Rhythm Workshop: 40 Ways to Play an Am Chord

Learn 40 A-minor-based moves.
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I know, I know. You're probably thinking “Enough, already!” But there’s a method to all of this monotony. In order to fluently play Hendrix-style ballads and R&B-style rhythm guitar, you’ve gotta become conversant with major and minor chord moves. Over the past two months, we’ve learned 80 one-beat, major-based “modules” derived from fragments of two differently positioned C chord fingerings, and now it’s time to follow suit with 40 A-minor-based moves.

Why A minor? Well, for one thing, it’s the relative minor of C major. What does that mean? We’ll go into detail on the subject in a future Fretboard Recipes, but for now, suffice to say that the C major and A minor scales contain the same notes (starting on different roots), and that a C6 chord shares the same notes as Am7. This means that any major chord’s relative minor always resides a minor third or three frets lower, and all relative major and minor modules are essentially interchangeable.

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This month, we’ll condense one-beat modules built from two different Am fingerings into a single installment. Fig. A diagrams a fifth-position, “Em”-shaped Am chord, its sister Am7, and the passing tones that surround both chords (including the 4 and the 2/9), all of which are used to create the following modules, while Fig. B does the same with twelfth-position open-Am-shaped Am and Am7 fingerings.

We begin with Ex. 1, which illustrates ten different root-on-top modules derived from the top two strings of Fig. A. Note how the first three modules utilize a hammered and/or pulled 9 (B) in conjunction with the 5 and root, and the next three do the same with the b7 (G), while the remaining four contain both additional tones. Ex. 2 shifts us down one string group with the 5 (E) voiced on top for the first three modules before we incorporate a fourth-string root and/or b7 throughout the remaining six bars. Ex. 3 takes us another string group lower with the b3 (C) voiced on top as we eventually add the 5 and/or 4 (D) on the bottom. Finally, Ex. 4 features ten moves based around the twelfth-position Am and Am7 voicings from Fig. B, and includes modules voiced with the 5, b3, and b7 on top. Use the previous routine to drill similar rhythmic and melodic variations of each one. Of course, this modular approach encourages mixing and matching these fragments in an infinite number of ways. For instance, try playing bars 2, 9, 7, and 4, or 5, 2, 8, and 10 from Ex. 4 in succession to create complete one-bar fills.

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To apply these minor modules, choose a key (You have transposed all of the previous modules to all keys, haven’t you?), and start out with a couple of purely minor progressions— a Im-IVm-Vm 12-bar minor blues, or an Am-Em-Dm-Am harmonic scheme a la “Ain’t No Sunshine”—and then begin blending in some major chords as illustrated in the Hendrix-inspired progressions in Examples 5a and 5b along with the corresponding major modules we’ve been gathering for the past two months. Strive for a beautiful, bell-like “Little Wing” and “Axis: Bold As Love” tone, and experience the magic.