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Chord Nerd Tip #2: The 1-4 String Swap

Posted by Banjolio on Friday, September 20, 2013

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Plectrum players are known for chording, and they like to tune their 4 strings, from low to high, C, G, B, D. It’s great for chords, and has the advantage of having that low C note, which is very handy for the many jazz and swing tunes in the key of C. But open G (gDGBD), whether you use the 5th string or not, is also a great key for playing chords.


One reason G works so well is what I call the 1-4 string swap; a great little trick that can spice up your playing, instantly add new chord voicings and even help you build solos.


Because strings 1 and 4 are the same note when played open (D), they are the same when fretted at any fret.

The swap: on any chord you play that frets strings 1 and 4 on different frets, you can swap frets on those two strings and have a different voicing of the same chord.

The simplest example is the G7 chord, often played as shown on the left:

The 4th string is open, and the 1st string is fretted at the 3rd fret.

Now, swap the notes on the 1st and 4th strings, as shown on the right, and it’s still a G7 chord, with all the same notes, but it has a different sound.

The first one has a 5th (D) as the lowest note and the flatted 7th (F) as the highest. The second one has the flatted 7th on the bottom and the 5th on top.

I like and regularly use both of these chord voicings.


Here’s another G7 to demonstrate the 1-4 string swap:

On the left, the root is on the bottom and the flatted 7th is on top. On the right, they’re reversed. They’re both G7 chords, but have slightly different sounds. Try playing around with it. Barre the 3rd fret with your index finger, and the fret either the 1st or 4th strings at the 5th fret. Heck … leave them both off now and then, so you’re playing b7, 3, 5, b7. It’s a G7 with no root. That’s OK … the guitar or bass will usually fill in the root, and even if you’re playing solo, you don’t have to play the root all the time.


Here’s another example of the 1-4 string swap. This is a shape I like to use for a 6th chord. Shown in the left grid at the 2nd fret, it’s a G6, with the root at the 5th fret of the 4th string and the 6th at the 2nd fret of the 1st string. Swap strings 1 and 4, as shown in the right grid, and you’ve got a G6 chord with the 6th on the bottom and root on top.

Try barring the 2nd fret with your index finger and move your pinky back and forth to play the 5th fret of the 1st and 4th strings. Play with it and try to make it musical. Move your pinky enough and pick the other notes of the chord and it’ll work for part of a solo.


Bonus Chord Nerdity: If you saw my Favorite Chord Shape article, and saw how that shape could be multiple chords, you may wonder if this shape has any secret identities. It sure does. This G6 shape has the notes: G, B, D and E, which is the 1, 3, 5 and 6 of the G scale. But if you put these same notes in this order: E, G, B and D, you have the 1, b3, 5 and b7 of the E scale—that makes it an Em7 chord, with root at the 2nd fret of strings 1 and 4 and the b3 on the 5th fret of strings 1 and 4. So, G6 (a major sounding chord) has the same notes as Em7 (a minor sounding chord). It all depends on the context … what we hear before or after it.

Nerdy extra points: these same notes also form a CM9 (C Major 9) chord (1, 3, 5, 7, 9) with no root.

OK, that’s enough for now. I need to go put another Band-Aid on my glasses … but remember: this TRICK works on any chord where there are different notes on the 1st and 4th strings. Try it.


Michael Bremer is a writer, editor, publisher and banjo player. He is writing and publishing the Banjo GED series of instructional materials, including Banjo GED #1: Chords! Chords! Chords! which will teach you how to play any chord in multiple places on the neck in open G tuning.

He also writes and edits instruction books for Hal Leonard. His first title for Hal Leonard is Banjo Aerobics.

4 comments on “Chord Nerd Tip #2: The 1-4 String Swap”

optionzz Says:
Monday, October 7, 2013 @12:47:29 PM

Thanks! This is GREAT mental gymnastics. The G7 swap just never occurred to me. What fun. It also helps explain the simple Em to me (for some reason). I appreciate your taking time to write this one down and publish it!

Pete A

banjoprof Says:
Monday, October 7, 2013 @4:21:27 PM

I lost the end of my left hand pinky finger years ago feed'n cows and have learned to used the swap moving up and down the banjo neck, alternating a three string roll pattern. This is good stuff and why I like Banjo Hangout.

five-string fever Says:
Tuesday, October 8, 2013 @5:59:53 AM

Chord chemistry is fun stuff. Thanks for the great tips and direction.

mapleman Says:
Friday, October 11, 2013 @3:46:50 AM

thanks for sharing-great stuff!!!The journey continues....

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