A really simple way to spice up your chord based guitar playing is to learn alternate versions of the chords you already know and then get deep down and dirty with them. Learning alternate ways to play familiar chords will give you a huge amount more range and diversity to your playing that will help make you sound head and shoulders above pretty much 99% of guitarists out there.
During this series of lessons we are going to look at 12 killer 3 string chords – or to call them by their official name – triads.
There are 3 actual shapes and 4 different varieties of each shape. In this lessons we will look in depth at shape 1, and it’s 4 varieties.
All the chords in this series of lessons are played entirely on the first 3 strings of the guitar, are completely movable up and down the fretboard, are extremely useable in the real world and act as a great gateway between open chords and barre chords. What’s there not to like about that?
Killer 3 string chords are such a simple little technique, yet most guitarists don’t even know they exist, and the ones that do don’t know how to use them – apart from those badass seasoned pro’s you hear down the clubs and most of the great’s you have ever admired.
Everyone can play chords down on the low frets. If I was to ask you to play a G Major chord, where would you play it?
If you are like most guitarists out there and have never been taught to venture from the norm, I’m guessing you would play it like the following (or the version with the open 2nd string):
(The root note for the chord is shown in red)
Now, if you wanted to play a G Major chord, but make it diverse and interesting (and higher in pitch), how would you do it?
Most guitarists wouldn’t have a clue which is a real shame.
Fear not though, in this series of lessons, we will leap frog you past most of those guitar players and make them salivate with jealously every time they watch you play. Prepare to impress.
Killer 3 string chords
The 4 chord types we will look at in this series of lessons are:
- Sus 2
- Sus 4
Let’s get down to it, and learn these super simple, super cool shapes that will help you on the road to becoming an intermediate player in no time.
The Major version of the shape is the most important as it’s the most used, so commit this shape to memory. Notice that we are playing all the way up on the 12th fret, so this G will sounds a fair bit higher in pitch than our typical G.
Can you see the only difference between the Major and minor shape? One fret is the answer. To turn the shape from Major to minor all we need to do is move the note on the 2nd string from the 12ft fret down to the 11th fret.
Move the note we just moved to turn the Major chord into a minor chord down a further fret and now we have a Sus2 chord.
Go back to playing the Major chord and this time instead of moving the note on the 2nd string from 12th fret down to the 11th fret, we move it up to the 13th fret to create a sus4 chord.
Barre your first finger across the first two strings as shown in the sus2 chord diagram and leave it there throughout for all four chords. This will make switching between the different chord types much easier.
To recap, the notes on the 3rd string (which is our root note) and the note on the 1st string stay static, while the notes on the 2nd string are the ones that change. Get used to switching between all 4 variations of shape 1.
You may notice how much higher in pitch the chords sound. That’s what we are after – diversity.
Now, you can not only play a low sounding G chord, but you can play high sounding ones too and with variations of Major, minor, sus2, and sus4.
That’s what those high frets and high strings are for. Most guitarists just the 12th fret upwards for solo-ing and that’s it.
What a waste.
To be able to nail this lesson, and have some fun with these chords, get comfortable changing between the four shapes. Remember, the key thing to be able to switch between them is to barre the 1st and 2nd string at the 10th fret.
A little tip about using the 4 variation…
- G Major, G sus2 and G sus4 all sound great played alongside each other. (as all the notes fit into the G Major key)
- G minor, G sus2 and G sus4 all sound great played alongside each other. (as all the notes fit into the G minor key)
You can mix them all up however you feel artistically inclined to do so. Note, however that G Major and G minor usually don’t fit together unless you are after a slightly unusual sound.
Let’s play through a couple of examples I’ve created of these chords in use.
Little ditty #1 (G Major example)
Example 1 is a fairly straightforward way of playing through the Major, Sus 2 and Sus 4 chords with a basic Down Up strum pattern.
Little ditty #2 (G minor example)
Example 2 is exactly the same as example 1 except we have switched the Major chord for a minor chord.
Little ditty #3 (Combination example)
Example 3 combines both the Major and minor versions to create something a little more unusual (but cool sounding in my opinion)
How do I use these ideas in the real world?
I’m all about teaching you real world, practical playing tips that I have learned from some of the best guitarists out there, that’s why it’s important to implement this sort of stuff in your playing, right away.
In the real world, we use these 3 string version of chords in some of the following ways:
- Switch your low chords to your new found high chords and strum them (Johnny Marr does this to great effect)
- Switch your low chords to your new found high chords and pick the notes to create a melody (add delay and you’ll sound a bit like The Edge and/or many shoegaze bands)
- Double up the chords of your rhythm guitarist by playing the same chords higher up to thicken up the sound (creating a 12 string like guitar effect)
- Incorporate these chords in to your lead and solo playing at the right moments to create a more harmonically rich and more interesting guitar solo
- Creating melodic riffs out the chord type (such as the intro to Brown Eyed Girl by Van Morrison)
- Play the higher up chords with a variety of effects to replicate synth and string sounds and other non guitar based sounds (whilst still keeping the music melodic and harmonically correct)
Listen to the examples….
Download the Guitar Pro files to hear the above 3 examples in action.
Right click HERE and hit ‘save as’, then extract the Guitar Pro files to play them back. You will need either Guitar Pro or the free Tux Guitar installed on your computer to listen back to the examples. Download Tux Guitar here.
Join us in part 2 where we will be taking these simple examples and making some very cool tuneage out of them!
Your takeaway from this lesson is to mess about with either of the above combinations, and get comfortable with switching between them. In part 2 of this series we will be going through some really cool little examples of how to make it sound goooooood.
See you on the otherside.
Check out Part 2 by clicking HERE.
this lesson is awesome. You really opened a door to
the “secrets of guitar playing” for me.
Thank you so much
Thanks a lot. Appreciate the kind words and I`m glad you found the lesson useful. Hope you enjoy Parts 2, 3, and 4. 🙂
I always wondered what those cool chords up the guitar neck were.
It’s too easy to get “trapped” in only playing open/1st position chords.
Please, keep up the good work.
(@snigskitchen on twitter)
Hi Snigdha, Thanks for your comment. Glad you enjoyed the article. Now get rocking the guitar like Mr Johnny Marr. 🙂 Cheers. Dan
I will get rocking, for sure…
..but can anyone play like Mr Johnny Marr?
Such a hero.
Hendrix is the ultimate, but Johnny is my inspiration.
Thanks for your reply,
That lesson has opened up a whole new world for me, looking forward to trying it out when I get home,
also part II. Excellent work 🙂
Thanks Harry, appreciate the comment and kind words. I`m so glad to have helped you on your journey!
Serge Blonsky says
Can’t wait for part 2 !
Bertie Cheonga says
First took it like a joke but now folks its for real I now play song I could not dare before. Its a pleasant surprise thanks i owe it to you guys
Good stuff, Bertie! Glad you found the lesson helpful!
Awesome tips and really does open up a world of possible Creativeness too
Dan Thorpe says
Ace, Daniel, I`m glad to hear it! They are indeed very cool and a great way to liven up your playing!
Michael Dixon says
Great lesson. Thank you.