There is a point when I’m teaching a student guitar when they see me playing different versions of chords and I have to answer the question…. Yes, chords do have multi-personality disorder. We could sit on a couch and talk about their childhoods as little intervals, but instead let’s embrace these “quirks” and use them to our advantage. Just remember to sleep with one eye open.
We’re going to study a G chord and a few popular variations. Sometimes the decision on what fingering or voicing to use is based on what chord we’re coming from and where we’re going. But for this exercise we’re going to observe the flavor each voicing provides.
Let’s look at example 1.
This is a good ol’ fashioned G chord. You’ll notice we have (from low string to high) root, 3rd, 5th, root, 3rd, root. Has a very twangy flava’ to it.
This example has the root, 3rd, 5th, root, 5th, root. This has a little brighter pop vibe to it.
Here we have root, 5th, root, 3rd, 5th. This isn’t quite as muddy as examples 1 and 2 because we left out the 3rd on the A string, but still has some depth to it since we have the third.
This example is one of the cleanest sounding G’s. It’s basically a big power chord. It has no 3rd in it. root, 5th, root, 5th, root. Has a nice airy feel.
When I’m playing in a large ensemble or with a piano player I like voicing’s like this a lot. Root, 3rd, 5th. We have all three notes of a simple triad without any repeated intervals. It’s clean and doesn’t get in the way a lot. Often in these situations you need to leave space.
The last example is a bar chord. root, 5th, root, 3rd, 5th, root. This voicing has a lot of strength in it. It’s very direct.
Where you place the 3rd is often the most important part of a voicing. We know the importance when we mess around with inversions, but guitarists often don’t consider it when a chord starts from the root.
Here is a good tip for choosing a voicing: When you place thirds between the E and A strings and the A and D strings it has a deep, rich quality to it. The waters may get murky which ain’t no big thang for those of us who grew up in the sticks. If you prefer swimming in chlorinated pools in the burbs you may like to keep 5ths on these two strings.