Learn how to relocate licks to different keys in Jim Campilongo''s latest lesson.

Chops: Intermediate
Theory: Beginner
Lesson Overview:
• Discover the power of sonic “relocation.”
• Emulate the sound of steel guitar using suspensions.
• Create easily transposable licks based out of basic barre chord shapes.

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

If I remember correctly, my friend Chuck Prophet, from my San Francisco days, had a term for a few choice licks—he called them “relocation licks.” Relocation is not a term used at Juilliard or Berklee, so bear with me while I try to explain.

A relocation lick is a phrase so genre-specific that one can move (relocate) to the area the lick represents! In the case of this lesson, pack your bags and get a one-way ticket to Nashville or Texas.

We will start with a phrase everyone knows (Fig. 1) to give the subsequent phrases you'll learn some context. This is a cliché using sixths—think of the intro to Sam and Dave’s “Soul Man.” Please note that the beginning two notes, B and G, are found within the confines of a G barre chord. Make this your musical and visual reference for easy transposition.

Okay, here goes—although you probably know this lick already. Again, use the G barre chord as a reference and use a pick for the 3rd string and middle finger for the 1st string. If this is uncomfortable or incompatible with your own technical approach, strum downward on the top three strings while muting the unwanted 2nd string. Personally, I find the hybrid-picking approach much easier, and it allows for some pinging and popping when the middle finger aggressively snaps the 1st string.

It's beneficial to transpose this phrase, so we will play it in G, C, and D. I suggest you play the corresponding barre chord before playing the lick. This way you can internalize the transposition reference. In a few seconds you won’t need to play the barre chord, but you'll be able to transpose this lick—and the upcoming ones—quickly and effortlessly.

Now we’ll push the envelope with the lick in Fig. 2, which hopefully will be new to you. Because we start this phrase on the second scale step of G (A on the 2nd fret), we leave the comfy surroundings of the 3rd-position barre chord. Try to visually superimpose the chord as a reference point. Again, I suggest employing a hybrid approach that allows for some popping when you snap the 1st string.

Next, let’s play the previous phrase descending (Fig. 3). Again, try to visualize the corresponding barre chord, and try to employ a committed snap on the 1st string. You can get a chicken pickin’ sound by pulling the string so it strikes the fretboard. Don't be apprehensive about using some middle-finger muscle.

Again, the next phrase in Fig. 4 is based on the first lick of this lesson—but this incorporates a suspension that creates a steel-guitar flavor. Make sure that when bending strings you use all available fingers in their respective position to assist the bend and keep it in tune. This phrase requires some 2nd-finger bending muscle, so make sure you have your 1st finger help. I've added a rhythm so you can hear the phrases in context. As before, I suggest you employ the pick and index of your picking hand to play strings 3 and 1.

Last, we’ll play the previous phase descending (Fig. 5). I love this sound, because by starting on the suspension we incorporate the soulful sound of the IV–I cadence. This is the essence of many of my favorite steel-guitar sounds.

I hope this was fun and easy for all of you, and thanks for checking in.

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Easy-to-fret triads that sound sophisticated and lush, despite what we are actually playing.

Chops: Intermediate
Theory: Intermediate
Lesson Overview:
• Create three-note voicings based on larger piano chords.
• Learn how one chord can have many names.
• Construct progressions that imply IIm-V sounds.

Click here to download a printable PDF of this lesson's notation and MP3 examples.

In this month’s column, I’d like to share what I call “little” steel guitar voicings. The chords I’ll demonstrate are easy-to-fret triads that sound sophisticated and lush, despite what we are actually playing. These voicings are inspired by larger four-note grips that are difficult to finger, although they fall easily on the steel guitar and are seemingly effortless on standard guitar when played by the great Johnny Smith. On Smith’s “Moonlight in Vermont,” for example, you can hear wider grips that sound like piano chords. My personal favorite Johnny Smith recording is an album called A Perfect Match with accordion virtuoso Art Van Damme. For us mere mortals, these smaller voicings will be useful in embellishing a jazz, country, or swing tune with a minimum of difficulty and without any left-hand pyrotechnics.

The first voicings are in Fig. 1. Notice how we’re playing three chords with just two grips. This illustrates the ease and economy of these voicings. I know it’s sometimes confusing, but any chord can have multiple names depending on context.

For example, a simple D triad—one of the first chords a guitarist learns—can also be called Gmaj9 if it’s played over a G bass note. To make things even more brain-bending, our simple D triad played over an F bass can be called F13b9, but this isn't the point. The point is to accept the fact that the exact same chord voicing and fingering coming up can function as both C6 and Fadd9. We use these shapes in a little eight-measure exercise in Fig. 2.

In Fig. 3, we introduce a small finger movement involving the second and third chords. They are now F7b9 and G7b9. This is a favorite trick of mine because both chords have a diminished sound to them, so we can play some wacky diminished lines over this section. For those of you who aren’t theory Einsteins, please don’t be put off by the “numbers.” These chords are fun and sound excellent in many contexts. Give them a try in Fig. 4 and let the theory come later.

Okay, now let's add our pinky, since it’s mostly lounging around not doing anything, and that’s not fair! In Fig. 5, we will need to renegotiate the fingering on C6 (strings 1, 2, and 3), but the other two chords—F7b9 and G7b9—remain the same while we simply add and remove the pinky.

In Fig. 6, we throw in the kitchen sink. We will introduce a new C6 on the top, going to a C9 (that functions as a Gm to C7b9), and also some half-step movement (Eadd9 to Fadd9), and a G9 to G7b9 that functions as a IIm-V resolving to a Cadd9. The chord is a bit of a stretch because of the fret width at the 3rd position, but the payoff is we get to apply the identical fingering to the chord that follows it.

I hope you enjoy these voicings as much as I do. They seem to have a steel guitar color without any string bending whatsoever, and they have a Johnny Smith vibe. You can hear some of my personal application of these types of chords on “Ain't She Sweet” on my CD American Hips.

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I’ve employed this chord sequence as a musical and versatile approach to embellishing the potentially mundane sound of a one-chord vamp.

Chops: Intermediate
Theory: Intermediate
Lesson Overview:
• Understand the basic elements of playing in the style of Freddie Green.
• Learn how to play three-note major and dominant chord voicings.
• Apply these shapes to different styles such as Gypsy jazz and rockabilly.

Click here to download a printable PDF of this lesson's notation and MP3 examples.

This is my first offering in my lesson series called Orange Guitar. I thought I’d demonstrate an idea that is easy, but sounds evolved. My favorite! I’ve used these chord shapes in every musical style imaginable, and they continue to be the staple of rhythmic swing-based playing. Let’s call it the “Freddie Green Walk-Up.” I’ve employed this chord sequence as a musical and versatile approach to embellishing the potentially mundane sound of a one-chord vamp. Best of all, it’s easy and I think it sounds great.

First, let’s learn the first two starting chords shown in Fig. 1, G7 and G6. One important thing—make sure your fingers approach the chord at an angle or a slant. This will mute all the open strings without any effort or thought. If angling your hand is uncomfortable then make sure the guitar is not parallel with your body. The guitar neck should be pointing out a bit from your body. The plus side is your fretting arm has more room to move and is more relaxed. The minus might be losing some visual access to the fretboard. But give it a try, as this allows for a relaxed strumming technique you might not attain holding the back of the guitar firmly against your chest. Now that we are comfortable with G7 and G6, let’s learn the walk-up. You can start with either G6 or G7, depending on genre and mood. For a more "bluesy" feel use G7; for a more major sound, use G6.

You can see in Fig. 2 how the walk-up works over two measures of G7. We take the shape that appears on beat 2 of the first measure and move it up chromatically. Now, let’s transpose the walk-up from G6 to C6, and then D7 as shown in Fig. 3. Again, it helps to angle your fretting hand so it naturally and easily mutes all the unwanted open strings. 

Remember, you can create many tonal variations through the placement of your picking hand. Notice that when you pick in the center of the guitar (above the soundhole on a standard acoustic), you create a rounder, mellower sound than if you pick by the bridge, where the sound becomes thinner and more metallic. Repositioning your picking hand is a technique that can be used to create dynamics and drastic changes in tone.

Next, here are some approaches for the walk-up that allow for genre hopping. The first is a Django-style swing feel using G6, C6, and D7 walk-ups. The strumming hand moves from your collarbone to your belt—it’s a large strum that might feel ostentatious or unnecessary. But it is necessary. Using a big motion, you can get a strong rhythmic punch that can drive a groove like a drummer.

Incidentally, this kind of rhythm style is based in the 4-string plectrum banjo, and it’s precedent comes from jazz-guitar pioneers like Eddie Lang and Carl Kress. For an overview of this era, I recommend the album Pioneers of Jazz Guitar, which features guitar greats Eddie Lang, Carl Kress, Lonnie Johnson, and more. This wonderfully satisfying era is where amplification and recording methods allowed players to put down their banjos and play the more dynamic 6-string guitar. In my opinion, this is a “must have” CD that anyone can enjoy.

Last but not least, let’s take an extreme genre hop and use the Freddie Green walk-up in Fig. 4—which might be how the great Merle Travis might have played it. Be sure you start slow and build up to a rapid-fire machine gun of peace-loving music. Attack the 6th string with a flatpick, the 3rd string with the middle finger, then the 4th string with the pick, and finish by striking the 3rd string with the middle finger.

You can use this when playing solo guitar or as a Scotty Moore-style rockabilly pattern. Again, start slow and adhere to the specific picking pattern I’ve suggested. If you take the extra five minutes to play it correctly, you’ll play it great the rest of your life!

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