Friday, January 8, 2010

The Drop-2 Concept

    (this is a scan of Bach's 8th invention, but as you can see he originally intended it to be his 4th.  What does this have to do with drop-2 chords?  Nothing.  It looks cool, though.)

    If you've been playing guitar for a reasonable amount of time whether studying privately with an instructor or on your own, you've probably at least come across the concept of drop-2 chords.  These chords are very useful to the guitarist, and learning them will open up your understanding of the fretboard and take your playing in new directions.  Actually, you're probably already using some drop-2 chords and don't realize it.  The concept is relatively simple yet will have a huge impact on the creative chord possibilities you have.
    Drop-2 chords are made up of 4 notes and produce moveable shapes just like barre chords.  First, I will describe how these chords are formed.  Basically, the name of these chords (drop-2) gives you the blueprints for their construction.  Note: All drop-2 chords are 7th chords, and are played on 4 adjacent strings.  So what does drop-2 mean?  It means you take the 2nd note from the top of the chord and move it down an octave, making it the bass note (lowest note) of the chord.

    For example, have a look at this E Major 7th chord in it's root position and see how it transforms into a drop-2 chord.

    In this case, B is the 2nd note from the top, so it is moved down an octave and is now the bass of the chord.  The spelling of the drop-2 chord is 5th, root, 3rd, 7th (abbreviations will be used for the remainder of the article: 5 R 3 7).   The next step is to do the same for each of the inversions of the major 7th chord.

    First inversion:

    In the first inversion of the E Major 7th chord, the 7th (D#) of the chord is the second note from the top.  When you drop it an octave the spelling becomes 7 3 5 R.

Second inversion:

    E, the root of the chord, is the second note from the top in the second inversion.  Drop it an octave and the spelling becomes R 5 7 3.

    Third inversion:

    The third inversion places G# (the 3rd) at the second note from the top.  The spelling you get when you drop it an octave is 3 7 R 5.

So now we have the following spellings for drop-2 major chords:

5 R 3 7
7 3 5 R
R 5 7 3
3 7 R 5

Notice the root, 5th and 3rd, 7th pairings.  This is unique to the drop-2 family of chords.

    The next step is to learn the minor, dominant, and minor 7 flat 5 drop-2 chords.  Instead of just thinking of these chords as different chords altogether, it may be easier for you to think of them as alterations to the major drop-2 chords.  That way, you don't have to think in terms of new shapes, but rather of just altering the major shape.

  • To make the major 7th into minor 7th, just move the 3rd and 7th down a half-step.
  • For a dominant 7th, just move the 7th of the major 7th chord down a half-step.
  • To make the major 7th into minor 7 flat 5, move the 3rd, 7th, and 5th down a half-step.
    Drop-2 chords, in my opinion, are the most useful chords you can learn, especially on the guitar.  if you learn them and all their in versions across the neck of the guitar, you have a voicing for any 7th chord anywhere across the neck.  You also have the ability to voice any chord-tone on the top of the chord, which is useful for chord melody style playing.

Happy Chording!

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