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An improvisation lesson – 2 finger chords

Sometimes it’s all too easy to overcomplicate your playing. I was looking through some old guitar material and found this lesson that I’d forgotten about.

It’s a great way to simplify your playing, give new sounds and help break out of familiar chord shapes.  The lesson uses some principles of music theory, I’ve published a number of posts on a variety of topics should you want further information:

The basis of the lesson is using two finger chord shapes. I really like how these are not that commonly used but are easy to play, movable and give a good range of chords and sounds. What’s interesting with these is that you don’t have to just play the fretted notes, open A and low E strings can be used as a bass drone, the open B and high E strings give a different colour to the sound depending on whether they are played or not.

We use the same shape, moving it across the fretboard and up and down the neck. The six examples below give us 4 chords with 3 types of D chords – Em, Am9, C (no root), D (no root), Dsus2, D9. 

You can of course move these around to other positions, for example moving across the neck, up and down the neck or an octave up.  By experimenting you can find a number of interesting progressions and potentially riffs too.

For example, just playing on the D and G strings, you can move the shape up and down the neck to give a range of chords as shown below.  What I really like with these is that you don’t need to think about what chords you’re playing, by experimenting with different positions and intervals between these chords you can create some interesting progressions with tension and resolution and you can add variety using different strumming and picking patterns. 

Whilst these work very well in their own right, they can also be used to add interest to other chord progressions and break away from ‘routine’ chords. 

For example, a number of these chords appear in the key of G:

  • G   A   B   C   D   E   F#   G
  •  I    ii   iii   IV   V   vi  vii

If we take a simple vi / IV / V progression, we can use the two finger chords outlined above.

This gives us: Em  /  C (no root)  /  D (no root)  

However, there are some simple things that we can do to add a bit more interest and variety. 

We can substitute a minor chord for its relative major 7th chord. This is three semi-tones higher than the minor chord so for Em we substitute a GMaj7 chord. 

Similarly, we can substitute a major chord with its relative minor. This is three semi-tones lower so for a D chord we can substitute a Bm chord. 

We can also play the V chord as a minor instead of a major.  As well as the barre chord there’s also a slightly less easy chord you can play.

You can then use these techniques to add variety to the chord progression.  You can see below that we can quickly and easily create a number of variations.  Don’t feel constrained by this progression though, it’s just an example and you can of course use fewer or more chords or make up your own:

Em   /   C (no root)   /   D (no root)

Gmaj7   /   C (no root)   /   D (no root)

Gmaj7   /   C (no root)   /   Dm

Em   /   C (no root)   /   Bm

To add a lead line we could play a dorian mode over or instead of these substituted chords.  For a major chord play the dorian mode a tone up, for a minor chord play the dorian at root.  The two examples below can be used over or instead of the Gmaj7 chord (A dorian) and the Em chord (E dorian).   

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