Develop a deeper understanding of basic triads, learn about inversions and voice-leading, and create more interesting rhythm parts in this month''s Fretboard Workshop.

Chops: Beginner
Theory: Beginner
Lesson Overview:
• Gain a better understanding of the fretboard through the use of triads.
• Learn about chord inversions and voice-leading.
• Create more interesting rhythm parts using higher-voiced triads.

Click here to download MP3s and a printable PDF of this lesson's notation.

There are three reasons why “high” triads are awesome. First, they can really complement another guitar player’s rhythm work—especially when both guitarists are playing at the same time. Second, arpeggiating these babies can add some nice melodies to your solos. Third, using them forces you to know the notes on the higher frets of the higher strings. Woo-hoo!

High triads contain only three notes: the root, 3, and 5. In open-string chord voicings (you know, those ringing “folk” grips), we sometimes double or even triple these notes. For example, an open E chord contains three E notes (the root), two B notes (the 5), and one G# (the 3). However, in a triad there’s only one of each chord tone. In this lesson, we will be playing these three notes on consecutive “high” or treble strings (strings 1–3), and we’ll target the higher frets (above the 5th fret anyway).

Do you know what note is on the 9th fret of the 2nd string? If you had to think about it for more than two seconds, this lesson will come in handy. I find that many students know the notes on the low 6th and 5th strings only, since they often play barre chords where the root is on either string. When I ask them to play different voicings of a chord, where the root is on the 3rd or 2nd string, they panic and occasionally start crying. Just kidding! But let’s just say they’re not thrilled about it. There is definitely a problem among guitarists with knowing notes across the entire fretboard. I say we start learning ’em. So, in this lesson, we’ll learn how to play three major triad fingerings and use them to memorize notes on the upper frets of the top three strings.

For root position (where the root is the lowest note in the chord), the root will be on the 3rd string, the 3 on the 2nd string, and the 5 on the 1st string—as you can see in Fig. 1. Remember, for now we are focused on learning the shape of the chord and the order of the notes. Once you have that down we can slide it up and down the neck to play any chord we want.

In Fig. 2, you can see a shape for a first-inversion chord. This means that the 3 of the chord is the lowest note. This fingering is probably familiar if you play barre chords. It represents the upper half of a major barre chord, based off the 6th string.

Onward to the second inversion in Fig. 3. Now, the 5 is the lowest note, the root is on the 2nd string, and the 3 is in the melody (which means it’s on the highest string). This fingering is the familiar D chord shape. As a matter of fact, when you play a D chord, the 3rd fret of the 2nd string is where you will find the chord’s root.

Now that we know all three fingerings, we can start getting familiar with using them around the neck. Let’s create an invisible box on the fretboard that stretches five frets. We’ll start with frets 5–9. This means we must play all triads between the 5th and 9th frets. So rather than move one chord shape up and down the neck for each chord change, we’ll have to use all three shapes in one confined area of the neck. If you’ve never done this before, it can be tricky at first. Try not to get frustrated initially—you will feel pretty badass when you have this down.

In these first three exercises, we will isolate each fingering one at a time. First, let’s work on the root-position chords within our invisible box. As you can see in Fig. 4, there are only three different chords we can play in this fret span: D, Eb (or D#), and E.

Set your metronome at 80 bpm and play the random mix of chords in Fig. 5. For now, each chord is given a whole-note value because this gives you time to think about where you’ll be moving next. When playing this exercise, try to think about the root of each chord and its location on the 3rd string. If you use the root as a visual target, you will begin to memorize the notes on the 3rd string.

Now let’s skip past the 1st inversion and try 2nd-inversion fingerings. I prefer to do the 2nd inversion next because as we are visualizing roots, it seems more natural to advance them to the next string. Check out the chords between frets 5–9 in Fig. 6 and then try Fig. 7. Remember to think about the root notes on the 2nd string while playing through the changes.

Finally, here are the 1st-inversion chords in Fig. 8. The root is located on the 1st string, which is a lot easier to visualize if you’re already familiar with the notes on the 6th string or low E. Also, I added the C# (Db), which steps out of our five-fret span, but was the only chord missing from the chromatic 12.

Once you have played through the chords, try out Fig. 9 at a reasonably slow tempo.

Now for the final exam on this area of the neck. You will have to use all three fingerings to play within our span. Fig. 10 begins with whole-notes, so you have some time to think. We move to half-notes in Fig. 11 and by Fig. 12, you’ll have no time to think. Good luck!

So, how’d we do? Hopefully you are feeling more confident about using triads because you know where they are. Remember, you can apply these same chord shapes anywhere on the neck. Once you have worked through the examples in this lesson, move on to another region and start the process over again. Stay tuned for more to come on this topic. We’ve only scratched the surface.

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Chops: Intermediate Theory: Beginner Lesson Overview: • Develop a strong command of 16th-note rhythms. • Create syncopated rhythms using muted strums. • Learn how to move accents around within

Chops: Intermediate
Theory: Beginner
Lesson Overview:
• Develop a strong command of 16th-note rhythms.
• Create syncopated rhythms using muted strums.
• Learn how to move accents around within a measure.

Click here to download a printable PDF of this lesson's notation.

Being a strong rhythm player is crucial. Sure, as guitarists, we all want to melt faces. However, the reality is that in most genres of music we will be playing rhythm the vast majority of the time. Therefore, wouldn’t it make sense to strive for perfection at this skill? It’s surprising how few guitarists share this sentiment. Maybe for guitar players, practicing rhythm is like eating your vegetables at dinner, and they’d much rather go straight to dessert. I happen to love playing rhythm, and I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how to do it well.

Here’s my theory on fine rhythm playing: We must be comfortable accenting on any given beat. I’ve observed among my students—as well as amateur and even professional guitarists—that many are not able to do this effortlessly. Accenting on upstrokes seems to be the biggest problem. Guitarists tend to be more comfortable playing downstroke accents than upstroke ones. While gravity and physiology makes this completely natural, it’s no excuse for failing to get our rhythm chops together. We have to be equally able to accent on both downstrokes and upstrokes. I’ve found that practicing 16th-note accents with a metronome is the best way to approach this.

First, set your metronome to a time somewhere between 60 and 75 bpm (depending on where you feel comfortable strumming 16th-notes). The click will mark the quarter-notes, but feel free to do this exercise even slower if you need to. With your fretting hand, mute the strings somewhere around the 7th fret by touching the strings, but not pressing down. When you strum, no notes should be ringing out but the strings should produce a muted, percussive sound. Now with your picking hand, strum 16th-notes (counted as “1 e and a”) in time with the metronome. Note that the downstrokes will fall on “1” and “and,” and the upstrokes will fall on “e” and “a.” For this first exercise, focus on making the volume of each strum very even. In other words … no accents! Be sure to stay relaxed and locked in with the metronome, much like Fig. 1.

In Fig. 2, we’ll accent the downbeats (1, 2, 3, and 4). The accents should be right in sync with the metronome. Make sure that the accents are significantly louder then the non-accented strums. It should be very clear to the listener which beats are being accented. Now, accent all the “and” beats—which are also called the upbeats. The accents will be alternating with the click of the metronome (Fig. 3).

Onward to the more difficult accents. Now we have to do the “e” beats in Fig. 4. These fall on the upstrokes and tend to be a bit harder than the previous exercises. In Fig. 5, we have the “a” beats. Be careful not to also accent the downbeats following each “a.”

After you feel comfortable with these strumming accents, you can begin to add focus on your other hand. Instead of muting the strings during the exercise, you can now play an actual chord, pressing down only during the accents. During the unaccented notes, mute the strings by relaxing your hand. Let’s try this with an A chord barred at the 5th fret, in Fig. 6. This is very good practice for getting both hands in sync. You can apply this chord approach to the previous exercises, as well as the following ones.

Now try accenting two consecutive strums, as seen in Fig. 7. Make sure the two accents (a downstroke and an upstroke) are equal in volume and much louder than the two unaccented notes.

Hopefully by this point you may be getting some ideas for permutations of this pattern. Try moving the two consecutive accents around. You may start to recognize these patterns from songs you’ve heard. Actually, if you play the muted accents on “and a,” you’ll be rockin’ one of the background groove parts from “Hotel California” by the Eagles.

Now let’s start mixing up the accents a bit. Fig. 8 is a popular rhythm pattern, where the accents are displaced every three 16th-notes (with the exception of beat 4 in each measure). Remember, the accents will alternate on downstrokes and upstrokes.

Here’s a teaser: I’ve never come across this rhythm in real music, but Fig. 9 is good for a challenge. Heads up, it’s a little tricky playing this pattern for more than one measure.

Take this further on your own. You can write in random (or perhaps not so random) accents over two measures of 16th-notes and work out how to play it. You may come up with some cool grooves, and you will most definitely improve your rhythm playing!

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