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Finger Friendly Chords

Darrin Koltow (383) · [archive]
Style: Basics · Level: Beginner · Tempo: 80
Pages: 1

This article represents the viewpoint of the author. As with anything read on the Web, it would be wise to verify all information with a reliable source, such as a music teacher or music textbook.

One of the most beautiful aspects of music is that you can get so much output from so little input: great music from a wee bit of work.

I think also that the physical aspect of making music is not as important as the mental aspect of making music. What I'm getting at here is this: the more you understand about how music works, the less physical work you have to do to make the music you want.

Let's illustrate this:

C major
C major

This first phrase shows your typical C, Dm and G7 in or near the open position.

Now, let's say you're just starting to learn to play guitar. You go to tackle the above chords, but your fingers may scream, "Stop! Stop! Too many notes! I can't make the shapes! I'm melting, melting! Let's take up the piano or basket weaving instead!"

Well, your heart is set on learning guitar. But you also want to give your fingers a break. Fortunately, you understand how music works, so you work out some easier chords to substitute for the original ones:


Your fingers are happier now, or at least not as uncomfortable. You're playing fewer notes, and still getting some terrific sounds. Some would say the second set of chords sounds even *better* than the first. Under certain circumstances, such as when you want to comp very softly, this may be true.

The point of this exercise is this: the more you feed your mind with music, the less physical work you have to do to make music. I wish that my first guitar teacher, who *was* a good teacher, spent more time teaching me how music works, and less on how the guitar works. I came extremely close to quitting playing because I couldn't yet fret the F major chord on strings 1 through 4, frets 1 through 3. My thinking went something like this: "My fingers don't have what it takes to make music. Therefore, I don't have what it takes to make music." If he had shown me that I could produce a sound related to F major from only two notes, A and F, my frustration might have been less.

Let me give you some tips on making more from less. I'll give you some simple guidelines that will let you turn those big chords that use 4, 5 and 6 strings, into 2 and 3 note chords that will be easier for you to play -- and may even sound better to you.

I like to intro the music before the guidelines, so let's look at this: the open position chords you were taught, and their "condensed," finger-friendly version. The old way is shown on the left, and the new, finger-friendly chord, or FFC, is on the right.





How did you like that G7 sub? Same sound, less trouble. Is guitar cool or what?

As for the F major, I know it isn't an open position chord, but it's an important chord. And if you are like I was, you need a way to get an F major sound to play while your fingers are still struggling with the full F major shape.

The first chord I chose to replace the full F major is an F6. Notice you're actually using *more* fingers to play it, instead of the F major.

The second replacement for the F major is called an F 6/9. It has a G and a D in it, which you don't find in your regular F major. Yet, it's an easy replacement for an F major sound.

We need to explain another finger-friendly chord (FFC) because a diagram doesn't show you how it's easier than the usual form. The A major might have been taught to you as follows:

- High E string is open.
- B string has finger 3 on fret 2.
- G string has finger 1 on fret 2.
- D string has finger 2 on fret 2.

When I first learned this, from a Mel Bay book I think, I said, "My fingers are too crowded! I'm trying to fit ten pounds of chocolate into a five pound bag!"

Then, when I got to college, someone showed me the FFC for A major:

- High E string is open.
- Bar your first or second finger across strings B, G and D, fret 2. It's okay if your finger mutes the high E string.

After I learned that, I applied it to every tune I knew. It was so much easier to *rock* with this form of the A chord. For instance, I could now do stuff like what you see in the tab attached to this article.

Don't worry if this gives you a hard time. You'll pick it up if you stick with it. I just wanted to show you that some FFC forms are not only finger-friendly, they're also blues and rock friendly.

-- Barre chord FFC --

Those are a few ideas for FFC forms for open position chords. Let's now look at barre chord FFC forms. Here are two of the most common barre chord forms converted to their FFC forms:



Please notice that you can choose to barre the fifth fret in the D7 FFC, or you could use three different fingers, one for each note.

-- The Guidelines --

Here are some of the guidelines I used in creating these finger friendly forms. Use these guidelines to come up with your own forms. Give your fingers a break, for cryin' out loud. You need 'em for other things, like making lewd shadow puppets.

First, the form ought to obviously be friendly to the fingers. In general, that means applying fewer fingers then a full chord -- but not always. Look back at one of the FFC F major shown previously. We're using all four fingers instead of three for the traditional F major chord. But, this form is more finger friendly because it doesn't require you to do the mini-barre that the regular F major requires. Doing a barre is tough enough; doing a barre on the first fret is even tougher.

The next guideline for making FFCs: keep the important notes, and toss the rest. What are the important notes? For most chords, and especially for Major Scales chords, as opposed to Melodic Minor chords, the most important notes are these: the melody note, also called the top note; the third, also called the "sweet" note; and the seventh, also known as "rama-lama-ding-dong." These are listed in order of decreasing importance. So, the melody is most important and the seventh is the least. As for the other notes in a chord, the fifth and even the root, you can view them as optional.

To illustrate this, look at the G7 chord shown previously. In converting from the non-FFC form to the FFC, we kept the melody note, which is the F on the high E string. Luckily, it also happens to be the seventh. We also kept the B, which is the third. We didn't need the D. And we didn't even need the root, G, though I put it in anyway.

Here's another guideline for making your FFCs: take out doubled notes. In other words, if you have more than one of a particular note, take out all but one of those notes. For example, in the usual C major open position form, you have the note C in two places: on the B string and on the A string. Take out the C on the A string.

A better example is the E7 chord. A non-FFC E7 might have two D notes: one on the B string, and one on the D string. Toss the B string D, and let that B ring open.

-- Caveats --

FFC forms do give your fingers a break from the regular forms, which generally require more strength and experience to play. Remember the important thing here: it's more important to understand how music works than how the guitar works. If you understand how music works, you will find a way to get the sounds you need from the guitar.

There are some situations that FFCs are appropriate for, and others that they're not appropriate for. Also, there are limitations of FFC chords. Although they're generally easier to fret -- and faster to fret -- than regular chords, they're not complete chords. They don't sound as full or as loud as regular chords. If you're playing an electric guitar, this might not matter so much. Just turn the volume on your amp up. If you're playing an acoustic, you obviously can't do that.

Also, some of the FFCs have notes that require you to skip strings. For example, there might be a note on the high E string, on the B string, and the D string, while the G string has no notes. When this happens, strumming the FFC might become difficult or impossible. Some ways around this problem are the following: learn the Claw Pick right hand technique, which you can read about on MaximumMusician.com, or you can mute or block the G string with your left hand.

I spent a lot of time, when I first started playing, figuring out how to use this second technique to block unwanted notes. In particular, I remember feeling frustrated in strumming the full, open position D major chord, without letting the low E string sneak in. When a teacher showed me the Claw Pick technique, I flew right past that problem.

Another caveat with the FFCs is this: when you eliminate notes from a chord, one of those notes might be the root occurring in the bass of the chord. For example, the open position C major FFC shown previously doesn't have the C in the bass as the regular form does. This will sound odd if you're playing solo, because most of the music you're used to hearing likely has the root of the chord in the bass. But if you're playing with a bassist, this is not a problem.

-- Projects --

If you like this idea of finger-friendly chords and want to use them more in your playing, here are some things you can do:

Commit to using them in the songs you play. You don't need to replace every chord with an FFC. Look at those full chords you're playing, and note which ones are giving you a tough time. Note the ones that are slowing you down. Put FFC chords in there.

Think of places in your melodic solos that could use a bit of harmony, instead of a single note. Rather than play a full chord in this spot, use an FFC.

Write progressions using only FFCs. Record them on tape, (or computer, or hot wax or whatever.) Then, compose a cool bass line, play back the tape, and jam to it with the bass line.

If you'd still rather play full chords, consider using FFCs when you've been practicing for 11 hours straight (which I do NOT recommend), and your fretting hand is starting to get a wee bit tired and looking like hamburger meat.

Do the reverse of FFCs. The next time you see, in tablature or standard notation, a harmony with two or three notes that don't make sense to you, look at that harmony as a finger-friendly chord. Ask, "What full chord is lying behind this?" In this way, you can use FFCs to understand music better.

This is a nifty one: use FFCs to move smoothly from one chord to another. Dig this example:


The chords marked with an (*) are FFCs. The idea is to use FFCs to move gently from one chord to another, especially when the destination chord is in another key.

There are lots of other places to use FFCs. Experiment, have fun, and give your fingers a break.
Article by Darrin Koltow dkoltow@MaximumMusician.com

Finger Friendly Chords