14 Ways to Escape the First Four Frets. Part ONE...
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Do your frets above open position look shiny and new? When you do venture above the fifth fret in performance situation, do you find yourself bailing back to the comfort of open position after a few bars? In this Worship Guitar Workshop series, we’ll explore some ways to utilize the other 8 frets in the first octave.
Escape #1: The Capo
I know, that was easy. But we underestimate the power of the capo. The capo is best known for two uses:
- “This song’s too low for my voice.” Start capo’ing up the neck until it feels good.
- “E flat sucks.” Along with every other flat key and several sharp keys. So capo 1 and play in D. Or capo 3 and play C.(By the way, here’s a chart for determining what chords to play for these situations.)
As a young rock star (in my own jr. high pubescent mind), I heard an older, wiser sage of the guitar (he was probably in high school) say, “Capos?! Those are just cheaters!” Thus began several grueling years of slogging through hand-numbing bar chords to play in every “enemy of the guitar” key. Somehow I rediscovered the truth that the guitar, especially the acoustic, was made to play open. I began to use a capo again. Unapologetically. At first it was for the two uses above. But then, I started to try other uses:
New frets. New Sounds. Think “Here Comes the Sun” from Beatles' Abby Road album. Capo’ing at the 5th fret and beyond creates different qualities of sound. Go high enough and it gets mandolin-ish. Consider using this approach...
...for faster, more percussive songs. The high tension of the capo’d strings have a snap and feel that creates great sounding fast rhythm. Listen to bluegrass sometime…notice that when the mandolin player isn’t playing a lead, he’s the principle percussionist.
...to cut through a mid-range heavy band. (Likely created by piano players who use all ten fingers all the time and the electric guitarist chunking out 6th string root power chords.) Open position chords are going to be lost in a situation like this. For example:
If the band is playing Matt Redman’s Blessed Be Your Name in the key of B, your first instinct might be to capo your guitar at the 2nd fret and play in A. That makes sense on the acoustic for to give you good open chord sounds. But if the band is heavy in the mid-range, capo 4th fret and play in the key of G, concentrating on strings 4-3-2-1 to cut through the mix. The progression throughout most of the song is 1 - 5 - 6m - 4 (Nashville Numbers). In the key of B, the performance key, it's B - F# - G#m - E. Capo'd at the 4th fret, those chords are played with the following shapes: G - D - Em - C.
On the chord diagrams (made with QwikChord) the straight-line represents the capo. The open circles represent open notes on the capo. The number represents the Nashville Number (Ex. "1" = One Chord). The chord in parenthesis is the "real" (performance key) chord (Ex. B). The middle chord name is the familiar shape being played (Ex. G).
Get a little braver and capo 7th fret and play in E:
B F# G#m E
E B C#m A
Or if your guitar can handle it intonation-wise, capo 9th fret and play in D (D A Bm G). this will really cut through the mix.
Another use for escaping open position with the capo is to integrate multiple guitars. Got several acoustic players on your team? Rather than having two players strum on the same open chords, consider one guitar capo’ing up the neck to create true second guitar part. For example, if the song is in the key of D, capo at the 5th fret and play in A.
Don’t forget to vary your right hand. Arpeggiated or finger-picked chords in an upper register can create great sound against strummed open position chords.
The Cut Capo
I can’t remember where I first discovered the cut capo, but it was before the capo companies started manufacturing them. I grabbed a Kyser someone had abandoned at my church and cut it to open up the 6th, 2nd and 1st strings. It’s basically DADGAD tuning without having to learn too many new fingerings. It allows you to play a D-like chord, but with the 6th string as the bass – so the sound is full and emulates the alternate tuning. Here are some examples of what you can do with this:
The line represents the capo (covering strings 5-4-3), leaving 6-2-1 open. If the true key is E, you’ll be playing key of D chords, with some slight variations. Here are the shapes for playing the basic chords in key of E with some variations added:
The 1 Chord (E) – these, of course, are the simple D shapes we all know.
[Note: on these diagrams, the open notes are designated on both the capo and the true open string. Confused? Me too.]
The 2m Chord (F#m) gets a little tricky (or "trickily", as my 3 year-old daughter says):
Don't let the "m11" designation throw you. The open b-string turns this m7 chord into a m11. It's a great open sound.
By the way, if you haven't guessed, the trickiness is that you have to reach your finger around the to the other side of the capo. This requires putting the capo far enough forward toward the 2nd fret that you can have space to finger the note behind it. A couple thoughts on this:
1. It takes a little practice, but after awhile, it's second nature.
2. Kyser is actually making a cut capo that has a lever on the capo to push and it will play that note. Google it. It looks pretty interesting. I'm too cheap; I'll stick with my customized
The 3m Chord (G#m)
While you'll certainly find the 3 minor chord in worship music, it's used less often than the 2m and 6m. More prevalent is first inversion 1 chord = 1/3, or E/G# (E chord over a G# bass note). Learning inversions is a whole 'nother article. But you've seen them (you probably call them 'slash' chords), and you may have even played them. Here's a good voicing for the E/G# (1/3) when using the cut capo in the key of E:
Note that the 5th string is designated with an X. That means it should not be played. Technically, the b note is in the chord, but it gets a little muddy in that range. An easy way to mute it is to allow the finger (or thumb, if you've got longer fingers than me) that's playing the 6th string note to "sluff" down and touch the 5th string, thus muting it with little effort.
The 6m Chord (C#m)
Not much to say about these two voicings for the 6m chord. Use your ear to determine which sounds better.
The 5/7 Chord (B/D#)
The Seven Chord in a major key is a half diminished (m7b5). These occur in worship music, but not too often. More frequently you'll see the 5/7: the 5 chord over the 7th bass note = B/D#. At times, the 5 chord will be a dominant seven = B7/D#. (Which is closely related to the D#m7b5 - but only theory geeks like me really care...so I'll shut up about it...)
You can also play the high E (first string) open in the B/D# - it creates a Badd4 - and in some contexts, it can be really nice. There are better voicings for B7/D#, but for this article, we're sticking with voicings that are in the same register.
OK, so if you can do the math, or count the frets above the nut, you realize that this cut capo technique doesn’t let us escape too far beyond the first 4 frets. Here’s the deal, further on the in this series, we’ll learn some more chords that you can play up the neck with the cut capo on fret 2. But you don’t have to wait till then to use the cut capo to play higher than the fifth fret.
Here's why: If one capo is good, TWO is better. Simply use a standard capo two frets behind the cut capo.
If you capo 1st fret (standard) and cut capo 3rd, you'll be playing in the Key of F with the cut capo D-shapes.
See the examples for the Key of G and A.
If you don't have a cut capo to try this out with, consider buying a cheap $5 capo and notch it out yourself. If you enjoy it, purchase a "short-cut" from Kyser or another company that makes it.
The bottom line here is that the capo--standard, cut, one, two or many - is an easy and effective way to escape the first four frets.
Read Part 2
Read Part 2
[btw: Feel free to drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or post a reply. If something wasn't clear, you have more questions, or even if something didn't seem right, let me know. I want these articles to benefit you...]