How to Connect Guitar Chords Beautifully in Music – Overlapping Chords
Guitar chords are one of the things that make classical guitar so beautiful. We can play many notes together, at the same time. Very few instruments do this well. Most play only one note at a time.
But with this benefit, we face challenges other instruments may not. One such challenge is that of connecting one chord to another.
We may not want a space of silence between chords. So how can we connect the chords so the sound continues?
The Problem: Chunks vs. Lines
When we think of a chord, we usually think of a position on the guitar. A “C” chord, for example, uses three fingers in a certain pattern.
These patterns, or chord shapes, form a chunk of information in our minds. And this is useful. It helps us to think and act more quickly.
But it also comes with a drawback.
While we think in “chunks,” music flows in “lines.”
Vertical vs. Horizontal – The difference between chunks and lines
Music often has a melody, a bass, and accompaniment. These are called musical voices or parts.
The melody unfolds one note at a time. This is called a line of music. When we whistle a tune, we’re whistling a musical line. The same holds true with lyrics. On the page, these form a horizontal line (like the words on the page)
Often in classical guitar music, we find a melody note with a chord in the bass and accompaniment. Looking at the page here, we see a vertical stack of notes.
The melody is still part of the melody line, but we also see a chunk chord. The melody needs to stay clear and “upfront,” while the other notes stay in the background. This is called chord balance.
Chords are Made of Notes
So while it’s convenient to think of chords as chunks or blocks of notes, this may or may not be so in the music.
Often in a piece of music, the chords contain notes that are also parts of lines. The melody mentioned above is one example. But any note of a chord can be part of a musical line.
So when we set out to connect our chords beautifully, it helps to know the context of each note within the chord. It’s not always possible to smoothly connect every note. But we can prioritize based on what we know of the larger music context (the lines).
To Connect Two Chords, at Least One Note Should Connect Them
Nuts and bolts: When we play from one chord to another, ideally at least one note should connect smoothly.
As long as at least one note connects well to the next, the chord change will sound more smooth and more flowing.
How to Make Chunk Chords Into Flowing Musical Lines
The goal is to play our chord shapes one to the next and have it sound like music. This is better for the listener than having them sound like many separate chords.
Open strings: A gift from Heaven
If the two chords share a note, try not to mute it. Open strings are useful for connecting chords as well.
If the two chords share an open string, we allow it to ring through as much as possible. This “hides” the gaps formed between the other notes as we shift chords.
Common notes over-ring
Like the open strings, we sometimes have common notes between the two chords. When we do, it’s important to let them ring as much as we can.
This means we don’t lift the left-hand finger. And it means we prepare the right hand as little as possible, so we avoid muting the string.
Sometimes a finger stays on the same string
In another scenario, a left-hand finger may go to another note on the same string. When this happens on a non-wound string, we can slide quickly with minimal lift. This can make the chord change more secure, and sound more connected.
Arpeggios and broken chords – connect the last note to the first
When we have broken chords (aka “arpeggios“), we can listen for the last note of the chord to connect well to the first note of the next chord. The first note is often. bass note. We can listen closely to these two notes and strive to connect them as much as possible.
When we connect these two notes, the music sounds more flowing and legato (smooth and connected).
Butt-Joints: When Nothing Above Works
Alas, with all our tricks, sometimes there is no easy way to connect two chords. This often happens when we shift to a chord in a higher or lower position on the guitar neck.
When this happens, we can think of it as a “butt-joint.” In woodworking, a butt-joint is where two pieces of wood meet with no elegant joinery. The two pieces butt up against each other. Same with chords.
When this is the case, we do our best to play each chord clearly, in rhythm.
One tip for butt joints is to choose a note to listen to and connect that one note as much as possible. It could be the highest note (often the melody), the lower, or any other. We can focus on connecting the highest note of the first chord to the highest note of the second chord.
This listening can lead us to land the second chord more securely. And the sound, volume, and chord balance of the two chords can more closely match.
Use Rhythm to Keep it Musical
When we face a technical challenge in our music, it’s tempting to slow down. And if we do this enough times in practice, we begin to hear this slow-down as musically correct. Even if it’s not.
So we should always practice keeping the music in rhythm. If we do want to slow down for musical reasons we can. But it’s not good practice to do so in response to technical challenges.
Find a Solution, and Play It Every Time
For any tricky chords that we work to connect, we can find a solution. A solution is a strategy or choreography that helps us meet the challenge. The methods listed above are examples.
Once we find a solution, we should aim to play that part of the music consistently with this solution. When we play it the exact same way every time, we are more likely to play without major error when it counts.
Hi, I’m Allen Mathews.
I started as a folk guitarist, then fell in love with classical guitar in my 20’s. Despite a lot of practice and schooling, I still couldn’t get my music to flow well. I struggled with excess tension. My music sounded forced. And my hands and body were often sore. I got frustrated, and couldn’t see the way forward. Then, over the next decade, I studied with two other stellar teachers – one focused on the technical movements, and one on the musical (he was a concert pianist). In time, I came to discover a new set of formulas and movements. These brought new life and vitality to my practice. Now I help guitarists find more comfort and flow in their music, so they play more beautifully.
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