In this lesson, I'm going to teach you a couple of modifications of chords you already know so that you can make them more finger style friendly. Now this will prepare you for the songs I'm about to teach you, and hopefully it'll also prepare you for songs you'd like to figure out how to Travis pick on your own. Wouldn't that be cool?
So what makes a chord finger style friendly? It's all about flow. So you've already learned a couple of Travis picking songs, "Leaving on a Jet Plane" and "Orphan Girl", and you've probably noticed a theme emerge that when you're playing finger style, getting the chord changes to flow smoothly is critical. And sometimes we learn all new chord shapes like D7/F# in order to get things to flow nicely. Now I understand if you're beginning guitarist learning that D7/F# may have taken a lot of work. Learning any new chord takes a lot of work, and you may be feeling like, you know, I just got my normal D chord sounding good. And what does Rob do? He up and changes it on me, but I just want to reassure you that there really aren't a whole lot of new chords you need to learn in order to get your Travis picking to flow nicely, at least if you just want to learn like three or four chord songs. So stick with me here.
Thankfully, a lot of your work getting your Travis pick song to flow nicely is already done. If you just pick a finger style friendly key, the vast majority of Travis pick songs are either in G or C because these are the keys that have the least amount of bar chords in them. Bar chords kill the flow of your fingerpicking. A bit of welcome news for all those of you who hate barre chords.
Unfortunately, there are several open chords that also threaten to kill your flow, and so that's what we're going to be looking at today. I want to look at the D, F and Bm chords. These are chords that are commonly found in the Keys of G and C, and they take a little tweaking in order to get them to flow nicely.
So let's start with D. D is an oddball among the basic open chords we learn as beginners. We sometimes call them cowboy chords. It's the only chord that has a bass note on the fourth string. All the other chords have bass notes on the fifth or sixth strings, and what that means is the lowest D note that we can find on a standard tuned guitar is on that open fourth string. Now this causes a problem for us, Travis pickers, because as you know, normally when you're playing a picking pattern, your thumb starts on the bass note of the chord, the lowest root note. And if you're playing on the middle tier, which means your first and second fingers of your picking hand are assigned to the third and second strings our thumb hits that bass note at the beginning of the picking pattern. And then it's going to want to alternate up up to a higher pitched string for its alternate note, but it's got no room to alternate. The next door neighbor string is the third string. Our first finger is in charge of that. So now we have our thumb and our finger competing for the same string that doesn't work.
Now, one solution would be to just pop up to the higher tier whenever you get to the D chord, like if I was going from A to D, stay in the middle tier here for A and up to a higher tier for the D, and there are a lot of great finger style guitarists who do this. Totally fine. I just find it kind of a pain, and it doesn't always sound that great. And so I think in most cases, a better solution is to use one of these alternates to the D chord that I'm going to teach you.
One of them is your D/F#, obviously. You already know that one. Also just playing a D/F#, you can grab just a normal D chord. You don't have to fret the first string if you're picking on the middle tier and you just wrap that thumb, around the top. That also works great if you don't like to use the thumb. This fingering works well, too. There are lots of ways to fret this.
And also with the D/A, just grab a normal D and really you're just picking the fifth string as if it's the root. Like that. So you don't really need to fret that any differently, you're just including that fifth string in your picking pattern instead of the sixth string if you're doing some D/A.
OK, now let's look at the F chord. So as I said, bar chords kill your flow. F chord is normally played as a bar chord, but one of the nice things about playing finger style and in particular playing a repetitive Travis picking pattern is that we often ignore some of the strings. If you're playing in the middle tier, you ignore the first string and often you'll ignore either the sixth or fifth string, depending on where your bass note is. And so if you're ignoring those strings in your picking pattern, you can also ignore them in the way you fret the chords. So we don't have to grab the whole F bar chord.
Instead, we can grab something like this. I'm putting my--this is, by the way, is my go-to fingering for F when I Travis pick. First finger where it would go for like a C chord on the second string, first fret, second finger on the third string, second fret, fourth finger or excuse me, third finger on the fourth string, third fret. So these are three fingers, all in a diagonal on the second, third and fourth strings. And then you wrap your thumb around the top to grab the low F root note and your thumb hops between six and four, and you're picking on the middle tier--it works great--unless you can't wrap your thumb around the top of the guitar. Hand's too small, neck's too wide.
Fear not, because you can also play the F/A, just as you can play the D/A. So again, same fingering for the first, second and third fingers. You just damp with your thumb against the sixth string, if you can. Not necessary. And then include the open fifth string. Start on that string.
Also, if you can grab with your thumb up top here, I just got to show you like one of my all time favorite chord voicings--the Fsus2. Lift your middle finger and try this chord. Love that one.
Just check out how these fingerings for F and D7/F# in a song like "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right", by Bob Dylan. This is the wrong key for it.... But anyway, you normally capo it up.
When you rooster crows at the break and down, look out your window when I'll be gone,
Going for that F to the D/F#. Got that F fingering. And then you keep these two fingers anchored there. You let go with your third finger. Just scoot up your thumb, a fret. And since the picking pattern ends on that third string, you've got your second finger anchored there the whole time. Fabulous flow. You see how smooth that is.
And finally, let's look at Bm also normally played as a bar chord, but there is an open Bm7 variation that I teach my beginners who don't barre yet. We're still working on their barre chords and don't want to be hitting a brick wall every time they hit a Bm. This is what it looks like. First finger on the fifth string, second fret. Second finger on the third string, second fret. Third finger on the first string, second fret. So you've got a fretted string, open string, fretted string, open string, fretted string. Kind of like a picket fence alternating. And this voicing sounds OK, strummed. I'm not crazy about it. Usually I prefer the barred Bm, but when it's played finger style--and you'll notice this when you play finger style in general--otherwise dissonant chords, they take on a new character when you arpeggiate them, when you break them up into their individual notes. Check this out.
And so, you know, if you go on like something like this. You know, something like that, that chord can sound really pretty and kind of mysterious and unusual. So I love that fingering for a substitute for Bm when I'm playing finger style.
So there you have some solutions for three of the most common chords that you find in keys of C and G that would otherwise give you a little trouble with your flow. And I just want to highlight--just take like take a step back for a second--and highlight why these alternate fingerings work. It's a combination of changing the chords so that you're fretting notes that can be used as anchor fingers, like with this F and D7/F# that I demonstrated playing "Don't Think Twice". You can keep some your fingers just anchored there as you move other fingers, and that can help preserve your flow. And then with this last example, with the Bm7 open voicing--it just has a lot of open strings in it. And the more open strings that you can weave into your chord voicings when you're playing finger style, the easier it is to get them to flow.
How's it going?
Are you loving the lesson? Confused? Have a suggestion? I'd love to hear from you.