Shell chords. I’ve been doing it wrong

Discussion in 'Fred's Barcalounge' started by dlew919, Aug 1, 2021.

  1. Tele295

    Tele295 Country Gent

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  2. dlew919

    dlew919 Country Gent

    Jul 18, 2016
    Sydney, Australia
    it has occurred to me that it’s all to do with the role of various chord tones. In rock, blues, country, it’s the fifth and the 7 which are the important tones. In jazz the 5 is unimportant but it is the 3 that is important. I’m talking harmonically here. So a Pete townshend power chord is rare in azz but vital to ‘baba oreilly’ say. Or to get a bit more primal, that opening to Johnny B Goode. All fifths. Plus the shuffle moves between 5,6 and 7

    try playing ‘girl from Ipanema’ with power chords. It. Does. Not. Work. Even with nicely spaced chords with 5, the lilt becomes too heavy. We don’t need the fifth because it’s not essential.

    but there’s always exceptions.
     
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  3. Robbie

    Robbie Friend of Fred

    Age:
    68
    Jun 17, 2013
    Sarnia Ontario Canada
    I recall a few years ago jumping in with a Band for a couple of songs, because I knew the guitar player quite well and he asked. After my couple of songs a gentleman I didn’t know brought me over a drink and asked when I learned shell chords. I was playing R&B and had never heard that term. I explained I was self taught and not sure what he meant. He went on to explain he had played jazz/guitar for a lot of years when he lived in Florida and always thought playing more than 3 note chords was most often a waste. We had a very nice conversation, he was a real gentleman, and he explained a lot about Shell Chords to me. Most of which I’ve now forgot. I think it would be worthwhile for me to spend some time with this.
     
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  4. Synchro

    Synchro The artist formerly known as: Synchro Staff Member

    Jun 2, 2008
    Tucson
    Admin Post
    There are any number of ways to analyze and assess chords. The “flavor” of a chord is found in the 3rd and the 7th. The fifth is important, but if you play the root, 5th combination, there is a lot of sonic authority and these show up in all sort of music, but need to be used carefully, or else you could end up overwhelming everything above. If you add a note one octave above the root, you now have the classic power chord used in hard rock and heavy metal. The point here is to deliberately overwhelm.

    It’s important to remember that the guitar is a bass clef instrument up until the first fret of the second string. This means that attention has to be given to voicing chords so that they don’t become muddy. That’s actually a major influencer in selecting voicings. If you were to play an A Major as:

    5422xx

    and a B minor as:

    7544xx

    which would be known as “closed” voicings, which has nothing to do with open or fretted strings, but “closed” in the sense that the notes appear in order, 1, 3, 5, 8, you would find that in the lower register, it can be a bit indistinct. But if you take it up an octave, it rings out beautifully. The lesson here is that notes in the lower register need their space.

    In fact, Tal Farlow used to play a lot of double stops, which were mostly Major and minor 3rds, but in the lower register, he would play perfect fourths, which gives in interesting effect which is not nearly as heavy sounding as 5ths, but not as muddy as thirds. Which leads us back to shell chords.

    If you go back to the root, 3rd & 7th, whether you call it a shell chord or not, the sonic heft is less, but the details take on more authority. I tend to think in terms of the continuity of the 3rd and 7th, with the root moving as required. So, starting with dominants, we’ll play what I think of as a “double turnaround” in G Major.

    B7 - 7x78xx
    E7 - x767xx
    A7 - 5x56xx
    D7 - x545xx

    The upper two notes of each chord, the tritones, move downward in half-steps, while the bass dances a bit beneath them. To my way of thinking, this progression is sort of the mothership for chords moving in 4ths.

    So now, with minor 7th to dominant 7th progressions:

    Bm7 - 7x77xx
    E7 - x767xx
    Am7 - 5x55xx
    D7 - x545xx

    If you track the upper notes in these voicings, you can see that there is a motion which is similar to the dominant 7th chords resolving from a suspended 4th to a Major third. By keeping track of that mentally, there is an opportunity to imply that chord change when playing single notes, by simply treating it like a sus 4 resolution. (A word of thanks to Mr. Mc Daniels, from Mapleton High, north of Denver. You were good enough to teach me about sus 4ths and how Bach used these. I’ve never forgotten that teach’.)

    Returning to the mothership, there is also some very real potential to move things a bit “outside”, while still being rooted to the tritones. While it won’t fit everywhere, you could play some altered dominants without upsetting the apple cart, entirely. This does, however, return us to 4-note voicings.

    B7b5 - 7x786x
    E7 - x7675x
    A7b5 - 5x564x
    D7 - x5453x

    But wait, there’s more! What would happen if you made all of these chords altered dominants? Well, for one thing, you’d have to make sure the all of them had 5ths, and you’d have to stash those 5ths someplace convenient.

    B7b5 - 7x786x
    E7b5 - 6x675x
    A7b5 - 5x564x
    D7b5 - 4x453x

    So I stuck those 5ths on the bottom, but you could also name those chords as follows:

    B7b5 - 7x786x
    Bb7b5 - 6x675x
    A7b5 - 5x564x
    Ab7b5 - 4x453x
    GMaj7 - 3x44xx

    This is known as a flat 5 substitution. The important thing here is that the 3rds and 7ths remain in an orderly progression and preserve the integrity of the harmony, while the lowest and highest notes also form an orderly progression in half steps.

    But wait, there’s even more! Try this one on for size.

    Bm7 - 7x77xx
    E7b5/Bb - 6x67xx
    Am7 - 5x55xx
    D7b5/Ab - 4x45xx
    GMaj7 - 3x44xx

    So these “shell chords” are pretty potent. But you can also restore the 5ths to the harmony, just by handling them carefully. Here are some in a song; The Girl From Ipanema
    Verse
    FMaj7 - 1x221x (two measures)
    G7b5 - 3x342x (two measures)
    Gm7 - 3x333x (one measure)
    C7b5/Gb - 2x231x (one measure)
    FMaj7 - 1x221x (one measure)
    C7b5/Gb - 2x231x (one measure)

    Chorus
    F#Maj7 - 2x332x (two measures)
    F#m7 - 2x222x (one measure)
    B7 - x2x24x (one measure)
    F#m7 - 2x222x (two measures)
    Am7 - 5x555x (one measure)
    D7 - x5x57x (two beats)
    D7b5/Ab - 4x453x (two beats)
    Gm7 - 3x333x (two measures)
    Bbm7 - 6x666x (one measure)
    Eb7 - x6x68x (two beats)
    Eb7b5/A - 5x564x (two beats)
    Am7 - 5x555x (one measure)
    Ab7 - 4x454x (one measure)
    Gm7 - 3x333 (one measure)
    Gb7 - 2x232x (one measure)
    F Maj7 - 1x221x

    (note the flat 5 substitutions near the end of the bridge)

    It’s all a matter of context. No chord stands alone, except the root chord at the end of a song, but instead, the voicings up to that terminal point should compliment one another. The G7b5 in the third and fourth measures of the verse, would sound harsh on its own, but in context it makes sense and leads nicely into the Gm7 which follows it. The 3rds and 7ths stay close together, for the most part, and serve as the binding agent of the chord progression.

    The point here is that these chords flow nicely into one another. It makes for an even sound, and it’s actually pretty easy to play. In the decades that I’ve been playing this song, going back to the ‘60s, I have used a lot of different approaches to the chords, but these voicings are actually the easiest to play. The same ideas can be applied to a lot of situations, especially in an R&B context. Just listen to the background on some of BB King’s music, and you’ll hear some great chord voicings.
     
  5. new6659

    new6659 Country Gent

    Thanks for this, everyone! Please keep it coming!
     
  6. NJDevil

    NJDevil Synchromatic

    890
    Jul 9, 2014
    Commack, NY
    Great thread and can't wait till I mess around with Synchro's post above. I have to say that I probably play the simplest/cheapest-yet useful example of making the whole shell thing work.

    Years ago, I wanted to add more spice/funk to the Allman Brother's "Southbound" as I always preferred the live versions over the recorded. So I play the rhythm in C with three fingers just up and down the fretboard.
    Even though I didn't take it from the link below, it happens to be exactly what I do and it works really well.

    Start at 5:14 and in 20 seconds, you pretty much got the song. For the solos, I just improv to how the mood takes me but usually keep it funky:

     
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  7. Robbie

    Robbie Friend of Fred

    Age:
    68
    Jun 17, 2013
    Sarnia Ontario Canada
    You’ve given me a lot to mess around with, thanks. Really do appreciate it.
     
  8. Synchro

    Synchro The artist formerly known as: Synchro Staff Member

    Jun 2, 2008
    Tucson
    Admin Post
    Simple takes the day. That sounds perfect.
     
  9. If it wasn’t an ongoing journey, would it be as much fun?
     
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  10. NJDevil

    NJDevil Synchromatic

    890
    Jul 9, 2014
    Commack, NY
    I had fun with this last night and proved to be a great practice session getting fingers a bit more active. The added bonus for "The Girl From Ipanema" was that it brought strong visions of the Blues Brothers patiently riding the elevator en route to the tax collector!:cool:
     
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  11. dlew919

    dlew919 Country Gent

    Jul 18, 2016
    Sydney, Australia
    ‘girl’ is one of the songs I’d been playing fir years but didn’t sound right. Now it does!
    And I’m going for a murph snd the magic tones vibe next with ‘quando ‘quando’
     
  12. Synchro

    Synchro The artist formerly known as: Synchro Staff Member

    Jun 2, 2008
    Tucson
    Admin Post
    That scene inspires all of my music. :)

    It’s a tricky tune. The subtleties of the chords are frequently lost. Girl and The Shadow of Your Smile are a couple of my favorite songs to improvise over.
     
  13. Henry

    Henry I Bleed Orange

    Apr 9, 2014
    Petaluma
    It's kinda wild how different song writing is between pop and classical. I took a classical composition class using a quartet. One of the rules was that you tried to avoid at almost any cost (dare I say never?) moving a 5th interval in parallel. E.g. the bass note moving from C to F, and the tenor from G to C.

    In other words, no power chords. Which is basically how most pop songs are written and played. I do wonder if this is due to the influence of guitar becoming an important instrument.

    And by "pop" I mean anything from folk to dance to blues to metal to rockabilly.
     
  14. Synchro

    Synchro The artist formerly known as: Synchro Staff Member

    Jun 2, 2008
    Tucson
    Admin Post
    I have a tune where the chords march right up the scale tones, G, Am, Bm, C, D7. It’s a lighter sounding song, and I don’t want it to sound like power chords, but the only way to do it is to play triads.
     
  15. Freshy

    Freshy Synchromatic

    Age:
    68
    925
    Sep 30, 2017
    Homosassa FLA
  16. dlew919

    dlew919 Country Gent

    Jul 18, 2016
    Sydney, Australia
    Regarding chord tones I think the 6 is possibly the most important at least in rock. This is another thread though ….
     
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