or flat the high four

five-string exercise for guitar

(lose the sixth string.)
tune the fifth up
a half-tone higher
(than its usual “A”,
to B-flat [or A-sharp;
B-flat to us today]):
X B♭ D G B E. so far.

now we’re gonna “barre”
four strings more or less
throughout the rest. in
across the universe
notation, playing
[[X,0,1,1,1,1]]— i.e.,
pushing down the first four
strings at the first fret—
in this tuning gives, as it
were, a “shifted-ordinary”
tuning: the familiar
A D G B E (learned by every
beginner) is “shifted up” to
B♭ E♭ A♭ C F.

the good news is, forget the
“accidentals”: the exercise
is to play on the high four
with the “A-string” (now in
some sense “really” a B♭)
droning away (or silenced…
but otherwise untouched by
the left hand) the whole time.

so new-school “D”:

this is (of course… ) just
“old school” D
“raised by one fret”.
but, alas, putting that second
“barre” down? (the first finger
is barring four frets “throughout”;
to get the “D” here, i have to
*also* barre three strings with
my third finger [and finally put
my pinkie in the middle of the bar,
one fret up.) that’s pretty brutal.

more good news: one already plays
[[X,X,3,2,1,1]] (regular tuning):
this is Beginner F (typically one’s
*first* “barre” chord… note that
only two frets must be barred).
well, new tuning *improves* on the
sound of that cord since we can now
loudly *play* that fifth string:
[[X,0,3,2,1,1]] (“new” tuning) gives
us an extra bass note, as it were
“for free”.

the real payoff, though…
or anyway my reason for having developed
this whole line of investigation…
the “A” chord and its variants
(as i think of ’em while playing
actual B-flats and *their* variants)
take the cool-sound-making form
where you’re just mashing down the
major-chord in the middle and can
drop in the boogie-woogie treble
with very small movements of one’s
left hand.

this A-form trick (e.g.) also works
in ordinary tuning at the fifth
and seventh frets and that where i
first figured it out.
the “raise the bass” trick lets me
play in the same style but lower
on the neck.

“G” form is another useful near-freebie.


  1. as for philosophy of strumming.
    sometimes it seems like i’m just using
    “how much does it hurt?”
    to make most of my strumming decisions.
    my right forefinger has considerably less nail
    than its left-hand counterpart and is pretty tough.
    my thumb is tougher still…
    so sometimes i’ll switch to another finger for my
    make-you-a-sword-of-me (coriolanus)

    other times, certain fingers will work certain strings.
    (i’m talking about right-hand work as i hope was clear already.)
    but the only ones i can actually tell you about in any
    detail without picking up the instrument and slowly
    working it out? the p-i-m-a kinda stuff that dan willen
    showed me in the seventies. i vary it up quite a bit
    but without knowing what’s happening to which notes
    in any coherent able-to-talk-about way.

    if i strum closer to the bridge, it’ll sound cleaner.
    closer to the nut, like, right over the hole?
    easier on the hand. so there’s that.
    there’s still something to this even using a pick:
    i can be sloppier the closer i get to the middle
    of the (fretted) string.

    if there’s a lyric it’s sometimes helpful
    for putting the chicka-booms in their right
    places with respect to the booms and the
    boom-booms. but if i start trying to count it,
    my gut-feeling seizes up and i soon quit and
    just go back to feeling the drumset rocking
    the whole house imaginary or not.

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