Chords vs. single notes

Guitar Tricks Forum > Open Discussion > Chords vs. single notes

jsquiers

Registered User

Joined: 02/14/08

Posts: 43

Hello, I'm very new to guitar playing, but am very motivated at this point (31 years old and practicing a LOT!). I've been working through the lessons here, but one thing I'm confused about is the difference between playing a song with just strumming chords, and actually playing the notes.

For example, I have a book (4 chords songs) with "Wonderful Tonight" in it. It gives the 4 cords to use and shows rhythm slashes for strumming these chords through the whole song. It also has the notes and words bellow that. Now, when Clapton plays this song, he isn't strumming; he's playing notes. I don't understand when is the best time to play notes vs. strumming chords? I also notice people hold cords but pick single notes while holding that chord. I guess I'm very confused -- please set me straight.

thanks,
Jeremy

#1

Hello, I'm very new to guitar playing, but am very motivated at this point (31 years old and practicing a LOT!). I've been working through the lessons here, but one thing I'm confused about is the difference between playing a song with just strumming chords, and actually playing the notes.

For example, I have a book (4 chords songs) with "Wonderful Tonight" in it. It gives the 4 cords to use and shows rhythm slashes for strumming these chords through the whole song. It also has the notes and words bellow that. Now, when Clapton plays this song, he isn't strumming; he's playing notes. I don't understand when is the best time to play notes vs. strumming chords? I also notice people hold cords but pick single notes while holding that chord. I guess I'm very confused -- please set me straight.

thanks,
Jeremy

earthman buck

Registered User

Joined: 10/15/05

Posts: 2953

Most notes played in a song will fit into some chord or another used in that song. If the note it says to pick is a C, the chord being played over it could be a C major, C minor, A minor, etc. The chord progressions are in the book just so you know which chords you could be playing over it. It's basically a rhythm/lead thing.
Can't a Captain look at a Queen?

#2

Most notes played in a song will fit into some chord or another used in that song. If the note it says to pick is a C, the chord being played over it could be a C major, C minor, A minor, etc. The chord progressions are in the book just so you know which chords you could be playing over it. It's basically a rhythm/lead thing.
Can't a Captain look at a Queen?

light487

Forum Administrator

Joined: 07/14/07

Posts: 849

A lot of the notes I see on sheet music relate to the notes being sung in the melody more than anything, and can quite easily be played on piano. The thing you are talking about when hold the chord shape and playing the individual notes is finger-picking or finger-style playing. What you will most likely want to find is the TABLATURE for the song. This is another way of showing the notes and chords as they relate to guitar. A lot of song books, for guitar, will say "with tablature" on the front cover. These are the ones you want as they describe not only the individual notes and chords being played, but HOW to play those notes.. whether you bend the note, slide up to (or down from) the note, and so on. Tablature (tab) makes a lot more sense than just sheet music from a guitarist's point of view.
light487
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#3

A lot of the notes I see on sheet music relate to the notes being sung in the melody more than anything, and can quite easily be played on piano. The thing you are talking about when hold the chord shape and playing the individual notes is finger-picking or finger-style playing. What you will most likely want to find is the TABLATURE for the song. This is another way of showing the notes and chords as they relate to guitar. A lot of song books, for guitar, will say "with tablature" on the front cover. These are the ones you want as they describe not only the individual notes and chords being played, but HOW to play those notes.. whether you bend the note, slide up to (or down from) the note, and so on. Tablature (tab) makes a lot more sense than just sheet music from a guitarist's point of view.
light487
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GuitarTricks
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magicninja

Guitar Tricks Moderator

Joined: 03/13/02

Posts: 3827

That's honestly what you usually get with Tab books. It's why I never use them.
Magicninja
Guitar Tricks Moderator

"If it feels right, play it. If it feels wrong, play it faster - Magicninja
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#4

That's honestly what you usually get with Tab books. It's why I never use them.
Magicninja
Guitar Tricks Moderator

"If it feels right, play it. If it feels wrong, play it faster - Magicninja
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CSchlegel

Guitar Tricks Instructor

Joined: 08/09/05

Posts: 4464

Hey, and welcome.
Originally Posted by: jsquiers
...the difference between playing a song with just strumming chords, and actually playing the notes.

The biggest single source of confusion on this issue is that in pop and rock music the guitar rarely plays the melody of the song all the way through the song. When and if the guitar plays the melody it is usually only when it is not being sung. The singer usually "plays" the melody.

The guitar is a "rhythmic" or "support" instrument only playing chords or riffs that provide background support for the melody.
Originally Posted by: jsquiers
..."Wonderful Tonight" in it. It gives the 4 cords to use and shows rhythm slashes for strumming these chords through the whole song. It also has the notes and words bellow that. Now, when Clapton plays this song, he isn't strumming; he's playing notes.

I have no idea how your book handles it, but this is what happens in the song.

1. Beginning, Clapton (or the lead guitarist of band playing this song) plays the little single note melody.

2. When the words start, the singer takes over the "melody proper". At that precise point, the guitarist switches to strumming background chords.

3. Verse and chorus go by. After the chorus ends ("You look wonderful tonight") Clapton (or the lead guitarist of band playing this song) plays the little single note melody again.

And so on. Make sense? Smilie

In my experience, many books will show the guitar chords as the background part ("what to strum"), but then use a music staff with notes to show what notes the melody is (what notes are "attached" to the words being sung by the singer).
Originally Posted by: jsquiers
I don't understand when is the best time to play notes vs. strumming chords? I also notice people hold cords but pick single notes while holding that chord.

Play notes when you want to play a melody or solo. Strum chords when you want to play a background or rhythm part.

Sometimes people hold a chord shape but pick one string or note at a time out of the chord shape. This can be an efficient way of holding many notes down with one hand position.

Hope this helps. Let us know how it goes for you. Best of success learning. Have fun with it!
Christopher Schlegel
Guitar Tricks Instructor

Christopher Schlegel Lesson Directory

#5

Hey, and welcome.
Originally Posted by: jsquiers
...the difference between playing a song with just strumming chords, and actually playing the notes.

The biggest single source of confusion on this issue is that in pop and rock music the guitar rarely plays the melody of the song all the way through the song. When and if the guitar plays the melody it is usually only when it is not being sung. The singer usually "plays" the melody.

The guitar is a "rhythmic" or "support" instrument only playing chords or riffs that provide background support for the melody.
Originally Posted by: jsquiers
..."Wonderful Tonight" in it. It gives the 4 cords to use and shows rhythm slashes for strumming these chords through the whole song. It also has the notes and words bellow that. Now, when Clapton plays this song, he isn't strumming; he's playing notes.

I have no idea how your book handles it, but this is what happens in the song.

1. Beginning, Clapton (or the lead guitarist of band playing this song) plays the little single note melody.

2. When the words start, the singer takes over the "melody proper". At that precise point, the guitarist switches to strumming background chords.

3. Verse and chorus go by. After the chorus ends ("You look wonderful tonight") Clapton (or the lead guitarist of band playing this song) plays the little single note melody again.

And so on. Make sense? Smilie

In my experience, many books will show the guitar chords as the background part ("what to strum"), but then use a music staff with notes to show what notes the melody is (what notes are "attached" to the words being sung by the singer).
Originally Posted by: jsquiers
I don't understand when is the best time to play notes vs. strumming chords? I also notice people hold cords but pick single notes while holding that chord.

Play notes when you want to play a melody or solo. Strum chords when you want to play a background or rhythm part.

Sometimes people hold a chord shape but pick one string or note at a time out of the chord shape. This can be an efficient way of holding many notes down with one hand position.

Hope this helps. Let us know how it goes for you. Best of success learning. Have fun with it!
Christopher Schlegel
Guitar Tricks Instructor

Christopher Schlegel Lesson Directory

jsquiers

Registered User

Joined: 02/14/08

Posts: 43

Thank you for the responses. That clears up a lot of confusion for me. By the way Christopher, your beginner videos in and of themselves make the subscription fee for this site well, well worth it.

I'm trying to make sure I can play from both tab and standard sheet music. I think I'll prefer the books that have both. Maybe when I get more familiar with the rhythm slashes I my current book, I'll appreciate it more.

#6

Thank you for the responses. That clears up a lot of confusion for me. By the way Christopher, your beginner videos in and of themselves make the subscription fee for this site well, well worth it.

I'm trying to make sure I can play from both tab and standard sheet music. I think I'll prefer the books that have both. Maybe when I get more familiar with the rhythm slashes I my current book, I'll appreciate it more.

Silimtao

Registered User

Joined: 01/04/05

Posts: 420

Originally Posted by: CSchlegel
Hey, and welcome.
Sometimes people hold a chord shape but pick one string or note at a time out of the chord shape. This can be an efficient way of holding many notes down with one hand position.

Hope this helps. Let us know how it goes for you. Best of success learning. Have fun with it!


If I can build on this idea- once the chord progression has been established, the listener already is "hearing" it unconsciously, so, especially when accompanying one's self, you can add single notes, or fills, to make it more interesting. I would say those single notes should be notes that would normally be in the chord (to keep things relatively simple), or to make it interesting, an extension of that chord- let your ears be your guide. Or play 2 notes of the chord and leave the root out- the listener usually hears the root. Make sense?

I'd like to give you a "hello and welcome" also. Best place to talk music, and great instructional vids, and the members are great here. And, as CS said, have fun!
Silimtao-The Way of the Little Idea

I want to die peacefully like my grandfather. Unlike the other passengers in the car, screaming and crying. (unknown)

#7

Originally Posted by: CSchlegel
Hey, and welcome.
Sometimes people hold a chord shape but pick one string or note at a time out of the chord shape. This can be an efficient way of holding many notes down with one hand position.

Hope this helps. Let us know how it goes for you. Best of success learning. Have fun with it!


If I can build on this idea- once the chord progression has been established, the listener already is "hearing" it unconsciously, so, especially when accompanying one's self, you can add single notes, or fills, to make it more interesting. I would say those single notes should be notes that would normally be in the chord (to keep things relatively simple), or to make it interesting, an extension of that chord- let your ears be your guide. Or play 2 notes of the chord and leave the root out- the listener usually hears the root. Make sense?

I'd like to give you a "hello and welcome" also. Best place to talk music, and great instructional vids, and the members are great here. And, as CS said, have fun!
Silimtao-The Way of the Little Idea

I want to die peacefully like my grandfather. Unlike the other passengers in the car, screaming and crying. (unknown)

jsquiers

Registered User

Joined: 02/14/08

Posts: 43

Thanks, Silimtao. I have a lot to learn about chords and chord progression. Thankfully, it seems I have found the right place to do so.

#8

Thanks, Silimtao. I have a lot to learn about chords and chord progression. Thankfully, it seems I have found the right place to do so.

Silimtao

Registered User

Joined: 01/04/05

Posts: 420

Originally Posted by: jsquiers
Thanks, Silimtao.
Very welcome.

[QUOTE] I have a lot to learn about chords and chord progression.[/QUOTE]

That makes both of us! I've been working a lot on my lead playing, so I'm thinking more about what notes go over what chords, etc. I think my response to you was kind of along those lines. Really don't know how helpful it was, other than food for thought. Search for "Tears in Heaven" on youtube- hopefully you'll find the instructional video where the guy is accompanying himself. Where I was coming from was to make accompnying yourself more interesting- someone else mentioned finger picking (or hybrid picking, when you're playing with a pick and your middle and ring fingers). How about you try this, just as an exercise- instead of just strumming your way through the song you're working on, in some parts, simultaneously hit the bottom string (usually the root of the chord in song books), and at the same time plucking the top 2 strings of the chord with your middle and ring fingers, mess around with that to make it interesting.

[QUOTE]Thankfully, it seems I have found the right place to do so.[/QUOTE]

You got that right! The members and instructors here are great, and just reading the posts motivates me. I'm an instructor in a different discipline, and I always say, I learn by teaching. I don't know if I helped you at all, but like I said, it's food for thought. Take from it what you will, then make it your own. Most of all just enjoy the process! Smilie
Silimtao-The Way of the Little Idea

I want to die peacefully like my grandfather. Unlike the other passengers in the car, screaming and crying. (unknown)

#9

Originally Posted by: jsquiers
Thanks, Silimtao.
Very welcome.

[QUOTE] I have a lot to learn about chords and chord progression.[/QUOTE]

That makes both of us! I've been working a lot on my lead playing, so I'm thinking more about what notes go over what chords, etc. I think my response to you was kind of along those lines. Really don't know how helpful it was, other than food for thought. Search for "Tears in Heaven" on youtube- hopefully you'll find the instructional video where the guy is accompanying himself. Where I was coming from was to make accompnying yourself more interesting- someone else mentioned finger picking (or hybrid picking, when you're playing with a pick and your middle and ring fingers). How about you try this, just as an exercise- instead of just strumming your way through the song you're working on, in some parts, simultaneously hit the bottom string (usually the root of the chord in song books), and at the same time plucking the top 2 strings of the chord with your middle and ring fingers, mess around with that to make it interesting.

[QUOTE]Thankfully, it seems I have found the right place to do so.[/QUOTE]

You got that right! The members and instructors here are great, and just reading the posts motivates me. I'm an instructor in a different discipline, and I always say, I learn by teaching. I don't know if I helped you at all, but like I said, it's food for thought. Take from it what you will, then make it your own. Most of all just enjoy the process! Smilie
Silimtao-The Way of the Little Idea

I want to die peacefully like my grandfather. Unlike the other passengers in the car, screaming and crying. (unknown)