It’s easy to pick out a novice guitarist from a pro, but there are a few simple ways you can spice up your chord progressions, and make your playing sound a lot more sophisticated. WARNING! They involve using your pinkie finger (not many guitarists favor this) hybrid picking and chord suspensions.
The Little Pinkie
For the purposes of demonstrating these techniques, we’re going to use the following chord progression (using bar chords).
Am – Em – Fmaj7 – Dm
The pinkie is vastly underused by many beginner guitarists. It allows you a lot more expression when It comes to extending chords, as well as reaching for notes that are spaced further apart. We’re going to modify this chord progression by hammering on the following frets of the E string after playing each chord.
- A minor – hammer on 7th fret
- E minor – hammer on 10th fret
- F Major 7 – hammer on 10th fret
- D minor – hammer on 7th fret
Play each chord and let it sustain while you hammer on the E string extensions. This creates a pedal note (or bed) to support the addition of the top line melody.
Hybrid - Alternate - Finger Picking
I’ve listed three different methods of picking here but either one will work effectively. The main purpose is to move away from playing purely with the plectrum. Hybrid picking uses the plectrum and fingers, whereas fingerpicking uses only the fingers. I often favour hybrid picking as It varies the timbre of the chord and also allows for a range of dynamics. The attack from a plastic plectrum has a sharp tone, as opposed to the fingers which are softer and can sound more mellow. The combination of both gives the listener a sound that Is very balanced and works very well for solo guitar playing. Using this approach combined with the pinkie extensions will make your chord progressions sound more detailed, interesting, and dynamic.
The final piece of the puzzle is using chord suspensions and substitutions. A suspension works exactly how it's labeled, it creates suspense. Not ominous or spooky, but more it creates a feeling of tension and wants to be resolved. For example, change you're A minor bar chord fingering for this: index barring, middle finger on the 7th fret of the A and ring on the 7th fret of the D. Now to make this chord a ‘sus’ voicing, place your pinkie on the 7th fret of the G. Removing it and then placing it will create a feeling of suspense and resolution.
You don’t want to overuse this, but it can be very effective for changing the mood and direction of a chord progression. Using the hybrid picking from point two to highlight certain chord tones, can make this even more interesting by varying the dynamics and timbre of the suspended chord.
So in summary, using your pinkie, alternating your picking technique, and using suspensions can make a chord progression transform into a totally different piece of music.