Harmony - Reaching For The Unreachable

Published August 16th, 2003. © Chris Juergensen/chrisjuergensen.com. All Rights Reserved.

This lesson has been revised and published in THE INFINITE GUITAR. Info >>>

Reaching For The Unreachable - I have really small hands but I never knew it. I found out when I started teaching. It always goes like this; "Okay guys, play this chord". Students say; "We can't, our hands are too small." I say; "Hold your hand up to mine and let's compare 'em." When we compare our hands, without a doubt, mine is the smaller of the two. How come I can get my hands to stretch for those extra notes? I did it a little at a time. I'll show you how I taught myself to do it. Some rules to remember:
1. Relax. Your hands have to be at ease to pull these chords off.
2. If you are having a tough time with the stretches, move up higher on the neck where the frets are closer together. Move down gradually.
3. Work on these exercises a little every day and gradually the voicings will become natural. Give yourself some time.
4. Never forget, your hands are most likely bigger than mine so if I can play them, so can you. Good things come to those who wait.
Starting with the add9 chords - First, play the standard G chord below. Play the notes separately and make sure all the individual notes are clear and ring out. When you are ready, go to the next voicing. The only thing you have to do is move your pinky up two frets. Do the same thing; play each note separately and make sure they all ring out. Try to arpeggiate the notes. Go back and forth between both chords. When you get comfortable with the Gadd9 chord, try moving it up and down the neck. Listen carefully to the add9 chord, it's amazing what the addition of just one note can do.
Voicing: 1,5,1,3,5,1
Voicing: 1,5,9,3,5,1

Same thing, only minor. The pinky goes up two frets. Your 2nd finger gets a break but your index finger has to take up the slack.
Voicing: 1,5,1,b3,5,1
Voicing: 1,5,9,b3,5,1

Now for the 5th string version.
Voicing: 1,5,1,3,5 Voicing: 1,5,9,3,5

For this one I took the previous major add9 shape moved it down a fret and opened up the first and sixth string. What we get is a beautiful Emaj13 chord with a 9th added in for good measure. You can do a lot with one shape if you have an open mind, curiosity and understand theory a little.
Voicing: 1,5,9,13,7,1

The first chord is the same simple major chord as before but it blossoms into an elegant Cadd9#11 chord.
Voicing: 1,5,1,3,5 Voicing: 1,5,9,#11,5

Once again, the minor version of the add9 chord from the 5th string.
Voicing: 1,5,1,b3,5 Voicing: 1,5,9,b3,5

The first chord is a slash chord. The name simply means that a A triad is to be played over an B bass note. This chord is also sometimes called an B9sus. For the second chord, the notes on the sixth, fourth and third strings all move up a whole step while the note on the 2nd string stays the same. The minor 2nd interval between the third and second string give this min9 voicing a warm texture.
Voicing: 1,b7,9,4 Voicing: 1,b7,9,b3

The goal with this exercise is to get the second chord, the Cmin11 under your fingers. I have to be honest, this chord will take a little work. Be patient, it's worth it. This voicing sounds more like what a pianist would play. Start off by playing the two chords without the roots first. When you get comfortable with it, add in the roots. Because of all the wide intervals, this min11 voicing is very open sounding.
Voicing: 1,5,b7,b3,b7 Voicing: 1,9,b3,b7,11

Now we are getting into uncharted territory. While the first chord is pretty much playable with a little work, the next chord, the min add9 voicing, is a real chore. Remember, relax. Just move your first finger down a fret for the second chord. The minor 2nd between the second and first strings in the Emin add9 chord make this voicing super dark sounding.
Voicing: 1,5,1,9,3 Voicing: 1,5,1,9,b3

This one is about as rough as they get. Arpeggiate the notes in this chord for a harp like sound.
Voicing: 1,5,9,1,3,6

You will have to be patient when it comes to these voicings. It will take months or years to not just be able to play them but to get them into your playing. Anything worth learning will take time.

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