Three Finger Chords
When you start making these new chords you should make an effort to keep the thumb of your fretting hand in roughly the same position as when you play barre chords. That is, with the ball of your thumb centered on the back of the neck. That's a good position for your fretting hand with some chords, but you will sometimes have to shift things around. In the image on the right you can see where I have worn the finish off of my guitar neck. There is a worn spot along the centerline of the neck, but there is a second worn spot where my thumb sometimes rests closer to the edge of the fretboard.
We all have different sized hands and as a result each of us has to tailor chord forms to our individual needs. As long as you can fret strings cleanly and make chords that don't have any dead strings you should be fine.
One thing to avoid is the "no pain no gain" attitude. Guitar chords in any tuning can be a challenge to learn while building up your hand strength, but this isn't a situation where "feeling the burn" is going to toughen you up. Hand pain is your body's way of telling you that you are doing something wrong.
If your hands hurt when you hold a chord form for a measure or two stop what you are doing and move your hand around to a more comfortable position.
Another thing that you need to know before you start making chords is how to choose which fingers to use. There are two simple rules that you can fall back on. The first rule is that, where feasible, you work in four fret blocks with each finger assigned to a fret. In other words, you use your index finger on the first fret, your middle finger on the second fret, your ring finger on the third fret and your little finger on the fourth fret.
Unfortunately things are not always laid out in a way that will let you follow the first rule. Quite a few chords use several strings fretted at the same fret, and that's where the second rule comes into play.
If you have to fret several strings on the same fret, as with the C chord diagrammed on the left, assign a finger to each string starting with the sixth string. In other words, to make the C chord in the diagram your index finger would fret the second string at the first fret, your middle finger would fret the fourth string at the second fret and your ring finger would fret the first string at the second fret.
The reason we have to lay things out this way is simply because we want to avoid crossing our fingers up on the fretboard. If everything was laid out in a random fashion making fast chord changes would be next to impossible. Making the C chord this way makes moving to our next chord much easier.
With this D chord you would fret the third string with your index finger, the second string with your middle finger and, you guessed it, the first string with your ring finger.
Nothing to it, right?
If you look at the chord diagram for the C chord you will see that the sixth string is marked with an x. That is telling you not to play that string. You could fret the sixth string with your thumb on the second fret, but I don't recommend trying that just yet. Give yourself some time to get more comfortable forming chords with your fingers before you start adding in the thumb.
Not using the sixth string in a C chord means that you have to change your "root five" bass pattern. You don't have a low C note available so you have to compromise things a little bit. Don't panic, in the long run art is really nothing more than creative compromising. Take a look at the G, C D chord progression tabbed out below. I have given one option for this "problem." Mess around with it a little bit and see what you can come up with on your own.
Let's try this pattern with a neat little Irish Song called "I'll Tell Me Ma" . The Irish band I used to play with years ago called this one "Playing Post Office" . It is a pretty straightforward three-chord song except that the song has three sets of two verses with a separate chorus for each set.
"I'll Tell Me Ma" Verse
"I'll Tell Me Ma" chorus
I'll tell me ma when I go home,
Albert Mooney says he loves her so
You might find the fact that we are changing the bass picking pattern with each chord change a little challenging at first, but you might as well get used to the idea. When we move into standard guitar tuning this is going to be an almost constant thing. We kept things consistent measure to measure with barre chords so you could get used to the rhythm. The next step is to keep the rhythm steady no matter what you are doing with the bass line, and later on when you start adding melody into the mix.
Don't worry about mistakes. They go by so fast that people will most likely only notice if you stop and begin shaking your head trying to apologize. Just roll with the rhythm and be aware that in folk music you can't really hit a wrong note as long as you are in the rhythm and following the chord progression.
Our next step is to learn a few more chords. Then it will be time for you to start coming up with your own way to play some songs.
Before you head into the next chapter go back through the songs you already know and give yourself a chance to review the thumb-brush, bass strum, alternating bass and Carter strum picking patterns in 4/4 and 3/4 time.
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