View Full Version : Playing out of the chord.

Ashville Picker
Aug-13-2010, 5:53am
I just spent a week with Mike Compton at the Augusta Heritage Festival's Bluegrass week. It was great, but fast and packed with stuff to work on the entire year. Mike teaches playing out of the chord. I don't entirely grasp that concept and am kicking myself for not asking more questions in class. Can anyone give me a little more input on the concept of playing out of the chord? Thanks. Larry

Aug-13-2010, 6:26am
Mike's style is chock full of that, and is based on Monroe's style. What I think he means is building your break based on the chop fingering and note selection you have there. In G chop position, the ring finger is on the root (or as Don S would say, ruht :mandosmiley:). The index is on the 3 and the 5 is right there on D (2nd string, fret 5). So, working around those 3 tones, you can build a break by staying within the chord shape, position.

Something like that.

Aug-13-2010, 6:31am
One example would be the way Grisman plays Bluegrass Stomp (Doc and Dawg). He puts together a progress of notes that walk up to the chord or kind of play around the chord: It goes 3, 4, 5b, 5 which is a real familiar walk with playing bass. The 5b which is the diminished note is clearly not part of any of the chords, but it works since it gets resolved at the 5th. Hope that helps!

Aug-13-2010, 6:37am
Excuse me if i merely brush the topic.

Examples of how to play out of the chord has the Homespun Bill Monroe tapes (1 to 1 with the master and Sam Bush analyses Bill Monroe´s style). Bill Monroe does it mostly in "up the neck"-solos (key of B for example).

There were some clips from the Homespun videos on youtube, yet I have been unable to unearth them.

So the best clip that I was able to come up with is this intimate recording of Wildwood Flower. It exemplifies to the T what Bill Monroe does when he plays out of the chord. It means that he thinks the chord while playing and incorporates the melody notes. In the clip you may notice biefly how the hand appears to have the shape of the chord while the notes circle around the chord shape. Does this make sense?

There´s alos this video of My Sweet Blueeyed Darling where the solo has many open strings. This shows the "open" A chord shape that the solo comes from.

Now everything should be clear as mud.

Jon Hall
Aug-13-2010, 6:39am
Niles Hokkaenen wrote an entire book on playing from chord shapes "Bluegrass Up the Neck". I've been working on it slowly for a year and I'm able to incorporate everything he teaches into my playing.

Aug-13-2010, 7:27am
Confused of Britain here.

When you say "playing out of the chord", do you mean playing notes that are within the chord?

Ashville Picker
Aug-13-2010, 7:50am
Thank you all. That is sort of what I thought, but felt I had missed something more. It seems to simple a concept. I actually purchased the Niles Hokkaenen book several years ago, but found it too advanced for me at the time. I need to dust that thing off.

So, if I get this right, while taking a break one would make the appropriate chord changes as a home base and pick out a melody around that. I will keep at it. I have been picking this thing way too long to not have a better grasp on good concepts. I need to step it up.

Mike Compton was great at Augusta. I became a big fan. If he comes back next year, God willing, I plan to be back in that class for round two. Thanks again to all who provided input. Larry

Aug-13-2010, 8:16am
Re: Playing out of the chord.

Confused of Britain here.

When you say "playing out of the chord", do you mean playing notes that are within the chord?

No need to be confused. The phrasing may be misleading. Of course the notes that are "within" a chord are just three (key of G: D, G, B). Even the kickoff to "Will The Circle" has a note that´s not in the chord (key of G: Will (D) the (E) circle (G)...). But if you look at your hands while fretting a G chord the bluegrass way you´ll notice that you could easily play a bunch of notes "that are within reach" (doublestop A string fretted in the fifth fret (D) together with E string fretted in the third fret (G); another example is doublestop D string fretted in the fifth fret (G) together with the A string fretted in the second fret (B)). All of these notes are "within the chord shape" visually speaking. Bluegrass guitar players do that a lot as opposed to (modern) jazz guitarists who normaly play linear music lines.

And yes, Niles Hokkannen´s books are very worth digging into.

Aug-13-2010, 11:35am
Confused of Britain here.

When you say "playing out of the chord", do you mean playing notes that are within the chord?

Sorry, I was not understanding "playing out of the chord" in my previous post. I got it now.:redface:

Alex Orr
Aug-13-2010, 12:16pm
The playing out of the chord idea is also something that is focused on in The Mandolin Picker's Guide to Bluegrass Improvisation.

Aug-13-2010, 1:20pm
The best solos will move amongst and between the various chord centers.

Sam showed an example of a pretty strictly chord-based Monroe-style break to "All the Good Times are Past and Gone" on his first Homespun series. I find when making up breaks that they are very handy for sliding into and out of and as landing spots. If you use them right, someone listening to you play will be able to "hear" the chords as they change, without a guitar or the actual accompaniment chords even being played. It is interesting how WSM's playing used the concept in such entirely different ways in both his playing with his brother Charlie and later on the Fifties. The former used alot of tremolo on closed positions (double-stops) while his later de-constructed blues style employed the more formal chop-chord positions.
Modern bluegrass mandolin draws freely from both approaches.