Sungmin Shin’s Presentation “Chords and Voicings Made Simple” at Abilene, Monday, January 16, 2012

Sungmin Shin, teaching assistant at Eastman School of Music and producer of the web-based Plucker Report opened the evening at Abilene by sharing with us his personal journey from South Korea by way of Windsor, Detroit and California to Rochester, where he now enjoys the cold climate with us! After relating his personal odyssey, Sungmin led us on a musical journey through the enchanted forest of intervals and chords with his hands-on Presentation “Chords and Voicings Made Simple.”


Sungmin Shin

I would pluck away at strings
And lots of other things!...

We all would like to have the brains to understand the intricacies of intervals, chords and harmonies, as well as the heart to express ourselves, and the courage to navigate through the myriad details and pitfalls involved in the journey. This evening, Sungmin was our guide to the magic city of chords as we ventured into places with old and new approaches to chord shapes and string combinations that could help us achieve our goals. Lots of questions would be asked along the way, and Sungmin was eager to respond to them all. His carefully prepared handout is available on our website.

I’d play a whole lot more
If I knew what intervals were for!...

We began by exploring the possible harmonic and melodic intervals, two-note combinations ranging from unison to octave and beyond while locating them on our instruments as we went. These basic relationships seem simple, but the possible combinations and permutations mount exponentially as we proceed to larger chords. The world of music is based on deceptively simple relationships while consisting of an incredible amount of detail.

And so, we soon moved on to triads, three-note combinations and the innumerable ways they can be formed on the guitar in their minor, major, diminished and augmented manifestations, oh my! Our instrument of choice is based on moveable shapes which is very helpful, but, at the same time, can lull us into ignoring the actual notes that we are playing.

If I only knew some chords!...


RGC Audience

From the land of triads we proceeded to the world of four-note chords and beyond. Here we encountered sevenths, dominant, major and minor, all expanding on the intensity of the triads. As our awareness of chords grew immense like a creature from “Wonderland” we soon encountered compound chords, ninths, elevenths and thirteenths breaking the octave barrier. Here we also found half diminished chords equivalent to minor seventh flat fifth jazz chords as well as other exotic creatures like the Jimi Hendrix chord, the dominant seventh sharp ninth, and the Bossa Nova chords.

I would spruce up every song
It wouldn’t take me long...

Having encountered all these wonderful things, we explored the way keys add sharps and flats progressively to form all the scales that we use upon which the chords are based. As we wandered along the road home, we scrutinized the diatonic chord sequences and some of the resultant possible chord progressions in any given key which led us on to a study of the cycle of fourths and fifths and some common chord progressions used in all genres of music, e.g.., the two-five-one, a typical jazz progression, and the popular one-six-two-five Rhythm changes.

Oh what music I could get
When I plucked upon a fret...

Enchanted though we were while roaming across our fretboards and dreaming of exquisite harmonies we soon approached the end of our jaunt. Although we had seen and heard so much, it was only two hours later when the man behind the guitar completed the trip with his enchanting original “Intermezzo.” As he plucked the strings we soon found ourselves back in Abilene’s, wiser and refreshed realizing that we had the power all along to experiment and expand our own musical horizons.

If I only knew some chords!

~Richard Taglieri
Photos: Kinloch Nelson

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