So, as promised in last month's post, some exercises to help overcome “open string blindness” and incorporate this incredibly simple yet powerful tool into your playing.
One of the real cornerstones of the guitar is it's reliance on movable shapes, be they chords, scales, arpeggios etc. By combining movable shapes with open strings, we can easily create very interesting harmonies. Let's start with a simple C chord – shifting the entire chord up by two frets results in a D chord(D – F#- A), but removing the barre and letting the E and G strings ring open we add a 2nd and 4th to the basic R-3-5 harmony. It's still essentially major but with an added depth and colour. By finding a basic R-3-5 pattern that these open E and G notes will harmonise with, it's very easy to transform basic rhythm parts into something really quite special.
For example, moving the C up 5 semitones would normally give us a straight F chord, but letting the E and G ring out now adds a 2nd (the G) and a 7th (the E) creating a major 9th chord (R-3-5-7-9). Moving the chord shape up a tone to G, the G will now be doubling the root note and the E functioning as a 6th, creating a major 6th chord (R-3-5-6). The E shape is another good candidate – play an E-shape A barre chord at the 5th fret, arch your fingers to let the E and B strings ring out and you get a gorgeous Aadd9 (R-3-5-9) as the B string functions as the 9th, the open E doubling the 5th. Experiment and see what you can find!
Moving to lead patterns, the obvious candidate for experimentation is E minor pentatonic – as the observant of you have probably already noted, the guitar is effectively tuned to E minor pentatonic (E, G, A, B, D = E minor pentatonic, E, A, D, G, B, E = open string notes). A simple exercise to get you started – sequence the old favourite box pattern 1 at the twelfth fret, but this time replace the twelfth fret notes with open strings. It takes a little effort to get the tone even, but the pay off is well worth it, the quirky octave-jumping effect is very ear-catching!
Open string pedal notes are also a great way of connecting arpeggios. The AC/DC classic “Thunderstruck” intro revolves around two arpeggios, B (B root, D# 3rd, F# 5th) and E minor (E root, G minor 3rd and B 5th). Both contain the B note and Angus Young uses this common tone to connect up the two arpeggios, producing a root position (Root,3rd ,5th) B and a second inversion (5th, root, 3rd) E minor. Look for other ways to develop this idea – for example, B is the 3rd of a G chord or the minor 3rd of a G# minor chord, try experimenting with these arpeggios, or moving them onto different strings.
This post has really just scratched the surface of what's possible with the use of open string notes and a little creativity. Open strings are one of the most unique and natural guitar sounds available, so don't shy away from using these simple but powerful ideas in your playing!