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Think String Sets

We're all confronted with a daunting task when we take up a musical instrument, especially instruments that you can play chords on, especially the guitar. Keyboards have but one position for any given chord voicing. There are several octaves, but it's just the same fingering up or down. The guitar, on the other hand, is a maze of repeating notes, repetitive patterns, non-repetitive patterns. It has an almost, but not quite, consistent tuning. To a beginner, it makes no sense at all.

All my playing life I have sought to simplify things, to try to zero in on the lowest common denominator, to eliminate as many details in my thinking as I could, so I could concentrate on the art of it all, not the technique, not the intellect. A big breakthrough for me came when I started to think string sets.

"You will find that when you start breaking down the familiar and seeing the chords there in string set form, you'll get a whole new slant on things."
I think it was when I discovered the gem of information that I was blissfully unaware for years: that chords consisted of three notes -- simple chords I'm talking about here -- not six as I had been led to believe by the design of the guitar. Six strings, six notes. It seemed logical. One Three Five. I began poking around the fretboard with this in mind and found, to my delight, that this was a great 'eliminator' of unwanted information. I started to think in threes. Strings 123, strings 234, strings 345 and finally, strings 456. I started to break my barre chords (I prefer the pretentious spelling "barre" for some reason) into string sets and I experimented with melodic lines through my pared down chords.

You will find that when you start breaking down the familiar and seeing the chords there in string set form, you'll get a whole new slant on things. You'll start to know which are which. Some are triads, authentic little chords in other words, of different inversions (order of notes), some are not real chords, but rather double stops with an octave repetition, commonly known, I believe, as power chords.

It will help you also to start seeing the similarity between certain chords. For example a D major 7 on on the treble string set is exactly the same as an F# minor on that string set. And of course that relationship applies to all twelve floors of the music building. Put another way: I-Major7 is to II. Another example: D on the second string set (234) is exactly the same as a Bm7 (without it's usual B bass note). That is the I to VIm7 relationship. Root chord to relative minor. See why it's called the relative minor? Those same relationships and matching of positions exist on all string sets, of course. You can spend long hours finding them all and matching them up.

Which, of course, you must do if you really want to know how to play. Simply learning licks and songs and solos note for note, without a clue about the why and wherefore, or learning the pentatonic scale and applying it to everything and anything that comes up, will get you nowhere fast. It's much, much better to know. It's not all that much to learn, especially when you realize that all keys are identical. All you've got to do is learn the layout of one and you've learned them all. Transposing mentally is never easy, but it's amazing how quickly it comes together IF YOU PLAY REGULARLY. It doesn't have to be hours and hours a day, just so long as it's something, even a fiddle -- everyday.

Til next time...

Kirk Lorange writes a weekly column for GuitarSite and is the author of the instructional book, PlaneTalk