What a Beautiful Name

I’m very grateful to have gotten the number of views on Youtube which this video has generated so far.  I’ve had a few folks ask for tab, but I can’t post tabs of the entirety of this one, due to copyright issues.  For today, I’m posting this first draft of a chord page based on the chords I used (mostly) on this video.  I’ve already noticed a couple of places where they’re different.  So, I’ll try to update this week, if I have time.  This first page covers the shapes used in the first verse and chorus mostly.

I’ll try to post a second page to cover the “instrumental” section and the bridge and later, update this one for corrections.  I’ll also post a video talking through some of the chord shapes and my approach to playing it. Thanks so much for checking out this video, for subscribing and for all of the gracious comments.

God bless!

Items Needed for Guitar Classes and Lessons

  • Appropriately sized guitar.  (Please talk to Matt before purchase if you’re about to buy one.  Thanks!)
  • A folding guitar foot rest like this one from amazon…. or make your own from 2X4’s using these instructions:http://classroomguitar.blogspot.com/2009/08/blog-post.html .  See the video below on “Posture and technique”.
  • A contact tuner like the Snark ….or a downloadable app with your smartphone or tablet. Use the video below on “Tuning the Guitar”.
  • A 3-ring binder for your music.
  • You also need to eventually get a folding stand to hold your music at home (and for group classes, if applicable).  Something like this hamilton stand.

Other items:

  • A practice reminder app like “Streak” set to daily reminders of 5 minutes with a secondary “streak” goal of 30 minute sessions 5-days-per-week.
  • A metronome app.  You can, of course, purchase a metronome as a separate piece of hardware for this as well.
  • A pack of 12 or more soft guitar picks.  I like the red Dunlop Tortex picks for beginners, because they’re color-coded by thickness and basically unbreakable, but my female students always hated their lack of aesthetic appeal.  🙂  Anyway, get something soft, and get enough of them. By the time you lose #20, you’re finding #1 again.  Or at least you’re  ready to start looking under car seats and couch cushions.  🙂  72-pack here.
  • Long-term: A guitar stand.  These are cheap, but I know there are a lot of other items up front.  This one is very important for your long-term motivation to practice.  You will practice more if it’s out.  You don’t practice as much if you have to unpack/repack the thing every time.  If you have destructive siblings or animals, get a wall hanger.  It’s also beneficial to the health of acoustic instruments to have them out of the case in warm weather.  Too much humidity is a problem in summer months.  In the same way, in winter, they need to be in the case for humidity.  Speaking of which…
  • A guitar humidifier – for acoustic guitars especially.  These are dirt cheap.  Try to have one of these in your case by the time you start turning on the heater in the winter.  When you’re lips and hands get dry, you need to humidify your guitar as well.  Re-wet once per week or as needed.  There’s a guitar-equivalent to an automotive oil change, it’s humidity care.  (By the way, re. hot cars, treat your guitar like a child or pet.  Don’t ever leave it in a car longer than you would leave a dog in hot months.  Take it in the restaurant if you have to.)

Video on tuning the guitar:

posture and technique:

Chord solo for the hymn, “Near the Cross” by Fanny Crosby.

Here’s a new pdf I made for my kids to work on some basic chord soloing with triads.  This one is great because there are only 11 chord forms.  I simplified the 7th chords to their non-7th versions except where the 7th is in the melody.  I also kept the melody notes mostly on the 1st string on this one, for ease of play.  Click the image to download the pdf.  Check it out and leave a comment below.  Thanks!

O Come All Ye Faithful Chord Solo

Here’s a chord solo of O Come All Ye Faithful.  In the future I’ll probably add chord forms on other string sets for many of these, but in the beginning, it’s easiest to begin with a single string set to really get the reps to learn where the notes and chords are.  My intention is always to promote reading.  This is really good practice for playing guitar out of a fakebook or off of a lead sheet.  In the future, I’ll explain more about how to put any melody note on top of any chord.

In this one, you’ll notice that each “first occurrence” of a chord/melody combination has an asterisk under it.  Simply match the note/chord combo with the corresponding shape.  The more tunes you learn to read this way, the more you’ll be able to play out of songbooks, fakebooks and lead sheets, without anyone else’s help in arranging them or figuring out where the chords or notes are.  Here’s the pdf.o_come_all_ye_faithful_001o_come_all_ye_faithful_002

Harmonizing the Major Scale Using Basic Tonic and Dominant Harmony

There are various ways to harmonize a major scale.  Here is one way which is uses mostly alternating D, G and A chords.  You’ll notice that there are multiple voicings for each chord, but there are only three unique chord “shapes” in the whole thing.  All chord voicings, except the first one, are on string-set 1 (strings 1-3), and I’ve labeled the scale degrees of the chord tones under the names of each chord.


I’ve adopted a naming convention which I think will work for a shorthand in upcoming lesson videos.  You’ll notice that the first chord is labeled “D”, with “3-5-1” underneath.  This label tells you that the 3rd is the bottom note, with a 5th above, and finally, the root (1) in the melody or top voice.  It distinguishes this voicing of the D triad from the others on the page.  It seems to work for simplicity’s sake.  Conventional chord inversion names don’t really seem to work for this for a couple of reasons:

  1.  Names like “1st inversion” aren’t really specific enough, in terms of indicating omitted chord tones etc.
  2. Also, inversion names or figured bass symbols relate primarily to the bass voice, which is kind of backwards for thinking of chord voicings in terms of chord solos (or chord-melody playing).

The chord degree numbers I’ve indicated are still listed from the bottom-up, but at least they do indicate something about the melody, in relation to the harmony.  There may be something which already exists and is more straightforward.  If so, please note it in the comments section.  I’m open to ideas on this.

For the time being, there seems to be a great deal of clarity in naming something a 5-1-3 voicing.  The melody is the 3rd.  If you want to voice the 2nd or the 4th in the melody of that same chord, it could become a 5-1-2 or 5-1-4 voicing.  The theoretical reality – that the 2nd or 4th is actually replacing the 3rd – is clearly seen and easily understood, even without any other kind of notation or symbol.

Anyway, print the pdf.  Check this scale out, and experiment with playing simple folk songs, children songs (like “Twinkle, Twinkle”), or even tunes like the opening phrases of “Joy to the World” (start at the top) with it.  When you run into situations which don’t work with this simple set, you’re discovering musical ideas which require other harmonic/melodic applications.  We’ll talk about some of those in future posts.  Meanwhile, these are a good start.  Have fun and experiment.  I’ll do a video on this article in an upcoming post.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

It’s a busy week with family and holiday.  So, I thought I would post a quick video of this advent hymn using simple triad voicings.  On this one, I didn’t limit things to one string-set, and just kind of played it as I felt like playing it.  I did add open strings to better fill in the chords in places, but I hope that you can see it’s still mostly a very simple basis around triads.  Maybe in the future, I’ll post tab or chord forms for this one. Posts in the coming weeks will probably be holiday music.  It’s that time of year.

Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing video

This is a video I made for “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” using the leadsheet from my previous post.   The first run-through is pretty basic, but I added some simple rhythmic embellishment to the second run-through.  The chord voicings are limited to the first string-set mostly (strings 1-3).  This is by design, to make things as simple as possible in the beginning.

In future posts, I’ll present material for doing the same thing with other string sets.  I’ll also be posting other videos, which are more casual one-offs, and which will utilize multiple string sets, the way you would when arranging for ease of playing and for keeping things in fewer positions on the neck.  This example is mainly to illustrate what can be done with very few chord voicings, in playing a chord solo version of a song.

Chord Solos, Chord Melody and Solo Guitar

What is a chord solo?

Chords + Melody

If you play chords alone on the guitar, the top notes (highest note) of the chords basically imply a melody.  There are exceptions, but it’s very often the top note.  And that’s a good starting point for looking at what it is to play chords and melody at the same time.  To a certain extent, that’s what solo guitar arrangements are.  They’re simply arrangements of chords, or more generally, the harmony of the song or piece being played, with the melody voiced on top.


A Comparison to Piano

Let’s look at another instrument, the piano, for a moment, just for comparison.  On piano, it’s pretty straightforward to play harmony and melody simultaneously, whether you’re playing a full arrangement or simply playing chords under a melody.

First of all, you can play chords with one hand and melody with the other.  This is probably the simplest method on piano and is usually taught first.  Of course, it’s not really possible, in the same sense, on guitar.  Because of range restrictions, limits to hand independence vs. piano, and especially because of the limitations of open chord voicings on the instrument, this method kind of breaks down for use on the guitar.

A slightly more advanced approach on the piano would be to voice fuller chord inversions with the right hand, while playing a sparser bass accompaniment with the left.  This method requires the player to know more chord inversions and to know how to voice chords to fit melody, rather than always subjugating every other musical consideration to fit simpler chord voicings which most players already know.

Top-Down Chords vs. Bottom-Up

This top-down vs. bottom-up approach is something which I’ll be talking about in future blog posts here.  It’s not something I’ve seen represented much in music education, specifically  related to guitar.  Top-down and bottom-up approaches each have advantages and disadvantages, but I certainly think that both are worth looking at.

I also think that the fact that one approach comprises the vast majority of all solo guitar playing and arranging is quite interesting.  It got me thinking: maybe it’s worth asking whether this disparity points to the possible causes of many of our limitations otherwise, in playing solo guitar.  More specifically, what if weaknesses in the traditional approach itself are directly related to the fact that guitarists typically have more difficulty playing chords and melody simultaneously?  What if guitarists could learn to play with something closer to the kind of freedom which pianists take for granted in playing this simple style, simply by adjusting the approach?

Triads as a Starting Point

In my own playing, I’ve been using triads as my starting point for blocking out a basic chord solo when playing from a leadsheet.  There are several advantages to using triads.  First, there are only 3 inversions for each chord.  This means that, on the guitar, each string set has only 3 ways to finger a simple triad of any given type.  Also, the fingerings are very simple and easy on the hands, which helps greatly with legato playing.  The main point though, is that, by limiting to 3 notes, the voicing problems of larger chords are mostly avoided.  You don’t have to decide which notes to delete or double when you’re basically settled on one of each.

I’ll close out this post with an example, using the hymn, “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing”, and update in future posts more about the process.  Anyway, you’ll notice that this hymn utilizes only 10 chord forms, and a couple of those repeat.

The first one is a D chord, with F# as the melody note.  Play that voicing every time an F# is indicated along with a D chord.  Do the same for the other chords.  Learn to play it a measure or two at a time.  Once you learn to read some simple combinations, you’ll know that many more for the next tune you learn to read in the same way.

Click the image above to download the pdf or click here: come-thou-fount-of-every-blessing pdf.