Another Approach to Fingering Three Note Chords
by Andrew Snee

Mark Allen's DCMN article suggests that three note chords are typically fingered with the first three fingers of the left hand, but in all the performance photos of Freddie Green on this website, his fourth finger (little finger) seems to be planted on the G string. I've found that anchoring the fourth finger on the G string permits one to play all the common three note chords with the least amount of movement in the hand and wrist. Here are examples:

The basic hand position is that of a M6(1) chord - to use Allen's notation. Let's say it's a Bb6(1) at the 6th fret:

  • The fourth finger is on the G string, 7th fret (D)

  • The first finger is on the D string, 5th fret (G)

  • The second finger is on the low E string, 6th fret (Bb).

From this position, it's possible to produce three additional chords by placement of the third finger:

  • BbM7(1) - third finger on the D string, 7th fret (A)

  • Em7(5) - third finger on the low E string, 7th fret (B)

  • Bb7(1) - third finger on the D string, 6th fret (Ab)

Returning to the basic Bb6(1) position, lift the fourth finger and half-bar the D and G strings at the 5th fret (G and C) with the first finger to produce a C7(7).

Returning to the basic Bb6(1) position, move the fourth finger down to the 6th fret (Db) to produce an Eb7(5). From this Eb7(5), placing the third finger on the D string at the 6th fret(Ab) yields a Bbm7(1).

Note that these chord forms may serve more than one function. For example, the basic Bb6 (1) form is also:

  • Gm(3)

  • EbM7(5)

  • Em7-5(5)

These fingerings are the easiest I've found, particularly at fast tempos. As an experiment, I also tried playing them with the guitar top nearly horizontal, ala Freddie Green, and all the forms were relatively easy to reach. I don't claim that they're the same fingerings Freddie Green used; in photos his middle finger seems arched too high to be on the low E string. But once you get used to them, they will likely be smoother and faster than fingerings that utilize just the first three fingers of the left hand.

Andrew Snee is a magazine editor and reformed rock guitarist who plays swing
guitar as a hobby. He lives in Raleigh, NC, with his wife and two sons.

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