiced minor triads. 3 reveals the fruits of our labor: three open-voiced major and three open-voiced minor triads on the top four strings. These are all moveable forms, as long as you don’t play the strings marked with an “x.” As you examine these fingerings, notice how the root is identified as a hollow circle on the grid. It’s important to visualize the root in each of these structures, especially once you start working them into songs and playing them in different keys. Spend some time examining the function of the other notes too, as indicated below each grid. If you peer carefully, you’ll be able to locate the grips that differ only by one tone—the 3 (for major) or b3 (for minor). The first and fourth, second and fifth, and third and sixth grids are related this way. Once you see this relationship, it makes learning these grips even easier. 4 shows how you might work some of these open-voiced triads into a progression. Here we have a I-V-IIm sequence that appears in hundreds of songs, including Bob Dylan’s “Knocking on Heaven’s Door,” which we’re using as a template for pacing these changes. Try a fingerstyle or hybrid pick-and-fingers technique on this passage.

For extra points, mix and match these open-voiced grips with the ones we worked on last month, which lie on the middle strings. And, once you’ve mastered openvoiced major and minor triads on the top and middle string-sets, work them out on the bottom string set. All you have to do is drop this lesson’s G and Am voicings onto the lowest strings. It’s easy: Just move the triads down an octave. The fingerings change, but the note order remains the same. Invest a few minutes, and you’ll find a whole new set of grips on strings 6-5-3 and 6-4- 3. If you have a drop-tuned or baritone guitar, you’ll really dig how these forms ring clearly on thick strings.

Andy Ellis hosts The Guitar Show weekly radio program, which streams online. Visit for details.


As you chase open-voiced triads across the fretboard, you’ll find alternatives to the fingerings shown in this lesson. Sometimes these options involve large stretches— or perhaps unusual string gaps—but they’re worth learning. Knowing several ways to fret the same voicing gives you the ability to access a particular sound from different areas of the fretboard. This is crucial when you’re playing chord-melody solos or arrangements that require smooth voice-leading à la Ted Greene, Tuck Andress, and Lenny Breau. —AE

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