Albo’s Practice Diary #013: Getting in and out of funky chord shapes

Ok, so I’m working on this beautifully melodic Phish tune called “If I Could” and have pretty much got the rhythm down, but I keep getting hung up on one particular chord: the D(11) as fingered 054230.  This fingering is a bit funky because you’ve got to reach your pinky finger up to the 5th string and play the D note at the fifth fret instead of playing it in the usual open position on the 4th string… so the third finger can then add in the F# on 4th string (instead of the usual 1st string) in order to let the E ring out open on the first.

Here’s a picture that might make more sense:


Although it’s not a chord shape that I’m used to playing, I wouldn’t
say it’s incredibly difficult to play in of itself; the problem is more with transitioning in and out of it within the song’s progression. Making it even more challenging is going in and out of a strum pattern to the arpeggiated melody played with the chord.

So here I am locked in to my D(11)… sounding great; nice and tight… The next measure is coming up and I transition right to my open G major without slipping a beat!… so far so good… I get through the first verse and ready to go back to our D(11) riff… here it comes… get ready… DAMMIT!!!

Missed the D; finger slipped, lost the beat. Train-wreck ensues.

So, where am I going wrong?

It might be that this chord is deceptively hard and like everything requires simply requires more practice. But I’ll let you in in a little secret: the practice in this case is less about fretboard knowledge and more about finger dexterity.

We’ve all heard finger strength is important, but it’s something I have often overlooked. Like you, I tend to just select songs I like and work on memorizing the necessary chords. I put my brain to work on studying patterns and learning all there is to know about pentatonic scales. I work on forming wacky chord shapes like the D(11)!

But rarely to work on exercising my hands and conditioning my fingers.

Since songs like ‘If I Could” use fairly straightforward chord patterns and progression, it’s easy to get fooled in to thinking you’ll be rocking it out in no time.

I’ve learned, however, that if you can’t get your fingers in to position quickly enough or precisely in the places they need to be (which is directly related to dexterity and strength), you’re going to have a difficult time taking your playing to the next level.

So, you’ve got to get those fingers strong and moving around with ease.

After spending some time to build up these fingers, here we go again…
Lock in the D(11)… transition to open G… get through the first verse… chord transition coming up… 2-and-3-and-4-and… reach the pinky, slide the hand, pluck the string… 1-and-2-and… PERFECT! Oh, yeah, nailed it! That’s how it’s done.

Until next time, keep working on that hand strength and you’ll find it much easier getting in and out of those funky chord shapes.

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