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Noodling with harmony

The guitar seems to have a tonal centre around G major meaning the further you go to the dominant and sub-dominant sides from there, the tougher it becomes to play. (I’m talking acoustic fingerstyle guitar as distinct from, say Jazz, particularly played on electric.) There is a jump in difficulty when you reach B major and B flat, respectively, which leaves a lot of major and minor keys out of bounds, so to speak. I feel cheated.

It all comes down to being brought up in the “folk tradition” and becoming restricted to chords that rely on open strings for sonority.

So, by way of looking for a solution I’ve been working hard with chord voicings and keys ““ particularly “non-guitar” keys ““ and finding interesting ways to wander between tonalities. It really is a rich area for exploration and I’m surprised at the twists and turns that happen as I noodle using the devices that I’ve learned.

I must say, though, that the sounds I come up with are quite far from what I would normally expect of myself when just picking around on the guitar ““ but that’s partly the point of doing this in the first place. On the other hand, I’m not yet sure how I’m going to incorporate all this seamlessly into my writing. In other words, to get these voicings and voice leading ideas under my fingers so I can think about sounds rather than think about fingers. I suspect it might be a matter of repetition until it all comes naturally…

2 thoughts on “Noodling with harmony

  1. Yup, yup, yup, all very true, but there’s a couple more fairly easy ways to get new sounds, first, the old tried and true capo, or half or two thirds capo, which is always fun. Or just going for the alternate tunings – if you don’t like what guitar history has given you as far as inherent tonality, screw it and try your own way, eh? Or if you’re feeling absolutely nuts, you can get some really cool effects with a high partial capo, dropped tuning on the bottom for the drone strings, and singing in the middle – one of my personal new favorite things to do, every since I saw some guy out busking with it on the street the other day.


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  2. Well, Nathan, I only use a capo (these days) to find the best key to sing my damn’ song in, heh, heh! Or if I’m doing a guitar piece by someone else who uses a capo on it. I’ve never tried these new fangled partial capos – no reason – just never occurred. Maybe I should experiment.

    My interest in all these chord voicings and keys is partly through curiosity about where it could all lead – I’ve always had a fascination with harmony. More so than melody, to be honest, although I’m only too aware that sometimes there’s nothing better than a simple tune unsullied by stodgy harmonies.

    It’s not so much that I don’t like what guitar history has given me as far as “inherent tonality”, but I do “hear” where some of my songs want to go, but it’s like a strange country when I enter some keys. I mean, If I’ve got something based in D major and I can hear it going to (say) Eb minor for a spell, then I have to stop and think about chords and fingerings. This is tad frustrating and after a long time fudging the issue, I’ve decided to make a project of making myself “more at home” in these keys. It’s all about increasing my harmonic vocabulary, so to speak.

    Thank for your interest and contibutions, Nathan, keep in touch!

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