Have you ever wondered why experienced electric guitarists often seem to be simply moving one simple shape around the neck? This post will give you a little insight into how to play any chord with one shape.
I thought it might be interesting to throw a few ideas down about what I call “The Magic Half Bar”.
The Musical Alphabet
The half bar I’m talking about is a barre of the top four strings at any fret on the fretboard. The secret to making it work is only to play the strings that are appropriate. We’ll talk about that more in a minute. But the key to getting value out of this article and video is to understand how the musical alphabet works. When we fret the top 4 strings in a half barre, we are making an A chord shape on strings 4, 3 and 2. And that shape will make a different chord at each fret.
How to Play Any Chord with One Shape: A Major Chord At Any Fret
Let’s use as an example The Stones’ Jumping Jack Flash which has a lot of major chords. I’m not claiming that this is exactly how they’re playing this track, but this is a good example of how this barre can be helpful to you. The beginning of Jumping Jack Flash vamps between A and G. Being very careful to pick down from the fourth string, catch the third as well, and maybe a bit of a second. Don’t get the fifth or sixth and don’t get the first.
By playing the magic half barre at the 2nd fret I have my A chord. And by taking the finger off and playing open strings, I have the G chord.
The next chord in the song is a C chord and we can get that at the 5th fret. Then to G which we get on the open strings, and D which we get at the 7th fret.
You get the idea? We play that whole song just out of this one shape as long as we’re playing only strings four three and two.
How to Play Any Chord with One Shape: A Minor (7th) Chord At Any Fret
If we want any minor chord, we can use the same shape if we play all four strings (4, 3, 2 and 1). Technically, we’re actually getting a minor seven chord, but minor sevenths are interchangeable enough with minor chords that you can effectively substitute any minor chord for any minor 7 chord and you’ll get a sound that’s just a touch more jazzy.
The half barre at the 2nd fret gives you F sharp minor 7 (F#m7). And then every fret gives you a different minor chord (following the musical alphabet) just like the major chord shape.
The Doors’ Light My Fire starts off by vamping between Am and F#m. Try the magic half barre at the 5th fret (Am7) and alternate it with the same thing at the 2nd fret (F#m7). Halfway through that song the chords move between Am and Bm (for the solo) at double speed. Do exactly the same thing but move between the 5th fret and the 7th fret.
Mixing Major and Minor
Of course you can mix and match these chords too. Let’s think of a song that goes from Am to D. We can get Am (well, Am7, of course), with the half barre at the fifth fret and we can get D major at the 7th fret provided we don’t play the first string. Adding in the G chord on the open strings 4, 3 and 2 will give us the first part of the Airplane’s Somebody To Love. Try the chorus of that song using just the magic half barre. C to G to Am(7).
Watch the video to see more!
What do you think? Let me know below.