We had a post in the forum recently about a troublesome chord, the good old
"D13b9" chord. This "altered" chord is used all the time in jazz, and so is very important to know, and to be able to
do. It is a dominant function chord, meaning it will most often go to a I chord, and is itself a form of a V chord.
But, as usual, the problem was with handling the chord PHYSICALLY. The chord has 2 difficult
aspects; a reach with 4 (2 frets), and a bar. It is the kind of chord that, if not handled or developed in the proper
way, can cause a lot of problems in the way of crippling arm tension that will translate into crippled playing action
in both hands. A lot of people have trouble with these kind of chords, so I wanted to give some insight into the best
way to go about it.
first looking at the chord diagram, you would think that you are supposed to position your bar finger so that it only
covers the 4th and 2nd strings. For many people, this assumption is the beginning of their trouble, because that is
not our only option. In fact, that is not the best option either. It is much harder to use that short bar and still
get the reach with the pinky. A better option is to use a more extended bar, even covering all 6 strings. Then, we
will find it much easier to reach with the pinky.
We will also find it much easier to relax the arm in this position, and so allow the arm weight to
be transferred to the fingers, greatly reducing our active effort.
Another question raised was whether to try to get the pinky on the tip, or to extend it so that it lands "flat" on the
string. This is a common question because in The Principles, and many other sources, students are exhorted to always
make sure the left hand fingers are on the tips, and not allowed to lay flat! Well, there are two reasons for that
recommendation: 1) it is the best way to train fingers new to the guitar, and 2) we must have the possibility
of a full range of motion from all our joints when we play. There are many playing situations where we must
bend those last joints of the fingers (the distal joints), and they are often undeveloped in players who have flaws in
their basic technique. We cannot train everything into the hand all at once, and so, emphasis on bending the
distal joints is the best course of action in the beginning stages of left hand development.
It is so important to understand that the guitar, with its many styles, and types of instruments,
gives rise to an incredibly diverse range of playing situations and demands, probably more than any other instrument.
So, the idea of "there is only one way to do this or that", which rarely applies to anything in life, is never going
to apply to guitar!
Force Transfer Vs. Reach
In doing this chord, we have a situation where we make a trade-off; we trade efficiency of
"force-transfer" for reach, because reach is what we need. To make it clear, do this:
--make a fist and put it straight down on a table in front of you, and press as hard as you can, as
if you were trying to push the table lower. If you bend your elbow, you will see that you concentrate more force in
that one spot. In fact, you can even lean your body weight into your arm, and down through your fist, adding more
force without active effort. Now, if you were to straighten your arm, and still attempt to concentrate your force in
one spot, you would immediately see that you are now in a position of working harder, and getting less results! You
can feel how you cannot bring as much force through your fist onto the table, nor can you use your body weight the
same way. In fact, you can feel that it is an entirely different set of muscles being used. But, your straight arm
would have the advantage of being able to reach further if it needed to.
elbow and wrist joint in this example are working in the same way that the middle and tip joint of your finger works
in the mechanical action of leveraging force to the strings. Our goal as players is not to rigidly adhere to one way
or another of using the finger, but rather to understand the nature and implications of each way, and most
importantly, to know when to use one way or another (and it could be different for different players in the same
Developing Strength & Stretch
It is true that the ability to play this chord easily is a matter of developing skill and finesse in
our approach to it, and in our hands. It is also true that it is a matter of developing plain old strength and stretch
in the muscles and ligaments of the hand itself. And often, people fail in their attempts to develop these assets
because they underestimate what it take to develop them. For instance, if you are working to develop this chord, or a
similarly challenging one, you will not get very far if you only give it a try here and there when you happen to
practice the piece or exercise containing it. No, a much more powerful and focused approach is necessary to develop
strength and stretch.
Any time you have a problem of this nature, the chord should be practiced as an exercise,
and down the neck, in a few sessions of a few minutes each day, for weeks, or months. This is what it takes to
conquer these problems. Taking potshots, here and there, will give victory to the problem, not to you!
It is also standard procedure amongst pros to make up related exercises that give a work out to weak muscles. In
this case, as you do the chord up and down the neck in your daily routine, give the hypothnear eminence,
the group of muscles that controls the pinky, and is located between the pinky and wrist on the pinky side of the
hand, an extra workout. Do this by lifting the pinky up and down a few times at each fret as you go up and down. Make
sure you stop and let the hand rest frequently when doing this kind of workout. There is no point in working to the
point of pain.
Also, as Ney Mello, a player with a lifetime of experience, pointed out in the forum, pay attention
to your breathing. Our first impulse is to hold our breath on things like this, and that is the kiss of death! The
whole body tenses, and it is all downhill from there. Keep the breath flowing, and use (from The Principles) whole
body awareness, rotating attention, and posing.
Should I Be Trying To Achieve This?
One final point: it was brought up in this thread whether or not the player having trouble with this
chord should even try to make it work, or rather, should simplify the chord by leaving out the bass note. It
was also brought up how it is often not even necessary to include the bass note, as in an ensemble situation, a bass
player will be playing that low D, and guitar players get a better sound by leaving it out, rather than doubling it,
which is true.
At this point, Ney stepped in to say that no, it should not be simplified, and players should
develop this ability, and admonished everyone to not try to take shortcuts. That is true, and Ney knows, as I know,
that it is often necessary for players to play that chord with the root, and also to do many other chords that make
the same demands on the hand. So, there no getting around it.
But I think the point needs to be made that students, by virtue of limited experience, simply don't
know when they are barking up the wrong tree, and when it would be wise to simplify or compromise, and when
they should continue to plug away at something. Sometimes, they really don't know if they will ever get it, or if they
really need to. And that is why we have teachers! There is no getting around the fact that there are some things that
can only be learned by putting in the time, and sometimes that means many years. The wise student always seeks the
advice of people who have been down the road. Who else can tell you what you will find down there!
This kind of thing goes on all the time in our forums, so I hope that anyone seriously interested in
being the best they can be will take advantage of the many players we have who not only have this kind of hard earned
experience, but are so generous in giving it out to people. We all love to see everyone get better! So, if you have
never visited our forum, why not take a look!
GuitarPrinciples Main Forum
Item-India: Shailendra Wins Competition! Plays for 3,000!
Shailendra Gangwar, who began guitar with The Principles 2 1/2 years ago, has returned to the
U.S. after a 5 month visit to his native India. While he was there, he had quite an experience for a relatively new
player: he performed in front of 3,000 people at a talent competition organized by his company, and came away with 2nd
prize! Shailendra played "Spanish Romance", which he has studied in his lessons with Jamie, using GuitarPrinciples
"Practice Secrets For Spanish Romance".
He says "It was a question of life and death to me. Performing a solo in a big hall, in front of
3000 people, when you are playing for only about 2 years and a few months, I don't think it's easy. You can do it only
if you are Principled! My whole body was shaking, heart was pounding like anything before the performance. But then I
received comments in the end from many people that it sounded like professional."
is back in the U.S. for another year, where he will be resuming his regular study with Jamie, and will soon begin his
own teaching practice in Northern New Jersey.
Item-Brazil: Principled Player Sandro Dall' Onder Soon To Be
Sandro, aged 32, will open a Guitar School in February called "The Beginners Mind". After a long and disappointing
history with many teachers, Sandro says things started to make sense when he found "The Principles". He says "The
things that you talk about are so obvious, but no one seems to have put them in a book". Although he has studied
classical for a number of years, Sandro's real love is electric. " The main focus of the course will be The Principles
(of course) and the Speed Mechanics (from Troy Stetina)" he says. "Of course I will try to give some background in
musical theory too. And I'm very open minded, and I want to create in the student the desire to learn more and to do
That sounds like a formula for success, and I am sure Sandro will achieve it! The address of the school is Oswaldo
Aranha street #1178 room 603, Bento Gonçalves, in Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil. For more info, write Sandro at:
Item-California: Donna Zitzelberger, who has been
using The Principles to create a new generation of guitarists for a number of years now, has taken her place on our
Teachers Network page.
Donna's new teaching practice is booming, as she is being sought after by a growing number of guitar players and would
be guitar players. She is taking local students, and has even had people fly in for consultations! She is in the
Thousand Oaks area of California. For the best in Principled Instruction, contact Donna at:
When I do the walking exercises slowly, making sure the arm is relaxed, I feel that extra force in the forearm and
fingers is required to stop my hand from falling off the fretboard, or pulling the strings towards the floor (and
Now as I am not having any real problems when using a semi heavy arm, with the muscle not entirely relaxed, I want
to ask whether it would be a good idea to change my style, relax the bicep and transfer more of the work into the
forearm/fingers? I am looking to achieve the best possible technique so that if needs be, I can work up to very high
levels of technical proficiency, so your input is highly appreciated.
As to the question of whether you should add more arm weight into the fingers, it is not possible to answer that
without seeing you, and considering the question in terms of a specific playing situation. But, I am featuring your
question because I want to make a few points in regard to the concept of heavy arm/floating arm, and light finger/firm
finger, concepts we discuss a lot in relation to the Foundation Exercises in The Principles, and playing in general.
No, we do not allow the arm weight to pull the strings out of line, or release all muscle effort so that the hand
fall from the fingerboard! Having our left hand on the floor would, I venture to say, negatively impact our playing!
When using the heavy arm to passively bring force to the strings through the use of arm weight, we keep a balance
between the use of the muscles of the forearm and hand, and the larger muscles of the upper arm and upper body. Let me
If I am holding a chord to which I wish to add arm weight, I will use the fingers to bring force to the strings
perpendicular to the neck, and I as I relax the larger muscles, I will find the right amount of finger pressure
necessary to keep the strings in line, not bending toward the floor. How much finger pressure I need, (coming from the
forearm and hand muscles) will constantly change. I will discover it through experimentation, and I will sense it in
every moment by paying attention to my bodily sensations while playing.
So, the answer to your question as to whether you should relax the bicep more, and transfer the work to the forearm
and fingers is, sometimes yes, sometimes no. You must decide, and the exact playing situation, what comes before and
after, will be factored into the decision too.