The Electric: Chord Voicing

In this series I try and address different aspects of the practical side of playing electric guitar in church music. This week we’ll talk about chord voicing and how they can be used when playing in the church band.

 

THERE IS MORE THAN ONE WAY TO PLAY THE G CHORD

A while back I was asked to play electric guitar at the last minute. The church had an electric and an amplifier and that was it. No overdrive pedal, no delay, the amp  had some reverb but the options were pretty much just “on” and “off'”. What’s a guitar player to do?

Really it was no big deal. I set the amp to a good tone with as much volume as would permit. I added a little bit of reverb to give some atmosphere and I played.

One of the biggest mistakes that you’ll see a 2nd guitar player make in church, whether they be on acoustic or electric, is to play the exact same thing as the worship leader. With no effects to separate our guitars sonically, I use different voicings to fill in the sound and keep things from getting “muddy”. If the leader is playing the standard G chord, maybe I will play it in an “A Shape” Barre chord on the 10th fret. Maybe I will use a Capo on the 5th fret and play a D Chord which in this case equals the G chord but will sound different enough to fill out the sound.

DO THE OPPOSITE!

If the band leader is strumming, I’ll finger pick or do arpeggios. If the band leader is finger picking on a slow song, maybe I’ll come in on the 2nd verse with “whole note strums” letting the chords ring out behind the picking. If the worship leader has a capo, I’ll probably think about not using a capo, or visa versa.

IT’LL KEEP YOU OUT OF TROUBLE

Just because you’re talented at playing guitar doesn’t mean that you’re talented at playing with a band. I’ve known plenty of guitarists who are amazing. They can sit at home for hours and do kill metal runs or blues leads and do things that I will never be able to dream of. The problem is that when they get into a band setting, especially at church, they’re lost and turn the song into a 4 minute non-stop guitar solo. No matter how good your playing is THAT IS HORRIBLE!!! Seriously, I can’t emphasize this enough. (See my previous blog posts on the subject.)

Knowing different chord voicings and how to use them will give you a base to work from so that you’re adding to the song instead of taking away from it by drawing attention to your own playing.

HOW I USE CHORD VOICINGS

A lot of this developed over time. First on my acoustic guitar, when I was bored, looking through chord books to find open chords for intros and bits to “spice up” a song when it was just me playing. I transitioned it into electric playing but the principle is the same. Take all the stuff I’ve mentioned above and figure out how it all works out in a practical setting. So with Capos I know that a vast majority of worship songs are in “G, D, E, C, etc” so I’ve gotten it down my memory how to transpose from E to D, so I can see a chord chart for a Amazing Grace in E, put a capo on 2nd fret and play it like it’s in D. I can do the same with G if I put the capon on the 5th fret. The same is true for a few other keys. So that even if its just two acoustics strumming together the same pattern, the sound and frequency of the chords will be different and add depth to the music.

With Arpeggios, I’ll just them to keep a full sound without overpowering. Take the song “How Great is Our God”, if we’re doing that upbeat in G and the intro is something like G-C repeated maybe I’ll strum and hold out the full G chord and then when we go to the C I will just pick the first three strings in a quick 1-2-3 and let the 3rd note ring out. Then when we get to the verse I’ll either drop back or I’ll pick at the highest two notes on whatever chord is being played in a light 1-2, 1-2 rhythm. When I come to the chorus, depending on the song’s tempo (fast slow), the sound of the band, and what the other instruments are doing, maybe I’ll just play the chords with full power and some Overdrive, or I’ll do what I did on the intro, or I’ll do a mix of the verse and intro bits. Either way, using Arpeggios in my playing I’ve managed to add depth and scope to the sound of the music and separate the sound of the electric (or lead acoustic guitar) from what the rhythm guitar is doing. When you get to the bridge, maybe there I would do some lead/solo work, or I’d go full overdriven chords if I hadn’t done that in the chorus, but it’s done in a way so that when you do solo it’s impactful and meaningful.

The last of the main ways I would use an alternate voicing is with Barre Chords, the “A Form” in particular. Let’s say the song is in D, so I’ll find the D version of an A Form but instead of the normal way, I’ll put my index finger over the 3 strings the ring would normally cover and start with arpeggios over those 3 notes. Then I’ll start to add notes using my other fingers. You can play around with this and find what works for you. on the A and the D strings the notes two frets up and the 1st and 3rd frets up on the G string usually work really well. I usually think of this as “Coldplay” chords because I’ll hit some kind of reverb and/or delay effect and let the notes ring out ala X&Y era Coldplay. You can also play these form without the delay but with reverb or overdrive and it works really well for intros and bits between chorus and verse. Also, you are just playing chords on a part of the song, you can play a normal A Form and use your pinky to hit extra notes in a similar way for a little bit of flourish. Usually I use this approach when I’m strumming and holding out chords over what the piano or rhythm guitar are doing and I’ll do it on the last chord in the progression or maybe the 2nd and 4th if it’s an even numbered progression. As a rule of thumb, the more effects you have on the less you want to play, so using this technique to limit yourself to only a few notes is a great chance to make use of the different effects you may have at your disposal.

THERE’S A LOT MORE OUT THERE

This is just a brief description of some of the ways I use alternate chord voicing in a worship setting. This is by no means an exhaustive work on the subject, but play around and hopefully you’ll find stuff that works for you and in your church context. If you have someone who overplays in your band maybe pass it on to them. I hope I explained some of the more technical stuff clearly. As always, if you have an questions or comments then drop a line down below in the comments section.

 

-Adam

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