2-Note Blues Chords
Every Saturday afternoon for over 35 years I have been the house guitarist at the Saturday Afternoon Jam, which is an open jam session that has taken place in Kansas City since 1984. It’s billed as “Jazz meets Blues” but in fact it covers anything and everything, stylistically. You can read a general history of the gig here, and stories specific to it in the blog category, Jam Tales.
One of the common things I notice about many of the guitar players who sit in is that when they sit in on a Blues, the chords they play are what I call, “Whompers.”
A “Whomper” is a big ole fat, bottom-heavy bar chord, full of doubled notes with the root in the bass. Think your typical bar chords that use all six strings.
Whompers generally (there are exceptions) don’t work well in a band context. You’ve already got the bass player playing the root; you’ve already got a keyboard player playing chords. All a Whomper does is muddy up the works. At best it's a redundancy with respect to everything else that’s going on. At worst it actually clashes with what else is going on.
The concept I’m going to show you here works for any kind of music but I’m going to apply it to the 12-bar Blues form.
I’m going to assume you’re familiar with the 12-bar Blues. If not, go here (you must be a Master Guitar School site member and logged in to view).
Secondly, we’re going to be dealing with 7th chords. I’m going to give you enough information in this lesson to get by, but if you want a more exhaustive treatment consider downloading Unit 4: 7th Chords from Master Guitar School.
Here are two 7th-chord shapes; one from a 6th-string root and one from a 5-string root:
These are typical voicings that I see guys using. The 6th-string root chord is definitely a Whomper; two 5ths, two roots = too much! The 5th-string root is less of a Whomper but still has a doubled root. Remember, the bass player is playing roots, so what's the point of all those roots?
Now let's look at the 3 chords of a Blues in G using these two chord shapes:
What we're going to do is reduce these chord shapes down to 3rds and 7ths only. The 3rd and the 7th are what is called the, "essential voices." Take a look at what happens:
If you play through the 12-bar Blues form using just these 2-note chords, you should be able to "hear" the form. Again, if you don't know what I'm talking about with "12-bar Blues form" you need to back up and go here (you must be a Master Guitar School site member and logged in to view).
Playing the Blues with these 2-note 7th chords solves all the problems.
Do you ever wonder what all those chords are that the keyboard player is playing? Well, he's adding 5ths and 9ths and sometimes altering them; #5, b5, #9, b9 and all possible combinations thereof.
But you don't have to worry about all that, just play 3rds and 7ths and you'll be safe. You two won't be clashing when you play a 5th in your Whomper chord and he plays a #5 in his chord.
You'll be staying out of the keyboard players' way by using these 2-note chords and you'll be staying out of the bass player's way by not playing roots.
They will appreciate that.
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