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  • Writer's pictureJay EuDaly

The 5th-Finger Principle

I've borrowed the idiosyncratic term, "5th-finger principle" from George Van Eps. I first ran into the concept in his method book, Harmonic Mechanisms for Guitar. What I'm talking about is more commonly called a "cross-fret barre" or a "diagonal barre."

A diagonal barre, or what Van Eps called a 5th finger, is when a single finger plays different strings on different frets. It's usually the index finger on the 6th or 5th string barred across the neck to the 1st string one fret lower. Here are 3 examples:

I'm always looking for opportunities to find 5th-finger chords. Here's one that involves a diagonal barre from the 3rd to the 1st string. As with any chord it has multiple functions; it could be a 3rd inversion Minor 7 or a 2nd inversion Major 6 among many other things, depending on what the root is. I've defined it here as a 3rd inversion Minor 7.

Here is an example of a couple of these 5th-finger chords in the context of what's commonly called a minor walk-down:

I find the 5th finger technique very useful when creating solo guitar arrangements. The 5th finger is used, where necessary, to play the melody. Check out this quick-and-dirty, off-the-cuff solo arrangement of the Jobim standard, How Insensitive, and the three 5th-finger chords I've used in it:

P.S. The 3-volume book series Harmonic Mechanisms for Guitar by George Van Eps is the most comprehensive method for applying the theory of harmony to the guitar that I know of. It's also full of technique concepts like the 5th-Finger Principle. I own all three volumes and it's not cheap or for the faint of heart. There's no tab, it's notation only. If you can read notation and have the fortitude I highly recommend it.


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