Solo Fingerstyle Guitar Improvisation

by Gilbert Isbin
© 2001 Gilbert Isbin. All rights reserved.
May. 20, 2001

About the Author

Part Two: Chords

From this installment on we’ll have a closer look at each of the steps I use in my fingerstyle improvisational approach.

This was the first step I suggested:

‘Play the chords in many possible positions.  Play them as closed or open voicings. Try to combine open strings and fretted ones. Keep the ground note in the bass, unless a slash chord is given.’

First of all some essential things about chord construction.

A chord is nothing more than some notes played together. To get things easier each note of a scale is presented by a number.

Here’s a table that can be of use to figure out any possible chord.


1
---
 octave 

b2
---
b9

2
---
9
minor
b3
---
#9
major
3
---
.
sus
4
---
11

B5
---
#11

5
---
.

#5
---
.

6
---
13

b7
---
.
major7
7
---
.
C C#/Db D D#/Eb E F F#/Gb G G#/Ab A A#/Bb B
C#/Db D D#/Eb E F F#/Gb G G#/Ab A A#/Bb B C
D D#/Eb E F F#/Gb G G#/Ab A A#/Bb B C C#/Db
D#/Eb E F F#/Gb G G#/Ab A A#/Bb B C C#/Db D
E F F#/Gb G G#/Ab A A#/Bb B C C#/Db D D#/Eb
F F#/Gb G G#/Ab A A#/Bb B C C#/Db D D#/Eb E
F#/Gb G G#/Ab A A#/Bb B C C#/Db D D#/Eb E F
G G#/Ab A A#/Bb B C C#/Db D D#/Eb E F F#/Gb
G#/Ab A A#/Bb B C C#/Db D D#/Eb E F F#/Gb G
A A#/Bb B C C#/Db D D#/Eb E F F#/Gb G G#/Ab
A#/Bb B C C#/Db D D#/Eb E F F#/Gb G G#/Ab A
B C C#/Db D D#/Eb E F F#/Gb G G#/Ab A A#/Bb

There are 3 MAIN CHORD FAMILIES

The MAJOR CHORDS of which the basic chord contains 1, 3, 5
For C = C, E, G

The MINOR CHORDS of which the basic chord contains 1, b3, 5
For Cm = C, Eb, G

The DOMINANT SEVENTH CHORDS of which the basis chord contains 
1, 3, 5, b7

For C7 = C, E, G, Bb

All the other chords are, with a few exceptions, are derived from them.

Here are some chords which belong to each of these chord families:

MAJOR CHORDS, MINOR CHORDS, DOMINANT 7TH CHORDS

( ) = 1,3,5 (m) = 1,b3,5 (7) = 1,3,5,b7

(6) = 1,3,5,6 (m6) = 1,b3,5,6 (7/6) = 1,3,5,6,b7

(M7) = 1,3,5,7 (m7) = 1,b3,5,b7 (7/11) = 1,3,5,b7,11

(M7/6) = 1,3,5,6,7 (m9) = 1,b3,5,b7,9 (7sus) = 1,4,5,b7

(6/9) = 1,3,5,6,9 (m11) = 1,b3,5,b7,9,11 (7/6sus) = 1,4,5,6,b7

(M9) = 1,3,5,7,9 (mM7) = 1,b3,5,7 (9) = 1,3,5,b7,9

(M13) = 1,3,5,7,9,13 (m add9) = 1,b3,5,9 (11) = 1,3,5,b7,9,11

(mM9) = 1,b3,5,7,9 (m7/11) = 1,b3,5,b7,11 (13) = 1,3,5,b7,9,13

(add9) = 1,3,5,9 (m13) = 1,b3,5,b7,9,13 (sus) = 1,4,5

(m11/13)= 1,b3,5,b7,9,11,13 (13sus) = 1,4,5,b7,9,13

ALTERED CHORDS

A chord may be ALTERED with b5, #5, b9, #9 or #11

For example

Dm7b5 = 1, b3, b5, b7 = D, F, Ab, C

D7b9#5 = 1, 3, #5, b7, b9 = D, F#, A#, C, Eb

CHORDS THAT DON’T REALLY FIT INTO THE MAIN 3 CHORD FAMILIES

THE AUGMENTED CHORDS

(+) = 1, 3, #5

Example : C+ = C, E, G#

THE DIMINISHED 7TH CHORDS

(°) or (dim) 1, b3, b5, bb7 or 6

example : Cdim = C ,Eb, Gb, A

REMARKS

1) SLASH CHORDS

Sometimes you will see chord symbols like CM7/D#

This means that the D#, which is a note not found in the original chord 
(CM7 = C E G B), is played in the bass.

2) POLYCHORDS

This means that the chord consists of two triads or parts of triads. The horizontal line indicates that one triad should be voiced above the other.

Example:
G =      G, B, D
C         C, E, G

3) INVERSIONS

The tones of any chord may be differently arranged

Example:
For D7 you don’t have to shape a chord in the 1, 3, 5, b7 order.  The order can also be 1, b7, 3, 5 or anything else.  You can also play in this example the 3rd, the 5th or the b7 as the root note but for a solo fingerstyle player I think it’s best to use the ‘1’ as a clear marker for the harmony.

4) WAYS OF WRITING

The 9, 11, and 13 may be thought as 2, 4 & 6 and vice versa

So a 13 chord could be written as 1, 3, 5, b7, 9, 13 or 1, 2, 5, 3, 6, b7 or 1, 3, 5, 6, b7, 9

5) GETTING A FULL SOUND WITH LESSER NOTES

As the guitar has a quite limited range, it will be sometimes impossible to play all the notes of certain chords. Some of them will have to be omitted.

As the 3d and 7th along with the root define the quality (is it major, minor, dominant, augmented, diminished, half-diminished ) I prefer to keep them into the voicing and omit the 5th, the 6th, the 9th in extended chord voicings.

Example:
C 13 = 1, 3, 5, b7, 9, 13 = C, E, G, Bb, D, A, which is very difficult to play on the guitar, if not impossible.  Without the 5 and 9 a 13 – chord will look like this
1,3,b7,13 = C, E, Bb, A,  which is much easier to play.

Next time we’ll have a look at simple chord shapes and how be can derive other chords from them.

Part 1, Introduction
Part One: Introduction

Part 3, Chord Shapes
Part Three: Chord Shapes


About the Author

Renowned Belgian guitarist Gilbert Isbin's early influences, from blues to contemporary jazz, classical, ethnic and freeform music, has ultimately contributed to his now distinctive and refined style. His music is filled with strong melodies, rich colorful harmonies, sound effects and polyrythms, highlighted by delicate acoustic guitar picking.

Gilbert Isbin has recorded ten albums, which have been highly acclaimed by the international music press. (see 'Reviews') and which are worldwide distributed. (see 'Soundclips')

He has collaborated in concert and/or recorded with American and European players, such as Cameron Brown, Joe Fonda, Ernst Reijseger, Michel Godard, Jaap Blonk, Fred Van Hove, John Ruocco, Rudy de Sutter, Sandor Szabo, Philippe Deschepper, Geert Verbeke, Joelle Léandre.

Gilbert has written music for documentary films, has published his original guitar music and is a guest column writer for Guitar9.com, Omniguitar.com, The Online Guitar Magazine(UK) and Acoustic Guitar Workshop

He performs solo or in small settings. His performances, within the live environment, establishing a communication between both artist and audience, is an essential ingredient in the realization of his creative ideas.

Listen to Gilbert Isbin's music on MP3.Com

Gilbert Isbin CDs are distributed by Guitar Nine Records
http://www.guitar9.com/gilbertisbinplays.html

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