Jangle Bells

What do many songs by Green Day, James Taylor, U2, AC/DC, Tom Petty, and countless other guitar acts all have in common? Open strings—specifically, open strings ringing gloriously within chords. Whether they’re strummed on acoustic or electric, or played clean or distorted, chords containing open strings have unmatched resonance and sustain. For instance, what makes this standard E chord [Ex. 1] sound so powerful? (Hint: It ain’t the fretted notes.) One reason beginning guitarists are so frustrated by barre chords is that for all the muscle and dexterity that is required to fret them, these strenuous grips don’t ring nearly as vibrantly as their open-position counterparts.

There is, however, one group of moveable fingerings that, in many ways, brings the portability of barre chords together with the pleasing sparkle of open strings—chords based on an open-position E grip that I like to refer to as jangle chords. To begin your jangle odyssey, re-finger Ex. 1’s E using your 2nd, 3rd, and 4th fingers [Ex. 2]. Now, when we move the fingering up the neck, the 1st finger can conveniently drop down onto the sixth string and hold the new root, as in Ex. 3’s Fmaj7#11—our first jangle chord. The lowest four notes of this grip (F-C-F-A) spell a simple F chord. Acting like two upper pedal tones, the open first and second strings add the major 7 (E) and #11 (B), respectively. More important, though, these open pitches not only give the chord its pleasing jangle, their magical drone works in many other jangle voicings that use the same fingering at different positions on the neck. Experiment a bit, and you may come up with highly strummable, campfire-friendly progressions such as Ex. 4. (The rhythmic notation indicates the meter and phrasing.)

Of course, to kaleidoscopically increase the range of chord progressions that can be “jangle-ized,” you’ll need to add minor jangle voicings such as Ex. 5’s Am(add9) to your vocabulary. The minor version is achieved by simply lowering the 3 (held on the third string with the 2nd finger) a half-step by sliding your 3rd finger back a fret. (To make this fingering more comfortable, you may release your 4th finger from the fretboard as indicated, leaving the fifth string muted by the underside of your 1st finger.) To get you started on the next phase of your jangle journey, spin through the vibrant major and minor voicings in Ex. 6.