Chord Embellishments

A beginner question, but then, all of my questions are beginner questions.

Justin has some good lessons detailing how to make chord enhancements. Are there any instructional videos showing how and when to actually use them? The few that I’ve seen are so fast that I can’t even discern what’s being done. Sus chords and add 9 chords are usually written into songs and used for the whole measure. So that is pretty straightforward. However, embellishments are just tossed in when used, but it’s not easy to do and make it sound right with the strumming pattern. I’ve experimented, but it would be helpful to have more guidance.

The true answer to your question is, “do them whenever they sound good to you.” However, to help you determine when “they sound good to you”, I suggest that you find songs you like that have chord embellishments that “sound good to you”, learn those songs, and then you’ll have a reference point to start your own investigation into when using embellishments “sound good to you”.

I know it’s not a simple answer, but that is how I answered this same question when I asked it of myself.

Enjoy the journey! :slight_smile:


Justin does a good job explaining when and how to use embellishments in Margaritaville at the 12:15 of the lesson.


Hey Dennis,

You could take the purely theoretical path and work out a few that might sound good. Then try them out. Eg. Some using descending chromatics, hammers etc

Or, and this often works better I believe, experiment with ‘singing’ some embellishment, then transfer them to the fretboard to see how they sound, and go from there.

Cheers, Shane

Hi Dennis, where are you at in the course at the moment? They do come up in bits and pieces over grade 1 and 2 but more focussed lessons appear in grade 3.

I do highly recommend having a play around with open chords, lift off or add a finger and see how it sounds, and then follow the mantra of if it sounds good it is good!

Have fun :slightly_smiling_face:

1 Like

Like a lot of people, I hopped around in the lessons and then went back to the very beginning doing each one diligently. Now in first module of grade 3.

Coming from an orchestra instrument background, everything was prescribed and performed in unison. No freelancing. Hard to transform into a “if it feels good, do it” mentality. I keep looking for the rulebook. I understand the recommendations and the video above is a really good teaching example as the demonstrations are done slowly enough to follow.

In the experimentation I’ve tried, I notice that some of these note adjustments often sound best only on the up-strum. So it’s not just what notes to add, but when and how to add them.

Many times I have had this question in my mind about many little seemingly advanced techniques and whether we’ll encounter deeper instruction about how and when to use them. If there is, it must all be in the advanced lessons because through the end of grade 2 I haven’t encountered much that has answered my questions.

*** edit; I got excited and wrote an inspirational speech and a 10 step training sequence. I might be using this later :smiley: ****

Oh boy, Good you ask because the D/Dsus4/Dsus2 sequence its often overlooked but I consider it the GATEWAY TO FINDING A WAYTO EXPRESS YOURSELF.
Am I putting too much weight on it there?
The thing itself is relatively easy to master (as all things, it takes some time) but is a super elegant example to show people you can spice up everything
You’ll apply the same principle to a bunch of other chords and there you go!

When I see students in my online sessions, they are usually in a point of their guitar journey where they find themselves under some kind of glass ceiling and they want to improve the skills to express themselves instead of repeating the same old open chord grips.

I’m genuinely excited about this because up till now, I haven’t met a student who didn’t find a bit of ability to express his or her musicality. Thre paper says a chord name but 'just adding or removing a finger here and there adds the spice while not breaking the song.

Embellishments like
Are usually the first step into finding that “freedom” in their playing.

Using these spontanuously IS a kind of improvisation skill; although you learn to decide on-the-fly how you will play it, you have practiced the principles a lot before.

Chord embellishments immediately enrich the texture. Your rhythm gets a bit of melody flavour and that’s why they sound so good. While the big part of your chord remains the same, you’re not breaking anything but you weave a bit of melody through it. This is the first step of combining rhythm and melody. Not all instruments can do that and it certainly was one of the aspects that make me love playing guitar :wink:

With a lot of enthousiasm, I introduce students to the basics of “chord flavours” to spice up bland bars filled with the same chord. That’s why I teach them to layer songs in layers instead of trying to learn them literally from beginning to end. I learn them to read a chord name from a sheet but having several “flavours” of that chord in their fingers that all work there.

The sheet says D? than it also says Dsus2, Dsus4, D7, Dmaj7, D6 even… it all depends on the feel and the moment and like when you’re cooking, you decide when it is a good time to flavour it differently.

Before you start to feel “free” with those, you’ll need to go back to fundamental levels.
Remember, when learning something new, try to do “the thing” and only the “thing first”. Don’t worry about that strumming pattern now; start simple.

For those who play boardgames the term “engine building” will be familiar. Well learnign guitar IS engine building. in each step you add a little to a mechanism. This mechanism keeps repeating itself while you add pieces to them. If you want to have enough “processor time” in your had to add new things, the existing things need to run on “auto-pilot”.
Implementing the “chord flavours” is somthing that needs to run on auto-pilot so you can improvise with them and even do them unconciously while you want to do lead parts between them or sing over them.

Not to be doing a commercial here but if you want to know more about that freedom, you could check out doing a lesson online with @Richard_close2u or myself (more info on the Approved Teachers page

The D/Dsus4/Dsus2 combo is often used and many guitarists play it without even conciously knowing or deciding to do so.

While practicing this one, you should apply the same principle to A/Sus4/Asus2 but you might find it a bit hard to do. THOUGH, it is just as valuable when it comes to spicing up things. Later on you’ll do it with a whole bunch of C and Am flavours. There’s a bunch of those you can use.

by the way
This little D sequence will amplify its effect as soon as you use it in a fingerpicking context. Imagine what you can do with other chords, fingerpicking them while adding flavours

turn on that metronome

1: brilliance on the basics
a bar with 4 downstrokes of the same chord. Each count to 4 is a downstroke

D    D    D    D

2: add some flavour
Replace half of the bar with predetermined chord with an embellished sister of the chord and repeat that pattern


D    D    Dsus4    Dsus4

if you can’t follow your metronome, slow it down. These transitions need to be well timed. It’s only adding one finger so this must be fluent before progressing.

You’re still down just downstrokes; speed up a bit if you’re confident and playing in a solid fashion

3: loop

use D a ferecence point; endlessy do from
D to Dsus4 and back to D
from that D go to Sus2 and back to D
loop it

Don’t worry if it feels slow; this sequence is to give you the feeling of having that regular D as your “home” in that bar and feeling the mobility to go to Dsus4 or Dsus2.
In real songs you’ll often start on D. That’s why I always start the D example

D    Dsus4    D    Dsus2  D    Dsus4    D    Dsus2  etc...

4: introduce upstrokes

Same thing as step 3 but slow down the metronome again and do upstrokes on the “and” in between counts.
This means you get only half the time to go from D to Dsus4. This can be tricky so grant yourself the patience and time. Slow down if you have to

example (^ = upstroke of the chord). So you’re still playing half a bar D, half a bar Dsus4

D  ^  D   ^  Dsus4  ^   Dsus4  ^

Great, that’s the first step to get there

5: change flavour every count

change flavour on every count, so do one down and one up stroke.
Don’t forget to loop this for a while to embedd those changes in your “auto-pilot”

Dsus2  ^  D  ^  Dsus4  ^   D ^

6: mix the pattern

Put on a paper in front of you what order you’ll do it, including the upstrokes again

example (not noted but keep including the upstrokes)

Dsus4 D Dsus4 Dsus2  

7: speed this up a bit

… and keep doing this until you feel like your hand is doing it and not your head if you know hwat I mean :wink:

Dsus4 D Dsus4 Dsus2   ... but faster ;)

Advanced trick: double timing in the middle of a bar

7: double time
Go back to a 4th npte pattern (just playing downstrokes on the counts of 1,2,3,4) BUT try to do up and down strums on the second half of the bar.

See how the first bar only has downstrokes on the D chordwhile the second half goes DOWN - UP on a Dsus4 and then DOWN - UP on a D chord.

I let you do this to get aquainted to double timing in the middle of a bar :smiley:
THIS is ALSO a kind of freedom you have to spice it up.
In this context, it is a good exercise to add 1 one extra aspect

D      D      Dsus4   ^  D  ^

Speed up the metronome to train your auto pilot

8: Try it with other chord order!

9: Double time this whole thing !

slow down the metronome again

I added a V to signal a downstruke of the chord.
The first half of the bar become 8th notes, the second part are 16th notes

D   ^     D  ^    Dsus4   ^  v  ^  D  ^  v  ^

10: Achieving Dsus flavour Master status :smiley:
try to change a chord plavour on EVERY strum of that pattern 9
slow down the metronome a little if you have to

levels 11 and up: there’s more… but that’s for another time.

From now on, when encountering a D chord in a song; try to apply ANY of the things you tried above. It’s a matter of trial and error but the more you try, the more you’ll go to a fitting thing right away by instinct

That’s the whole point, I can’t convey when to use what because I’m not learning you laws but I’m just offering tools

I hardly ever play a regular D for a full bar


Great post Lieven. :+1:

I’ve recently been thinking about going back over the new “graded” beginner lessons and get out of the open chord rut/comfort zone, with some of the material that’s been added since the old BC and IM.

Although I do some of these embellishments now and then, its not become a regular habit. And after nearly four weeks of not playing with family here, it will a good way to kick start practice and get my fingers working again.



1 Like

Great to wake up this morning and see this post. It had to take some time to compose and I really appreciate the effort. This is exactly the type of information I’ve been looking for.

The first time I heard someone use embellishments it was the various sus chords around D, but didn’t know it at the time. It sounded great and made the music uniquely different. I wanted to emulate that, but had no idea how to start. The few attempts I’ve made since were using D sus 2 & 4, but all just kind of random. To my ears, the sus 2 sounds good as an up strum on the second half of a single beat and then resolved by a regular D on a down strum. Similarly, I sometimes add a high G with little finger when playing an open C chord. I’m definitely not a creative person, so having someone show the path is very helpful. As an example, I can figure out how to try some of the above with other open chords, but no idea yet how to implement with barre chords.

yes, that’s the stuff!

I always felt like writing some kind of article around this kind of stuff because I do this story so often. Perhaps I just should…

I’m going to post some of the fun flavours I share with my students; we usually work on a few of them. let’s see if Discourse successfully copy pastes them…

THIS IS THE STUFF that made my eyes open up, spice up my playing, feeling “free” while strumming and most of all, it sounds GREAT when fingerpicking.

If you ever saw me play and sing in a video or open mic and wondered how I do it.
THIS IS MY “SECRET” :smiley:

apply the above exercises of the D/Dsus4/Dsus2 on these shapes and there you have it.

Open chord “Explorations”: Embellish your open chords

The numbers are the position of the note in the scale it is built upon. Green one is the root, the first one, the one that gives the chord the name.

Am Explorer

Check out “Gold” by Gabriel Rios. Its intro features some fun patterns with Am, C and F and Em

186x219 128x194 164x220 113x204

C Explorer

I think that open C, together with open Em, are the most versatile shapes to decorate.

Don’t forget this works well strummed, picked in a random pattern or used as a shape to create little lead lines with.

| — | — | — | — | — |

G explorer

The song “Rollercoaster” by Danny Vera starts out with a nice example of G chord variations, followed by Am shape variations

| — | — | — | — | — |

F Explorer

| — | — | — | — | — |

Em explorer

| — | — | — | — | — |

A shape explorer

Check this excellent lesson!


Hi Lieven,
I actually hope it’s not just me :blush:, but I had to puzzle a big bit on those diagrams, I find them very unclear … I think it’s the layout of the diagrams that my head bumps into … I’m glad I play it all thanks to those Chordexplores from the Justin course… but yes, there is also a chance that I am the only one who finds this very difficult to read in this way…
In the end you have to give this its own topic if you are going to work it out further, we learn in a lot of different ways so maybe some find the chord explores from Justin more difficult.

hehe no worries :smiley:
Justin has indeed great lessons on these Chord Explorer topics
(I listed one, to the A shape)

As said, I copied these as example from the material that goes with my explanation for students
In my sessions I combine the notion of how to decompose songs and build in layers with added complexity with this stuff.

As soon as you got one or two down, the rest follows rather quickly and you become very “free” in using those.

We tackle questions like
How well can you use your shapes now?
Do you use them deliberately?
Do you use them automatically and unconciously?
How well do you use these to explore your “musical freedom”?

my dear friend @roger_holland …do you? :smiley:

So yes, some stuff is redundant here but I can’t get any less excited because every person that becomes inspired and sees the light in how to use them is a small victory for me :smiley:

1 Like

Absolutely every day consciously (in the songs where it is teached/advised) and unconsciously (also songs and self emerging chord progressions and when I change songs consciously) , and it’s the easiest way to impress friends :blush: and acquaintances who are just starting with guitar or have been muddling through with it for a short time a while ago (like me).

No, completely 100% true of course, I learned things from in the past Richard that were also on the site, but his explanation made the penny drop (more than once), and repetition of things like this is can not be enough ,it`s what I like the most by far from chords … I just find that diagram so difficult to read and was hoping that I am missing something simple, or that there are actually a few lines missing that make it difficult for me to read I’ll figure it out eventually, but I’m actually curious if a (final beginner student or something) can follow this,and maybe with whole chord boxes it’s a lot easier to follow (i think…uh hope)…nothing more nothing less :grin:

1 Like

Thanks Lieven :smiley:
More for the reminder to revisit something I only dabbled in a good while ago, but only use sparingly (on a ‘hit and miss’ basis).
I find your diagrams understandable enough, but admit I’ve always found it unsatisfactory the way different chords have the same name (or the same chord can have multiple names).
I’ll get there in the end :roll_eyes:
There was talk last year of Justin setting up a chord library.
Has there been any movement on that?
Meanwhile for anyone wishing to identify/experiment with chords, I find this a really useful site:

No good deed goes unpunished. I’m very appreciative of the information that’s been provided. It’s clear to me and something that I haven’t seen presented elsewhere. I can watch someone play chord shapes in a video, but it’s really hard to recall all the details afterwards. Seeing the diagrams written out is great. Also, having the notes simply identified as the root, third, fifth, etc removes an extra step of having to count it all out in my head.

Anything else you can provide down the line would be most welcome.

It took me a while to figure out how to look at them (never seen this style) maar waarom ik het nou zo moeilijk vond???, no idea if it has anything to do with my temperature being 2.1c higher than normal, I’m not going to tap anymore than 'hi welcome’until I’m better :see_no_evil: :speak_no_evil:
Greetings, and give your info a new topic :blush:

1 Like

Sounds like me Brian, having a little fiddle during the old BC then moving on. As to the Chord Library, it is under Tools on the main site, see below. Not something I have used bar “playing” around with a few searches when it was first launched. :sunglasses:

Amen to that.

1 Like

I’m going to turn it into a “Teacher tip” indeed.

That’s it for what I have for written advice

Well accept maybe:
If oyu want to get experimeting with open chords, try Am, C and Em first because you can basically add the same dots on the fretboard to make some cool stuff with them

add high e string 3rd fret with your pinky and lift that finger
add b string 3 fret with your pinky and lift it again

Indeed, you can use that C/C(add)9 thing ‘extra note’ on these Am, C and Em chords too

My go-to tool to get experimental indeed
Great for finding your own shapes!