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Bob Elliott
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Bob Elliott

3/17/2008 3:30:04 PM

Three Strings and a Key
I've been doing some experimenting around on the guitar with only three strings at a time. Often it's the highest three, but it could be any three, the principles are the same.

You get a chord out of any three notes, of course, and while some don't sound like good chords, almost all of the combos DO sound like legit usable chords. Many are standard majors or minors, but others imply chords that would require more than three notes, but you can easily extend them if you get curious.

Many things stretch over four frets, but most over two or three.

Anyway, it doesn't take long before you have seen and heard most all the possibilities to the available shapes, but they kind of cover most of the possibilities for chords in general (by extension).

Then I play this game from an idea I get from "The Moonlight Sonata," and from several Beatles' songs when I play the chords out slowly and try to form them all in the same area moving my hand as little as possible (inversions and such). What seems a clear principle from these classics, and also when I do the same thing with some of the (what ya call)The Great American Song Book (1920-to like late 40's stuff)is you'll usually see a tendency when moving from one chord to the next to retain one or two notes from the previous chord. I was once talking about it being like a spider walking along. A couple of legs move on to new places, but a couple stay behind.

Or a couple notes move on, but at least one stays where it was in the old chord. And they move from chord to chord this way, and it tends to make the transitions feel so natural, so fitting.

It seems to me the reason why so many classics do this is it is just a basic principle of what feels right in music. The chords morph naturally one into the other.

So it's easy to try with just those three notes at a time. Real easy, and it leads you into chord progressions that you often would not have thought of, but they feel very right. But they're not the ones you always fall into.

You can then change those three string chords into fuller versions if you like, but anyway, there you are with something new that has a natural flow from chord to chord.

Of course, I break the rule if something occurs to me, but you get into some real interesting territory.

Here's an example you could check if you're curious. It's something I'm fooling with, and I'll try to figure how to say the notes in an efficient way. Let's see.

If we call the high e 1st string, b is second, g is third, right?

Okay, I'll give the fret number for those strings in that order. Like 5,7,7 would mean e string on five, b on 7 and g on 7. I'll put a dash between chords.

So here's something: 5,7,7- 5,5,5- 5,6,5- 5,6,7
5,5,6- 4,5,6 Well, after that I'm trying different things, mostly something that jumps out of the rule up to 7,7,7. Whatever. I also am kind of keeping a little melody wagging around on top of this here. But a couple of things turn out real interesting to me. First interesting thing is the third chord. It's not exactly what I'd expect, but it feels totally acceptable and fluent, I mean you only change one note from chord two. I think it changes key at that point, but what really is fascinating is when you get around to chord five (A-Major), it feels like you have returned to the beginning (at least with the melody I have), and yet the beginning was a D-major.

These transitions remind me so much of stuff I've done while working slowly through some classical stuff. It just seems like a way of viewing musical structure. It's probably a well-known over-understood principle of music I'm fooling with, but I tend to relearn them all for myself on my own, and they are powerful revelations to me.

It's a key that opens a lot of doors over here.

Maybe later I'll do a little simple recording of this thing and post it for fun. I guess I'm making up a lot of little musical exercises to check out principles I'm trying to soak in, but they all

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Hugh Hamilton

3/17/2008 3:51:39 PM

Sounds fun. I get it. It immediately brings to mind that lovely intro to "I've Just Seen a Face"...if I'd had enough sleep last night I'd actually try your exercise...maybe tomorrow...rock on...

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Steve Ison

3/17/2008 3:57:16 PM

That sounds really interesting Bob..I love letting my fingers do the walking like that looking for new musical ideas..
John Lennon used to write alot like that i think,moving one note at a time down within a chord..
He used to say creating a song was like putting bits together-its the only way i can work..

A big thing for me the last few years working on songwriting has been trying to develop a strong chromatic sensibility..
I used to deconstruct alot of Beatles melodies(for instance) and they'd often cover about 6 or 7 notes in a row (A-A#-B-C-C#-D say) if you took all the notes used in the songs vocal line..
I love mixing up majors n minors..Like say if you use an A minor and a D in a verse,then if you use an A and a D minor in the chorus (say) and make it sound natural its instantly got a really interesting effect...

Mood changes within verses or chorus are fantastic too...Lennon was an expert at that..Look at Strawberry Fields how it goes all moody n sinister on ''cos i'm going to Strawberry Fields...nothing is real' then suddenly becomes really happy on 'nothing to get hung about'...

Or the same type of thing on Julia...

Julia, Julia, oceanchild, calls me (moody)..then suddenly
So I sing a song of love, Julia (happy)


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Hugh Hamilton

3/17/2008 4:31:24 PM

The only thing better than this kind of thread is...well, I can think of a couple of things, actually - BUT, sitting around with guitars, chatting, demonstrating, riffing, and then (probably) having a song is high up on the list...


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Hugh Hamilton

3/17/2008 4:36:46 PM

PS I must clarify, because now I'm getting excited...the 'seen a face' intro has that four-string inversion on the F#m, then into the three-string thing which is soooo SIMPLE yet sooooo BEAUTIFUL.

One of my favorite bits of "musical magic" is when there are the least notes or parts and the most FAB sounds. That's why I love some of the early rock-n-roll - 3- or 4-piece bands whose parts were crafted so precisely they fit together and morph into something MAGIC...less is more...yes, yes, yes, I like your idea, Bob. And if you two keep talking I'm going to be seriously sleep deprived. I was up until 3am last night, singlehandedly clearing out our living room in preparation of some filthy, noisy renovations which have begun and which will have me living like a vagabond while they continue...must...sleep...but all I can think about is...m.u.s.i.c...

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Hugh Hamilton

3/17/2008 4:37:40 PM

Ya know, it's why I love some Bach too. It ain't just rock-n-roll. It's friggin' pure musical genius.


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Bob Elliott

3/17/2008 6:03:29 PM

Steve says, "I love mixing up majors n minors..Like say if you use an A minor and a D in a verse,then if you use an A and a D minor in the chorus"

Well, that's an easy thing to try out. I'll try that.

I have been thinking a lot about how the mood can change on a dime due to the major and minor switch ups, and I like the fast changes like the songs your referring to. Not just sad verse happy chorus, but within a single line almost. Julia is a great example of all these things, even the slow change of one chord into another.

Yes, Hugh, Bach is probably the place that hit me over the head with it. I don't read music faster than a couple bars per hour, but at one time a few years back I learned the Moonlight Sonata, also two pieces by Joplin (Entertainer and Solace) but also I was doing that first prelude by Bach, the one in C major. That tune is like pretty much just a lesson in the thing I'm talking about. It's designed to just guide over the slow morphing of chords into each other and the moods they invoke.

But there are many turn around places where you can get off the track your pattern seems forced to go on but they sound as natural, and the Bach piece shows that over and over.

I think the third chord in the little pattern I posted is a turn around like that. I think a more ordinary third chord for me there would have been 3,5,4- but that bored me, and what I like about working these three strings is somehow I see options better. It makes me think a bit more like I do on the piano. Pianos always help me find the non-obvious option.

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3/17/2008 6:45:22 PM

I like to use the old 2-5-1 jazz turnaround in at least part of a tune, as it is probably the most familiar, and comfortable chord progression to the western ear, especially, since the advent of jazz. Then to muck things up, I'll flat a 5, or raise a 9 in a maj 7 chord, or a min 7 , then resolve to a dominant 7 to lead to a new key.. yeah whatever... I digress again. I think Bob hit the nail on the head with the whole experiment thing, I mean there are millions of chords, and if you make one up, and are too lazy (like me) to try to "name" it, I just use the google chord thingamajig, and it'll give you two or three chord inversion names for sharing purposes, ya gotta love the technology today.. ah.. but i digress again sorry.

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Bob Elliott

3/17/2008 6:47:59 PM

So here's a very informal run through of that little pattern. I make mistakes, but it's just for talking. The singer is my four year old, but don't mind him, he just goes around all day alternating between "I'm Gonna Give You 'til the Morning Comes" (he says it's a bad guy song), and "Ironman."

After the sixth chord I break the rules, but it's what I'm toying with. Then it goes back to the pattern.

Doesn't chord 5 feel like the beginning again? Yet it's a different place.

I already know this is stupid. Here's the link


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Bob Elliott

3/17/2008 6:54:34 PM

I don't know what 2-5-1 means.

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Bob Elliott

3/18/2008 9:50:18 AM

Too funny. I put up that little snippet with mistakes and all, and someone put it on a radio station.

Of course, my four year old makes it worth hearing because he's pretty hilarious. But he's just on it because I was alone with him when I wanted to make the example, and he's a ham.

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Hugh Hamilton

3/18/2008 10:39:41 AM

Bob - I heard the new "song" before seeing your latest entry here, and I thought I was probably hearing the manifestation of this blog...very nice, and the presence of your child's vocals is utterly charming...there was a time when I would have disdained casual recordings, but this site has taught me much about the value of such seemingly casual efforts - keep it up, it's a lovely little bit of recording and worth saving...you'd be surprised how much I enjoyed listening.

Congrats on your kayak nomination!

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Bob Elliott

3/18/2008 11:02:07 AM

What nomination????

Yeah, it's just a little recording to talk over with you guys about what we're talking about here. That's the pattern I wrote out, except it's a step down since that's how I tune.

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The Man With No Band

3/18/2008 11:03:02 AM

Bob ... That someone was me ..... that happens to be the kind of thing that is music to my ears .....
You can work on any song you want for however long you like and it probably won't hold a candle to this one for me....

I like simple .... I like real .... I like the sound of a child .... Now this is what is music is all about ....


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Bob Elliott

3/18/2008 11:21:31 AM

Wow, Sam,

I guess I'll have to leave it up then. He cracks me up.

It's the last song on my page called "Chord Morphing." It was only meant as an illustration of a pattern, but my little boy took it to another level somehow, even though dad seems to be barely able to even get through the simple pattern.

The trippiest thing for me is the way chord 5 feels like you went back to the beginning, when the beginning was Dmaj and chord 5 is Amaj. (Actually C and G since I tune down). Someone told me it's like an optical illusion for the ears.

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The Man With No Band

3/18/2008 11:47:17 AM

I'm intrigued by your method of madness... :) When I am able, I love messing around finding "new" things on my strings ...

Lately I have been having fun with 3 note chords with one of the notes being open and alternating a picking pattern as in ...

d-string 7th fret ... g-string 6th fret ... b- string open
d- string 5th fret ... g-string 4th fret .. b- string open
d- string 3rd fret .. g-string 2nd fret .. b - string open

then going back up and ocassionally throwing in a high e -string note on the same fret as the d- string note

then changing to ...

d- string open ... g- string 6th fret ... b string 7th fret
then progress down one fret at a time
d- strring open ... g- string 5th fret ... b string 6th fret ... etc etc...

then I take the two patterns and combine them and come up with some really intriguing sounds ... anyway it's fun

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Hugh Hamilton

3/19/2008 6:51:48 AM

My guess about 2-5-1 would be, in the key of C, D-G-C, although I would usually expect the 2 to be 2minor...

I was browsing the front page when I thought of this blog and just wanted to pitch in the fact that Mother Nature's Son is a song largely based on this kind of idea - and Paul did a masterful job of using the guitar notes to harmonize with the vocal...there's a fab example of how this thinking can get translated to a groovy song...

Sorry about the mixup regarding the nomination statement. I'm easily confused...lol...

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Bob Elliott

3/19/2008 9:21:29 PM

Sam, I'm gonna try those things out when I get to my guitar (a Gibson Jumbo, Baby!), and also I'll check out the thing Hugh's attempting to explain and experiment with the ideas Steve dropped (which I've been thinking about a lot, and was thinking about while driving and listening to "The Stars Ar Never Really Distant), but that's not what I began this very long sentence for because I mostly wanted to say the station you put up my little boy's singing on, your "Bare Thread" station is probably the coolest idea I've run into here due to having a great deal of unpolished real recordings of mostly people playing and singing on a single instrument.

Alright, that's enough words for one sentence, but I guess I have a real hunger and test for recordings like that. I find myself enjoying the least produced ones the most. I just want to hear someone get behind their song. I know how we can sugar things up, too, but I just don't care too much anymore. None of that will ever supersede the song and the singing and the real time playing in a real place at a real time.

Anyway, your Bare Threads station is really an idea I can get behind, and may inspire me to dig around for my first collection.

I guess that's something I enjoyed a lot over at larree's page. He had a mess of what might be demos of songs written. Just the acoustic and voice.

Alright, I've been listening to the station for awhile now and realize it's not all BAre Threads, but "Shine On Sun" sure set that pace, and the one by Dave Ison and some others, and it makes me want to start a station of such things.

Just because.

I often think most of my favorite recordings of my own stuff are just the things I dropped onto the ghetto box cassette recorder.

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Andy Broad

3/19/2008 10:31:10 PM

"I don't know what 2-5-1 means."

A II-V-I is a bit of a jazz thing. It's quite often used instead of the V and IV near the end of a straight twelve bar.

For instance in G instead of finishing
D /// C /// G /// C ///

You could do a II VI I followed by a I VI II V turnarround, (the I overlaps)

Am / / / D9 / / / C7 / E9 / Am / C7

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The Man With No Band

3/19/2008 11:09:58 PM

Bob ... (Sam drools at the thought of a Gibson Jumbo) ... Glad you liked the Station ... I haven't done you justice yet by filling in your thread line .... That Station was the very first Station I put together here ... and originally it was all Bare Threads ... but I kept getting request and some of the Artist pulled their songs from the site so I started trying to fill the holes with request ... That Pic is my Dad playing guitar around 1956 ... There is also Bare Thread II, (Which has a Pic of my Dad and Guitar in 2006) .. then there is Bare Thread III, IV and V ... the themes grew a little farther away from Bare Thread after II or II, It was hard at that time to keep finding solo talent ... but feel free to nab what goodies you'd like ... I've kinda been neglecting those Stations ... but have thought about a revival and your song with your son was a Perfect fit ... both for the Station and what I truly like to hear.

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The Man With No Band

3/20/2008 2:34:51 AM

Hey ... I uploaded an intro that I worked out using the first picking/chord pattern I mentioned above ... I'd really like to hear what it would sound like with a real guitar player doing it ...

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The Man With No Band

3/20/2008 2:35:44 AM

You'll find it at the bottom of my page ... if you'd care to hear it

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