43. Two Reasons To Target Just Behind The Next Highest Fret

The proper place for the fretting fingers is just behind the next highest fret wherever possible. For example, the common chord G major should appear as the following:


Here is  D major:


However, there is a tendency in beginner players to favor the “rear” area of the fret. Here is the same D chord with this erroneous setup. THIS IS WRONG:

Fretting the rear of the fret area means more finger pressure is required to sound the  string cleanly, not a good thing!

Sometimes, the specific reason for poor finger placement is due to a lack of flexibility in the fretting hand. For a simple C chord, the 3rd (ring) finger may feel it is required to stretch a

long distance, thus not reaching past the rear of the 3rd fret:

This (erroneous) default position of the hand exists simply because the fingers are not accustomed to stretching across guitar frets (or probably anything else for that matter). However, as seen in the a minor chord example, the fingers inexplicably tend to gravitate toward the rear portion of the fret regardless. This would not pose a problem in and of itself if the pressure needed to sound the fretted note cleanly were uniform across the fret area. This is not so!  The most finger pressure needed to sound any note cleanly is at the rear; the least pressure is at the front.








The working area of the “fret” is the portion of the fretboard that lies between any 2 of the frets. To eliminate any confusion, remember that the thin metal strips along the neck are called frets, and the working area between any 2 of these strips is ALSO called a fret, or fret area. Thus, the third metal strip from the nut is the 3rd fret (as noted in the caption above the neck in the photo), but it is the working area between the 2nd and 3rd of these metal strips that is always referred to as the 3rd fret (as shown in the caption below the neck in the photo)


The “front” of the fret therefore is simply the part of the fret area closest to the metal strip which borders the next highest fret.   Whether playing chords, partial chords, scale tones or anything else, strive ALWAYS to play toward that area of the fret.

Example: If you are playing the note F on the 3rd fret, 4th string, your target would look like this:


NOT like this!


Certain chords and partial chords, double stops etc, do not allow for every finger to be at the front.

Consider a simple E chord:


You can see that the middle finger cannot be at front; the ring finger is in the way. In cases like the the middle of the fret is sufficient.

The other reason to aim for the front area of the fret is to have a more precise target.


This is important!

If the target of any fretting finger is ‘in the middle’ (thinking this is the goal is a common misconception), or worse, just  vaguely “anywhere” in the fretting area, then you are leaving yourself a very large margin for error! Having a precise target means when you miss, you will not miss by nearly as much.  Practicing this has made a great difference for me

. © 2012 Jim Greenfield

42. Watch Out For These!

When trying to learn a song or piece of music, there are some elements that can confuse and mislead the untrained ear. All these things become much less confusing over time, but it takes a lot of exposure to different music and song forms. This is one reason why so many internet transcriptions, Youtube videos and songbooks contain so many inaccuracies. Always watch for the following:

 1. Use of Capo.

The most common ‘curve ball’ there is for guitarists. When a capo is used, it can be difficult to establish key or hear the progression.  The player may hear what sounds like a familiar chord, not realizing the capo is on. This is especially true when it is on the 1st or 2nd fret, where the timbre of the guitar is similar to its natural (no capo) sound. If you think you are hearing a familiar chord or progression, but it sounds wrong when playing along, check to see if placement of the capo puts you in the right key.

2.  Use of capo on only one  of two or more guitars.

This can be very tricky.  The sound created by 2 guitars playing in E major, for instance, might contain the following:

A. One guitar, no capo, playing in the key of E

B. Another guitar, capo on the 4th fret, also playing in E, but by playing in the chord shapes of C major.

3. Voices and other instruments.

Anything that ‘gets in the way’ of the guitar parts you are trying to hear can cause confusion. Isolate the guitar as much as possible. Sometimes the desired part will be better heard on the left or right channel of a stereo recording.

 4. Open Tunings.

Open tunings on guitar will often be obvious, but sometimes not. With practice, the sound of the most popular open tunings will be heard.

5. Recording not in concert pitch.

This is a big one. Many recordings have been manipulated to sound slightly faster or slower than they were recorded. Sometimes the pitch is raised or lowered in the process, sometimes not. In other cases, the instruments were not in concert pitch to begin with. Always check for this. Also, many singer-guitarists, and guitarists in general, like to play their instruments detuned ½ step. Naturally, all others in the ensemble will follow. Thus, for example,a song that is played as if in the  in the key of E will actually be in Eb.


The better you can hear these types of things, the easier it is for you to analyze a song. It’s really important, because as you may have already learned, there is a lot of erroneous information out there, especially on the internet. Being able to depend on your own ear is very rewarding.

© 2012  Jim Greenfield

41. Transposing

This section deals with the simplest aspects of transposing from one key to another.  Try to gain a working knowledge of diatonic harmony (see 51. Basic Diatonic Harmony for more information).  With this you can easily transpose a song. When you think of the chord progression of a song as being moveable in its entirety you open the door for yourself.  The language of solfege (do, re mi etc) spells any major scale. It does not matter if it’s a C scale, Db scale, F scale or any other. Because the pitch relationships are the same, it is still do re mi etc. Chords act the same way.

Example: Chord progression

C   am   F   G

This simple progression is I  vi  IV  V. These are the diatonic chords made from the 1st, 6th 4th and 5th notes of the C major scale. (Again, refer to the material on diatonic harmony if necessary). When using the scale numbers to label the chords, this same progression can be transposed to any key:

I          vi        IV      V

G      em       C       D

E     c#m       A       B

A       f#m     D      E

D       bm     G       A    etc.

Musicians will often refer to this progression as ‘one six two five’ without naming the chords, since it is essentially the same in every key. This can be done with any chord progression.

© 2012 Jim Greenfield

40. Syncopation Defined


Music dictionary definitions of syncopation are often oriented toward classical music and indicate a different understanding of it than we know in popular music.  Consider this definition, from The Virginia Tech Multimedia Music Dictionary:


Deliberate upsetting of the meter or pulse of a composition by means of a temporary shifting of the accent to a weak beat or an off-beat.


The use of the words ‘temporary’ and ‘upsetting’ to define syncopation in classical music terms is revealing. For in “modern” (since early 20th century) popular styles, it is common for the same syncopation, or a number of them, to repeat throughout a song, and is considered neither temporary nor upsetting. The difference is this: In classical music, syncopation consisted mostly of accenting weaker beats within the confines of the printed page. For instance, what is commonly referred to as basic “swing” rhythm today was in classical music written into the time signature (6/8, 9/8 etc.)  Blues, jazz, country, rock and other popular music forms employ a greater variety of syncopation. The Harvard Dictionary of Music definition of the word addresses this in its lengthy definition of syncopation:


“There is another, more subtle way of altering the pattern; it consists of tiny hesitations, playing a note very slightly sooner or later than it would normally be played. This last kind of syncopation is very common in jazz but is used much less in other kinds of music, probably because it is very hard to notate exactly (the hesitation could, conceivably, be indicated by a very short rest).


I checked the copyright date myself after I first read this; I was expecting perhaps 1940. I was surprised. The original copyright is 1960; the edition I own is 1987. So even in the original edition, rock and roll had been in existence for at least 5 or 6 years, and the blues and country music it was derived from was far older than that. One could say that jazz was an extension of those forms and therefore includes them. However, the notion that this type of syncopation is used less in music other than jazz because ‘it is very hard to notate exactly’, seems to say that it goes unused because it can’t be accurately written. This is where I beg to differ, because so much popular music has never been written in standard notation by its composers. There have always been songbooks and other sheet music available, but most of these are written by professionals who transcribe from the recordings for publishing companies to sell. Most popular guitarists learned to play by ear. If they do learn to read and write music, they discover that indeed much syncopation is difficult to notate, so they tend to write only melody in standard notation, if at all. While it is almost universal for popular guitarists to write chord charts for their songs, relatively few write complete scores in standard form. So the “dilemma” of writing syncopation into this music is really a non-issue.

© 2012 Jim Greenfield

39. The Circle Of Fifths

There are many different looking versions of the circle of fifths diagram. I am using one that appears as a clock:













I like guitarists who are not familiar with the circle of fifths to start by focusing on the positions of C (noon) and the “keys” of G, D, A and E (1,2,3 and 4 o’clock).  Think of a key as a major scale that chords and melodies are made from.


These first 4 “sharp” keys are the most favored keys by guitarists, mostly because of the harmonious sounds of the open guitar strings with the chords that are made from those scales.


These are the sharp keys, in order:


C  No sharps, no flats


G  One sharp,  F#


D   Two sharps, F# and C#


A   Three sharps, F#, C# and G#


E    Four sharps, F#, C#, G#, and D#


B    Five sharps, F#, C#, G#, D# and A#


F#   Six sharps, F#, C#, G#, D#, A# and E#


Note that as a sharp is added, the clock moves a fifth each time, thus the name cirle of fifths. Also note each new sharp is added at the 7th degree, known as the leading tone of the major scale, since it leads back to where the scale began, at the octave. The “old” sharp (the note that was previously sharped) is applied in the subsequent key with each new sharp. As more than one sharp is added, all old sharps are added in addition to the new one.



1          2          3          4          5          6          7          8

C         D          E          F         G          A          B          C


G        A          B          C        D          E          F#      G   (Key of G, 1 sharp)


D        E          F#        G         A         B         C#      D  (Key of D, 2 sharps)


A        B          C#        D        E          F#      G#    A  (Key of A, 3 sharps)



The circle of fifths functions as a mnemonic, a tool to help the musician as a reference and memory builder until the contents are known. In time, music itself provides a superior context for memorization.

Sharp keys are on the right side of the clock, flat keys on the left. This time, focusing on the flat (left) side, we see the following:


C    No sharps, no flats


F     One flat, Bb


Bb   Two flats, Bb anf Eb


Eb   Three flats, Bb, Eb, and Ab


Ab   Four flats, Bb, Eb, Ab and Db


Db    Five flats, Bb, Eb, Ab, Db and Gb


Gb    Six flats, Bb, Eb, Ab, Db, Gb and Cb


The keys of F# and Gb are the same. They are called enharmonic equivelents.

I have not listed the key of 7 sharps (C#) and the key of 7 flats (Cb), since they are rarely used.


Much material has been published on this subject.  I am only emphasizing that guitarist may derive the greatest value from the circle of fifths by concentrating their efforts on the first five “sharp”keys to start.


© 2012 Jim Greenfield

38. Open Tunings

 Unlike many other instruments, the guitar can be tuned at will to an endless variety of combinations. The best known are ‘open tunings’, which involves tuning the 6 strings so that a chord is sounded when played ‘open’, that is, with no frets depressed. This is a favorite tool of slide guitarists, but open tunings are popular for other uses as well. Let’s look at a typical open tuning, open G.

6   5  4   3   2  1

Tuning:  D  G  D  G  B  D

In this tuning, a G chord will sound if played with the 5th string G as its root:


Placing a finger across all 6 strings at any fret will produce a different major chord:


Choosing single notes and creating other chord shapes takes time and is usually a matter of experimenting, rather than actually analyzing the chord construction:

Finally, using the slide:



Trial and error is often the best way to find sounds you like in open tuning. There are at least a half dozen different open tunings that have been used in countless songs.  (For more about slide playing, see 37. Slide Guitar.)

©2012 Jim Greenfield

37. Slide Guitar

Slide guitar has an exotic quality, and certain styles of music are always identified with it. There are many how-to books on slide, so all I want to do is emphasize the points that sometimes are overlooked:

1.  Make sure to familiarize yourself with open tunings; most slide work is done with them.

2. If you can, it is optimal to have a guitar especially set up for slide. Specifically, this means much higher action (the distance of the strings from the fretboard) than normal. This keeps the strings from vibrating against the fretboard when applying the slide.

3. Always use the other fingers on the fretting hand to minimize the extra noise of the strings as it glides across. Usually this means wearing the slide on the ring finger and using the 1st and 2nd finger for the purpose:

4. Use one of these same 2 fingers to create different chords occasionally if you like:

Glass slides have a cleaner sound, while a metal slide will be ‘noisier’, not necessarily a bad thing. The most important thing about slide guitar is to use the expressive possibilities made possible by the ‘microtones’. In other words, use of the slide transforms the guitar into a fretless instrument. Let it sing!

©20121Jim Greenfield

36. Beginning Fingerstyle

The term ‘fingerstyle’ refers not to merely any form of playing the guitar with the fingers (as opposed to a pick), but to a specific type of playing involving the simultaneous use of an alternating bass line (played with the thumb) and a melody (with the fingers).  It is sometimes referred to as ‘stride guitar’, a term I like, because it reminds me of stride piano, a style of early jazz and blues piano that the guitar version often seeks to emulate. Regardless, fingerstyle guitar is a great thing, because not only is it possible to create 2 completely separate voices with the picking hand, it also produces a feeling of motion like no other, a ‘sporty’ rhythmic style that often sounds like 2 or even 3 guitars at once.

If you are not familiar with playing fingerstyle, begin by trying out a simple alternating bass pattern with your thumb. Use a metronome or simple drum track to make sure you are keeping strict tempo. This is simple, but not necessarily easy!  Here is an example:







Once this is mastered, add the index finger, playing one note:







Patiently build a feeling of stability playing each of these figures before moving to the next. Now the middle finger is added:







Here is a typical pattern using thumb, index and middle fingers together:









Any fingerstyle pattern, or any rhythmic pattern for that matter, can be ‘swung’. Although there is specific notation to describe it(see A Note about Swing/Shuffle Rhythm in THE RHYTHM SECTION© for information on this), swing rhythm can usually be successfully copied through imitation. Here are the patterns above, altered for swing rhythm:



















When these patterns are played with swing rhythm, is it easy to hear the aforementioned comparison to stride piano and related styles. Try to play these patterns, which are basically an arpeggio of a C major chord, with other chords as well.  Play them ‘straight’ and with swing rhythm as well. You can build skill very quickly this way.  For instance, moving between the chords a minor and C, with the exact same picking pattern, provide variety and a very musical sound while you are learning:








Use this same approach with other simple chords, alternating the bass in a similar way. Here is G major:








Again, using E minor:








The key to success with these is very slow tempo while you are establishing the independence of the hands.

©2012  Jim Greenfield

35. Playing Covers

 I once read somewhere that playing covers is for “little kids in garages”.  I can see the writer’s point.  However, the truth is there are cover bands that play for very enthusiastic crowds (especially the better “tribute” bands), while there are  countless other bands playing original music that almost no one wants to hear.

  We know that selling a familiar song to an audience  is relatively easy.  Some will avoid anything that feels derivative.  This can lead to frustration, and some unique but not very appealing music!

Developing an individual style is a beautiful thing, but no one gets good at playing, singing, and writing without emulating other musicians. So if you are just starting out, playing some covers is probably a really good idea. First, it gives you some insight into your own tastes! The songs you choose to play and sing reflect what you like the most, usually for more than one reason. Perhaps your singing style fits theirs. Maybe the song is not too challenging to play. Or it has a really powerful effect on you emotionally. Probably a combination… Later your considerations may change, but for now, even as an inexperienced performer, you likely have a very good idea of what you want to sound like. This is the easy part.

Now comes the challenge—repertoire.  The biggest problem I see in start-up cover musicians is not having enough well rehearsed material. This is true of original bands also, but at least they have the excuse of having to write the songs!  I suggest learning and memorizing as many songs as you can.

 After all, you are not going to get past the beginner/amateur level, whether you play our own songs or not, until you can show enough of yourself to get a band together, or play a set, even for a friends’ party or some such. Most people you know would be thrilled to come and see you play, but not 3 songs, unless it’s an open mic. And you can bet they don’t care one bit if you are playing covers or not.

So, how best to do it? First, unless you have developed a very strong musical memory already, you need charts—printed, accurate lyric sheets with the chords, exactly where they belong. Sometimes internet transcriptions will work, although, as I have said, they are often wrong and need revision. In the old days we had to write charts by hand or copy them from songbooks. Now I just grab the lyric sheet from an internet site, paste it into a blank document, and put the chords in myself. Whatever method you use, just do it. Often, the act of doing it will be enough to get it into your head, and you won’t even need the sheet. Always hold on to it though—forgetting comes easily!

Secondly, get something, anything, to record yourself on. It doesn’t have to be elaborate or expensive. What’s important is to have something you can chronicle yourself with, listen in the car, etc.  You will memorize and play the music well much sooner.

Finally, get out of the basement! When I was younger I made a nearly conscious decision to practice until I became “perfect “and worthy of being heard. It never happens! Beware of this trap. Even if you know you will obviously never be perfect, forget about waiting until you are “ready”. The part of being ready that comes from actually doing it, alone or with a band, in front of an audience–any audience– has no substitute.

©2012 Jim Greenfield


34. Leading Notes w/ Chords In Open Position

‘Leading notes’ are bass notes that introduce a new chord in a progression. Learning how to work these while strumming chords elevates your rhythm playing considerably. In order to do it successfully, you must keep the right hand relaxed but very restrained in its motion. Most beginner players have far too wide an arc when strumming chords, which results in an inability to target single notes within the rhythm:

Note how the arc here is barely wider than the sound hole:

Here is a very simple lead note sequence– the scale tones G, A and B leading up to a C chord:









Note that the restraint of motion in my right hand makes it easier to transition from the lead notes to the chord.

Additionally, when playing any single notes between strumming chords, bear down on the pick (grip it tighter), then loosen it as you return to strumming. This can be a lot to think about, but is well worth it, and becomes automatic quickly with practice.

© 2012 Jim Greenfield