More Barre Shapes and More!

This week we're going to expand on the concepts we've been using throughout the whole course and apply them to new shapes!

Download the summary of Lesson Six right HERE!

In this lesson we will be looking at some other concepts that we can use now that we’ve learned how barre chords function.

It might seem like a we are touching on a lot of ideas in this last lesson, but think of it more as a glimpse into what’s possible now that our understand the concepts and ideas behind barre chords.

We’re going to look at three things today:

1.) Using a different open chord, the C major chord, as a movable barre shape.
2.) Finding unique combinations of chord tones within the two main barre chord shapes.
3.) Playing with just the tops of the barre chords on the high E, G, and B strings and making what’s called triads and triad inversions.

USING C MAJOR AS A BARRE CHORD


Just like we did with the open E (Em) and A (Am) chords, we’re going to take the open C shape and find out what happens when we use it like a barre chord.

If we take an open C major chord, we notice that the root note is on the A string. It’s on fret three, the note C. The open strings in this shape are the G and high E strings, these are the strings we’ll be barring when we move this shape up the fretboard.

Let’s try and play a D major chord using the open C shape. First, move your index, middle, and ring fingers up a whole step - two frets.

Now, we can’t use our first three fingers to play these notes because we need our first finger to barre, so place your second, third, and fourth fingers where the first three were. Once you have that, which might take a little time (we’re using the pinky finger in a tough spot) place your first finger with a short barre on the second fret of the G and E strings.

Now this is a D major chord, but using the open C chord shape! And, we can move this shape to different locations on the A string just like the other barre chords we’ve learned in this course. Move the shape another fret higher, our root note is now an Eb so we’re playing an Eb major chord.

To make this chord shape into a minor chord is tricky because it has something unique in it that the other two shapes don’t have. This chord shape, this interval structure, includes two major 3rds. The first one is on the D string and the second one is all the way on the high E string.

So we have a problem now. If we want to transform this chord into a minor chord we need to move both 3rds down one fret - not just one or the other. The problem is that we would no longer be able to barre this shape. Let’s just look at what it would look like:

That Dm chord is impossible to play with just one hand! Barring it is out of the question because there literally is nothing to barre.

So what do we do?

The answer: split up the chord.

We can’t play all of it, so we have to decide what is more important. We can play the bottom four notes or the top four notes easily. The choice then is up to you!

The first option, which retains the root note, would look like the better option but it’s actually a weird shape to make. I recommend trying it out, only so you can see the process of transforming from the major to the minor chord, but you’ll see how awkward it feels. The second option is a much easier shape to make, but it doesn’t present the root note as the bass note. It can be confusing at first to play a chord where the root note isn’t in the bass. To make it quickly, just imagine where the root note is and then play the rest of the shape (which will not include it).

This idea of playing only a part of the larger chord shape is what the next section is all about!

PULLING APART BARRE CHORDS


Remember last week (and the week before) when we were discussing the intervals of a chord - and mentioning how, in the big barre chord shapes, there were a lot of intervals that were doubled?

Well, we can actually use this to our advantage and make some interesting chord shapes simply by subtracting some of the redundant notes!

Let’s look at a G major barre chord… arpeggiated… so we can see all the intervals:

Again, we only have three unique intervals here in this major barre chord: 1, M3, and P5. Let’s find all the combinations of only those three intervals. Each one will make a G major chord.

Because we have only three unique intervals in the sound of the chord, any combination of these pitches will create that chord quality. Here we have FIVE different ways of playing a G chord, and each sounds unique. Remember back in lesson one when I hammered away at the idea of interval structure? Well here it is! Each one of these creates a different way of hearing a G Major. Each way can be viewed from the larger picture of the G Major barre chord. By pulling it apart we can see how many options we have and how many different sounds we can make.

Let’s work through the same idea with the minor barre chord:

Do you see the same principle working? The only difference now is the minor 3rd on the G string.
Let’s now go to the A string and play a C Major barre chords in the same way…

You might notice a shape that we’ve never used before hanging out in the third spot. I wanted to include that shape as another option for you since we don’t have as many as we do with the E string shapes.

Let’s take it to minor now!

Just as before, the Major 3rd moves down one half step and now we have the minor 3rd… All the other notes stay put. And now, all of a sudden, we have a LOT more chords available to use!

TRIADS and INVERSIONS


The last thing I want to play around with is the idea of using just the top three strings. Just the high E, B, and G strings!

Now that we’ve used the “C” barre chord shape too, this will be a lot easier to show. Let’s take that D Major chord from earlier and look at it in context with the other barre shapes.

If we isolate the top three strings from each shape we get this:

Each one of these shapes is a D major chord, the notes however are inverted as we climb up the neck, that’s why we call them chord inversions. They’re the same pitches and the same intervals just arranged differently as we go up the fretboard!

What’s important though, is that when you play these shapes, keep in mind the bigger picture. Even though you are playing only three notes, they are attached to a bigger chord structure. Imagine it like an ice burgh. You got to be able to imagine the underlying structure of the barre chords but only play the top portion of it. It’ll take some time to get to that point, but keep working at it and it’ll come.

Let’s check out what happens when we turn these chords minor:

Do you see what happened? The highlighted note was the pitch that moved one fret down to become a minor 3rd. Can you see how these chords are linked to their larger barred shapes? Let’s look:

 

Cool huh? So if you know the big shapes, you got the triads and the inversions!

PRACTICE


Well, we’ve covered a lot today. There are so many other concepts that we can go into, but it’s very easy to get overwhelmed with so many ideas stacked on top of each other. So this last lesson was a taste of that. I recommend meaning some exercises for yourself, work through the IDEAS and see what you can come up with. Good luck!