Chord variations

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Chord variations

Postby BlobWeird » Tue Oct 03, 2006 6:21 pm

Ive been wonderin for sometime how to come up with other chords to use for rhythm along with the essential progression. Such as in "Not Fade Away" Weir will play Up at the 15 fret he will play a G down to F# to E. How do you come up with the right chords to use for spicin up a solid progression. Like there are some tunes like Bertha for example where they stay on the same chord for a while like the C chord in Bertha during verses. I dont wanna just sit there playin that. I wanna spice it up. Is there any theory behind how to add variations or any tips? Thanks in advance guys.
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Postby strumminsix » Tue Oct 03, 2006 6:43 pm

There are 4 things I consider when deciding where to play chord:

1 - where can I get to with the time alloted?
2 - what tonal qualities am I looking for?
3 - relation to previous and subsequent chord
4 - the voicing of the chord

#4 might be tough but let me explain.

If you barre your chords like E and A all the way down (G & C off the third, A & D off the 5th, etc) you get the same sound of the chord: 1,5,1,3,5,1 & 1,5,1,3,5

But if you play it like a G or C and barre it all the way down you get: 1,3,5,1,3/5,1 & 1,3,5,1,5

Or you play the triad 1,3,5

Or if it's blues just play the 3 and 7

Things like that require some work up front but become second nature.
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Postby HawaiianDedhed » Tue Oct 03, 2006 8:01 pm

2 real simple examples would be the sus4 and add9 chords.

sus4 - just add a fourth.

example - you're playing an open A maj. chord (or any major chord using that A form up the fretboard). Keep the chord but add the D note (3rd fret, 2nd or B string. Asus4

add9 - oddly enough, you add the 9th, which is the same as a 2nd.

example - you're playing an open E maj chord (or any major chord using that E form up the fretboard). Keep the chord but add an F# note (2nd fret, first or high E string). E add9.

Mess around a little and you'll see the sus4 and add9 chords are real easy ways to alter major chords.
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Postby BlobWeird » Wed Oct 04, 2006 4:33 am

I appreciate the help but thats not quite what im talkin about. Strummin kinda said it with number 3 i think it was. Using chords according to subsequent chord. And also deciding what to use with the time alotted. Like for example Morning Dew toward the end Jerry starts rippin it up with chords. But he doesnt just stick to the simple progression he throws chords in between so he's like walkin up and down with chords. get it? can someone tell me how to go about this?
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Postby Crazy 9.5 Fingers » Wed Oct 04, 2006 6:34 am

I am definitely of fan of Jerry's mandolin action strumming in the ending of Dew and others such a NFA. A lot of Jerry's lead chord playing like that comes from the top three strings. What I suggest is a combination of two things.

1. Learn every major, minor, and Dominant 7th chord on the top three strings. Triads. A drill I used to do was start out with D. Play D at the open position down at the second fret with the major 3rd (F#) on the first string. Then play D up at the 5th fret with the 5th (A) on the first string. Then play it up at the 10th fret with the root D on the first string. Do the same for D minor, each time playing the next inversion up the fretboard and seeing what chord tones are on each string. When you do it for the Dominant 7th chords, omit the 5th and play Root, 3rd, and b7. After you are done with D, move on to E and so on. What you will find is that having a great vocab in triads on the first three strings will make both lead lines and chord leads happen all over the place. Also, when playing in a band with two guitar players and a keyboard player, music just sounds much better when the guitar players are both not playing Barre chords all the time. Too muddy.

2. Getting a grip on your theory is essential. Most can play the C major scale. However, most can not harmonize this scale with chords. Jerry and Bobby and all the keys players in the Dead were masters with this and is a major reason why their songs have such a strong sense of melody all over the place. There is a lot of theory here involved, too much to write here, but here is the scale in a nutshell.

C Major scale harmonized in chords

C maj, D min, E min, F maj, G 7, Am, Bdim

Now take your NFA jam which is tricky for sometimes the jam is in E major pentatonic and sometimes it has a real E mixolydian feel. The difference being the flat 7. Let's say we are playing it in E mixolydian. Plug in the E 7 for the V chord and you can see why Bobby slides a D chord up to E and not a D minor. This song is maybe not the best example for the moods change so much in the jam, which can change the chords of the scales, but I hope this helps. If in fact this just made things more confusing, my bad. My advice is to lay down a groove in A mixolydian, like Dark Star. Then plug in the formula above and play around with some of the chords and you will get a feel for adding chordal harmony.
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Postby wisedyes » Wed Oct 04, 2006 6:56 am

Well, in order to do something along the lines of Jerry's "fans" during the Dews, the things to consider are voice leading and target chords. Basically, where are you starting, where do you want to go, and what notes are in betweeen to make it sound smooth? This technique is used all the time in jazz, it's called voice leading, there are numerous books out on it, if you want to pick one up.

You could go chromatically ( step-wise ), say going from D-D#-E-F-F#-G, etc. Another way is to use the differnet inversions of the chord you are playing up and down the neck. Or you could use the scalar harmonization of the key you are in ( I Major-ii minor-iii minor -IV major- V7, etc. ). A ttechnique I like to use is modal chords; using chord shapes made up out of the modal tones of the key you are in. For instance, in Morning Dew, the fan part is over F Major, C major, and E minor, as I play it ( G and E minor casn be subbed for each other; I like the sound of the E minor better ). Take notes that are found in F Ionian, C Lydian, and E Aeolian and make chords out of them. Find common tones in the shapes you come up with them and set up little passing progressions between them.
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Re: Chord variations

Postby erubenst » Fri Sep 30, 2011 11:39 pm


I've been struggling with exactly those questions- especially when it comes to the long jams where Bob breaks out of the basic verse chords. I sat down and recorded a bunch of videos (5) that cover some theory and attempt to explain some of Bob's thinking about chord construction- voicings, inversions, use of modal theory, etc. the first one is at:

feedback welcome.

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Re: Chord variations

Postby hippieguy1954 » Sat Oct 01, 2011 5:04 am

You guys are all adding enormous contributions that will help many understand the chording and ultimatly play better, but you have to remember this is an Art. You have to have a sence of Art when playing...the feeling deep in your heart and soul. What you want to express. You have to really feel it. Technique has to be coupled with theory and intertwined with your deepest emotions. It's not all theory.
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