Chord Substitutions Workshop, Or, How To Sound Cool

Nov 13, 2020

I'm sure I'll hear about it if I open with the phrase, "I was eating barbecue once in Connecticut," but – I was eating barbecue once in Connecticut with Rod Carey, bassist with Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters and all-around great guy. There were a bunch of us crowded around the table, and somehow the subject of musical taste came up. Rod did not hold back, his thick Providence accent making what came next all the more emphatically awesome. "It's like hahp playahs," he said. "Why do they gotta be playing all the time? What's wrong with just standing there and looking cool?"

Onstage, in his double-breasted suit, white pompadour and close-eyed devotion to the groove, Rod Carey epitomized cool. Once a tune locked in, the man remained motionless from the ankles down. Needless to say, I never saw a bass with more than four strings in his hands, and I imagine he considered anything above the 8th fret or busier than a quarter note as the cute affectations of less serious men. James Dean could have taken his correspondence course in cool.

I'm no Rod Carey, but I know enough to recognize cool when I hear it. On some level, the teaching of blues guitar constitutes a promise to codify and transmit a capacity for cool, armed with nothing but the primitive tools of notation, tab, audio and video. Sometimes that seems like ridiculous premise, other times like a sublime calling. Either way, I've come to realize there's a short list of cool for many guitarists, and knowing more chords – more cool chords – is pretty high up on that list. But I've also come to believe just providing access to those chords isn't enough. My job is to make sure you know what to do with those chords, so they live up to their potential for cool once they're in your capable hands.

My Chord Substitutions workshop is taking place tomorrow morning. Registration has been brisk, but there is still time for you to sign up if you'd like to attend. We'll be taking apart the twelve-bar, steady bass blues in E to find new ways to play through the progression using a variety of chord voicings. With detailed, accurate tab to walk through, we'll look at the blues two measures at a time, learning two different ways to play those measures before moving on. By the end of the workshop, you'll not only have twelve new moves to add to your vocabulary, you'll have an understanding of why they work and a plan for the most effective ways to practice them. You can think of it as a three-step process: 1) learn cool chords, 2) use them to make cool two-bar phrases, and 3) use those modular, two-bar phrases to build whole choruses of the blues. (Step 4, optional: win Grammy.)

For more details on the class, registration info and short video in which I demonstrate and explain a bit more of what we'll be doing, go to the link below. You can register up until an hour before class time tomorrow, but why cut it close? If you sign up now, you can spend that hour before the workshop just standing around, looking cool.

Chord Substitutions And How To Use Them