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Tony’s Acoustic Challenge – The New Way to Learn Guitar Family Forums Small Wins Wonderful “Shell” Chords in “Are We There Yet?”

  • Wonderful “Shell” Chords in “Are We There Yet?”

    Posted by N-lightMike on August 10, 2023 at 12:00 pm

    What is a shell chord? Simple, it’s a shell without the insides. Wait, what are the “insides” when it comes to a chord? That’s simple also, it’s the “3rd”.

    So, each chord has a root: that’s the name of the chord. Then, it has a 3rd and a 5th. The “3rd” is the 2nd note higher than the root. The “5th” is the 4th note higher than the root. (If you wonder about the names “3rd” and “5th”, it’s because you always start the “count” with the root. So, it’s 1, 2, 3; NOT root, 1, 2.)

    Now, the interesting thing about the 3rd is that it gives the chord it’s major or minor sound (they call it the chords “quality”). So, a “shell” chord doesn’t include the “insides”, or “quality”. Normally, we call it a “5” chord. Like E5, for instance.

    In the chord progression Tony presents in “Are We There Yet?”, we are actually playing:

    |E5|B5 A5|

    Notice that we are not playing the 3rd in any of the chords except the C#, so none of those chords are major or minor, they are simply a “5” chord. That’s a shell chord. Your lead can determine if the chords are major or minor.

    The reason we are not playing the 3rd is because the 3rd in the E shaped barre chords is found on the G string, and we are not plucking the G string. On the other hand, the Am shaped barre chord we use for the C# has the 3rd on the 2nd string, so it’s a minor.

    So if we use the partial barre chord shapes that only use the high 4 strings, then we are plucking the “quality” note, the 3rd, in every chord.

    This means, there is more reason to use partial chords than simply to work up to a full barre chord. We can significantly change the sonic pallet we are using for our rhythm guitar. This provides great variety whether we are playing with a band or by ourselves.

    It turns out, a great many pro guitarists, use partial shapes a lot more than they use full barre chords. Part of the reason is because they are in a band and they don’t want to cover the same sonic ground as the other instruments. But another reason is because they do this all the time so they’ve learned to keep things as simple and easy as possible.

    I’ve played full barre chords all of my guitar journey. Just in the last year or 2 have I really wanted to use partial shapes. However, it’s tough to revert backwards.

    Please don’t think partial shapes are “cheating” or less “good”. Just the opposite, they are “better” in a lot of circumstances; that is, they are preferred. Learn them and use them. Never use a full barre chord unless you are a) learning the barre chord; or b) what you are playing requires the full barre chord, for whatever reason. There are many different reasons, but it always comes down to the sound you want.

    Tony gives us so much more guitar goodness than it may appear on the surface. He doesn’t want to “muddy” the clear waters of his musical guidance with too much explanation and, heaven forbid, music theory.

    MG 😀

    N-lightMike replied 10 months, 1 week ago 2 Members · 2 Replies
  • 2 Replies
  • jjbaggins

    August 12, 2023 at 7:03 am

    Thanks for the info . A little reassurance on using the partials . Bar chords can be very hard to play clean so I use the partials whenever it works .

    • N-lightMike

      August 12, 2023 at 12:51 pm


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