Just Jazz Guitar
Lesson 3

Johnny Smith's Vertically Stacked Chords

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Johnny Smith's legato manner of passing from one large stretch chord to another was achieved by utilizing voicings which kept the melody notes on the same string. The first two bars of Moonlight in Vermont are a perfect example of what was to become Smith's trademark.

Smith made the following comments about his rendition of Moonlight In Vermont: "Harmonically it's very simple vertical voicing. If I were to write for a sax section it would be just like I would play it on the guitar. This is how I think of the instrument - in terms of orchestrating. But of course, on the guitar it can be very difficult because it involves a reach. The hardest thing to do on the guitar is to play it legato, because there's always that spacing while you're changing chords. I learned the technique from Hammond organ players...they had to develop a technique where, when they were changin chords, they would hold down a note to keep the tone going, like a pivot while moving the other parts. Well, by voicing these chords and using the melody on the same string you connect these chords and make it sound legato. That's why I did it that way and I chose a key where I could keep most of the melody on the same string to give me a common fingering." (Guitar, Aug.1976 p.24)

Vertically stacked chords and long stretches soon became an integral part of Smith's distinctive style. He even contrived a way to play the ubiquitous II-V-I progression with these pianistic chords:


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Perhaps the best way to begin playing Smith's stacked voicings would be to practice vertically voiced harmonized major scales. Here are two examples (C major and G major) fingered with the 7ths on the 2nd string (C major) and the 7ths on the 1st string (G major).


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