I first heard about playing out of guitar shapes in a “Guitar Player” article about Charlie Christian. It contained a close-enough-for-me version of Charlie’s “Flying Home” solo, which I learned. Later I found some Herb Ellis books (“Swing Blues” and “Rhythm Shapes” might be the two most appealing to regulars here) that stressed playing out of simple chord shapes. But in working with Tommy’s Volume 2 modules of Jump Blues, I’m learning shapes I did not know, and also new uses for shapes that I had thought of in more limited ways before. That’s all good but I can’t help wondering how many such shapes are common for this type of music and what are they called?
Herb Ellis referred to shapes by numbers; some people use the CAGED system while others are more of the F-D-A “fretboard roadmaps” approach of Fred Sokolow. Tommy seems to come from the CAGED background (-what he calls the “E” structure I would call “F” but I know what he means, so that’s not a problem.) But when it comes to the shapes for alterations / extensions, things can get real confusing. I want to make sure I can follow what Tommy’s teaching me! ;o)
For altered chord shapes I think it’s easier to simply apply the alteration to a chord shape you already know. Take a C structured chord shape and then just find the alteration you’re looking for; flat 9, raised 5 etc., just apply the alterations to a known chord shape.
If there is an alreration that you use a lot and you’re looking to simplify it, just figure out a fingering that is moveable.
That’s a great question Mark. I feel that this is one of those subjects that the more info you have access to, the more confusing it gets. As far as I can tell it’s all CAGED because CAGED isn’t really a system. It’s just there and will never change. It can be reinterpreted and therein lies the problem.
I looked at the F-D-A roadmap and after a while could see that it’s just a shorted version of CAGED. For example the C structure lies between the D and A structure by adding 2 notes on the D and A strings. The G structure can be found between the A and F structures by adding 2 notes on the A and low E strings. The E structure can be found directly over the F structure by adding 2 notes on the A and E strings.
Ellis method is really good but even that might add a little confusion to the mix when working with CAGED because it’s a system of the most useful “shapes” with scales and arpeggios over them. This is similar to the book “Swing to Bop” where Stan Ayeroff details all the “forms” used by Charlie Christian.
The Barney Kessel method uses 4 shapes which is really just a version of CAGED. C-Bflat(bar chord)-G-F and then proceeds to get really intricate on fingering requirements to navigate soloing over the chord shapes.
The George Barnes method is almost identical to Kessels .It’ll be good to hear what Tommy’s take on this is.
As a side note: Craner mentioned the alterations and that’s where I had problems with Tommy’s lessons. Slowly getting a handle on it. Where was that root note again? Ya gotta keep it in mind to locate the right intervals you need and my mind isn’t what it used to be after years of abuse. I’ve just played folk, blues, and ragtime with limited chord knowledge. Having to think about this stuff is good for the brain.
I also think that it is important to not approach this ‘caged’ system like folks approach scales (at least for this type of music)–as in a neat packaged “system”. The CAGED system as we know it is sort of a modern method approach. Rather than trying to process this as a system (which in my opinion bogs down ones playing because you’re imposing a set of rules and thus limits to the system) I think just pulling the chord shapes from the system and using them as anchor points over the entire guitar neck and then apply/approach songs by their chord progression and melody.
If you limit your chords to only those of the CAGED system (and basic major, minor and Dom7’s), but can find all the different inversions all over the neck in any given key then you can apply these different shapes to the tunes you’re working on. It is your choice which inversions to use and whether or not to use them efficiently–meaning: take Bb at the 6th fret, the next chord in the chord progression, will you choose to find an inversion near the 6th fret to maintain a similar guitar timbre, or will you choose an inversion in another area of the neck? Then the next chord, which will you choose?
Sometimes you might like to find inversions that neatly descend, or ascend or simply stay in a 3-4 fret range for a whole song.
I also find it extremely useful to practice connecting each of the chord shapes in one key; finding the notes that link the chords together. Essentially making any given key have 5 anchor points over they entire neck of the guitar. From here a chord progression essentially becomes a ‘plug and play’ approach to the tunes you’re working on. Obviously easier said than done, but that is why music is a life’s work.
Knowing all the shapes and freely playing and connecting them will open up to you any altered tone you desire–grabbing a flat 5 or raised 9 ect. will be within reach as you have opened up the specific shape by connecting them–the in between notes so to speak.
As I approach this kind of playing, and after I have the chords of the song committed to memory, I simply see the chord at hand and how long I’m on it and essentially just counts measures or beats in my head and simply play the chords for the appropriate time. This is a major work in progress for me and I loose my place in songs all the time, but I feel that I have stripped out a lot of thinking during my playing, which was always constricting me from playing what I wanted. Now that I can move through these CAGED shapes I simply need to create ideas within them. The place for that, for me, is in connecting the chord changes. As long as I am keeping time and accurately counting the measures in my head (and know that song very, very well) I can connect the CAGED shapes through a chord progression. And that doesn’t mean I can do it musically or with any significant interests, but it’s a start.
Trying to think augmented does get confusing, but less so if you treat it as a ‘targeted color tone’ built from one of the CAGED chord shapes–then it’s no different than trying to find your dom7, or tonic, or major 3rd. Knowing how and when to apply them is then what you’re thinking about, which is no different than knowing how and when to apply any color tone.
Paul Pigat said in his clinic with Tommy that you can approach augment tones as just creating more tension for your resolve. The further you stretch an idea or more augmented you make the tones the more you create a need for resolve–more pull towards that resolve. It can get ambiguous, but if you just treat the augmented colors like any other color that wants to force a resolve, then you can strip out some of the thinking that goes into playing these types of things.
Hey Mark, Last night I started delving into the Herb Ellis Swing Blues book which I’ve had laying around for a couple of months (after you reminded me of it with your post) and revisited a thread I’d Briefly seen a while back on the Jazz Guitar online forum. Discovered you’re the moderator for that. Just wanted to say, good job on that. Makes me want to start digging in.
Hey guys sorry I’m late to the game on this one. I for sure want to look at the Herb Ellis book. So here is a little insight on how I see the chord structures. I adhere to Barnes’s methods. Here is how things can get confusing but this is just how I do things. I use the chord shapes as modes. If I drop an e shape a step I get 9nth chord with an 11th. If I play a major shape up a minor 3rd it becomes a minor chord from where I started. If it’s a C structure and play it minor it is the same as a I 7. I have Craner coming over today for a lesson. I’ll post a small unlisted video with him today for you guys to see. Some of this will hopefully clear some stuff up. Whats cool is every player we study has their patterns in the structures they like to use. Tal Farlow Oscar Moore, Tiny Grimes, Barnes, etc this is part of what makes them sound unique and what makes it so much fun to study.
Great responses, guys! Yes, Mikemc, that’s me at Jazz Guitar Online. I play something of Herb’s every day. I like his approach. At the same time, there are other things that I want to do that require a different approach, so I’m always foraging for something new (or old-but-unlearned, like something from the Mickey Baker book I never got down.) I’ve never read Kessel’s or Barnes’ books, so I don’t know anything about their teaching approaches. I’ll see what the library has to offer….
Tommy, I’m not sure I follow you. Let’s take this slow. You wrote, “If I drop an e shape a step I get 9nth chord with an 11th.”
Let’s say an “E” shape at the sixth fret would be a Bb (major) chord, right? (Bb, D, F) The 9th of Bb would be C and the 11th would be Eb. So when you say “step” you mean whole step, as in two frets, right? That would be Ab: Ab, C, Eb.
Now, are you saying you would be play an Ab triad to get a Bb9 sound? Or that you would use that shape at that position (the fourth instead of the sixth position, in this case) and play the same sorts of licks as you’d play over Bb major and a Bb9 sound will result because you’ll be hitting the 9th and 11th rather than the 3rd and the 5th? I can see what I’ll be practicing in the morning… ;o)
E structure Whole step back has an 11, 7, 9.
Now about the Kessel approach mentioned above. Is that from his 1973 book “The Guitar”? I should be able to get that via inter-library loan.
How you can think of that E structured chord moved a whole step back is that it can function as a dominant chord–9th in this case. And that came straight from Tommy. It’s not a Ab subbing for Bb, it’s just a 9th (dominant) voicing of Bb.
Check this out:
Thanks, Craner! That’s quite a find. Have to bookmark this and set aside time to work through it. (By the way, I was at the library earlier and placed an inter-library loan order for the 4th edition–1973–of Barney’s “The Guitar.”
Hey Mark, I got the Kessel and Barnes methods from Tommy. Not too sure where he got them. I’m pretty sure they’re excerpts of the full method because they’re short. The Barnes estate sells his method. Expensive though. http://georgebarneslegacy.com/george-barnes-the-methods/
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