Alternatives to the "One-Note Chord" Theory

There are respected professional guitarists that have taken issue with the "one-note chord" theory posted in the Lessons and Techniques section of Here are their concepts on how Freddie Green created his unique sound. These learned contributions are most welcome as they add to our knowledge about Freddie's playing technique.

Michael Pettersen

The following was written by Ralph Patt (, August 21, 2002. Ralph is a professional guitarist and played in premier big bands during the 1950's and 1960's.

I want to add a little about my remarks about the discussion of Freddie Green's "one or "three" note chords. I disagree with the "one" note theory. I've discussed this with Michael Pettersen at length. I admire his Freddie Green site and don't mean to denigrate the work of the site or the discussion.

Here are my thoughts on the subject:

I watched Freddie up fairly close (6 to 10 feet away) maybe a dozen times at Birdland in the 1950s and early 60s. In my opinion, he always hit the 6th string.

However, Freddie held the guitar at a flatter angle than most. At that angle, you are coming down at the strings at an angle that gives a more percussive sound than if the guitar is angled more toward 90 degrees (getting more of a strum or arpeggiated sound). That attack angle is also what I feel gives the louder sound to the middle strings (as well as the fact they are easier to hear). So using this technique, hitting the sixth string is not the primary goal, so Michael could be right.

One of the best tapes of Freddie is a Rhino Video of a 1966 Ralph Gleason TV show. That video shows Freddie using his left hand thumb on the sixth string occasionally. This tape doesn't clearly show his right hand stroke but it is so well recorded (just Basie's rhythm section), you can hear the three notes and occasionally four (in my opinion). Freddie uses the Gretsch. It sounds very good but is not the sound of his Stromberg of the 40s and 50s.

Based on the comments of Ralph Patt, the following was written by Paul Craven, August 24, 2002.

I spent nearly a full day trying this technique. After re-listening to some Basie cuts, especially Atomic Basie which is very well recorded, watching Freddie Green (FG) in action in the great clips on "Last of the Blue Devils," and re-reading the articles on the wonderful Freddie Green site, I experimented with my acoustic Gibson L5 and with my Michael Dunn "grande bouche" acoustic. Both are set up with relatively low action. The L5 has TI roundwound .013s and the Dunn has silvered steel .011s.

I think the most important technical aspect of the "single note chord" phenomenon is the angle at which FG holds his guitar. When the guitar is held normally on-the-knee, nearly 90 degrees to the plane of the floor, downstrokes across the bottom four strings tend to accent the bass. If you try to use an arcing stroke that emphasizes the 4th string, you (I) tend to miss the 6th string entirely and sound the 3rd and 2nd strings unless they are completely muted.

But if you (I) hold the guitar at between a 30 and 45 degree angle, it is easy to develop a smooth arc that makes a tiny contact with the 6th string and travels through the (dampened) 5th string to accent the 4th. So there is more pick attack on the 4th string than on the others, which makes it sound louder.

Also, with the guitar angled in this way, the center of the back is not in contact with your (my) body, and it vibrates very noticeably, emphasizing the middle pitches, so again the 4th string volume is augmented. This is more evident on the L5 than the Dunn, because the Dunn has an internal sound box that is intended to counteract the dampening effect of holding the back against your body.

Also, this angle involves (for me, anyway) resting the bow of the bass side against my body, which may dampen the bass volume somewhat.

My guitars are set up with moderately low action. It seems to me that with a higher action, the accenting and muting effects I have described would be exaggerated.

I doubt that this is a definitive explanation of what people hear as "single note chords" but it surely goes part of the way towards explaining how FG managed to accent the middle strings with more or less of the bass included as he chose. I also think the poor recording quality of a lot of the early Basie band sides makes it very difficult to hear the tonality of FG's guitar, although its rhythmic contribution is almost always evident.

After reviewing the pros and cons of the "one note chord" theory, the following was written by Max Leggett on August 22, 2002.

The Freddie Green is great; thanks for the resource. I have a "Best of Basie" CD with FG playing a solo. Close listening seems to indicate that FG, being a consummate professional, would use different techniques in different circumstances. The one-note driving "chord" sure makes sense in some circumstances, three-noters in others. But the site is great, and the theorizing excellent.

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