Cowboy C: why no low E?

Discussion in 'Tab, Tips, Theory and Technique' started by P Thought, Apr 20, 2016.

  1. P Thought

    P Thought Poster Extraordinaire Silver Supporter

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    I know you're not supposed to play the low E string in an open C chord, and I can hear that it doesn't sound very good when you do, but my question is why: E is the third in the C scale, so shouldn't it fit in a C chord? There are two other E notes in the cowboy C chord, why not the low one?

    Also I wonder, when an answer comes, does it fall under "theory" or "fundamentals"?
     
  2. Leon Grizzard

    Leon Grizzard Friend of Leo's

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    You of course can play it since it is a chord tone, but it is not as stable sounding as having the root. Having the 5th is slightly less stable than root, and the 3d is the least stable. Folks play the 3d in the bass a lot though, but I bet there is preference for the root and then 3d above rather than root and then 3d below.

    Eldon Shamblin played the 3d as the first bass note in a chord often, I think to avoid conflict with the bass or piano player playing the root also.

    Check out Vernon Worrell playing root, 3d a lot on Bile 'em Cabbage in A.

     
  3. Blue Bill

    Blue Bill Poster Extraordinaire Ad Free Member

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    I think it's because letting the low E ring puts too much emphasis on the third, with 3 E notes. It kinda drowns out the G, the fifth. Having the C for the lowest bass note is less "ambiguous". Some songs use the low E, for the inverted sound.
     
  4. GigsbyBoyUK

    GigsbyBoyUK Friend of Leo's

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    Another take on it - and the way that I explain it to the kids I teach - is that's it's daft to have more E's in a C than C's. We want the C to dominate. OK, so I know it ain't that simple, but for these cowboy/beginner chords maybe it is.

    Whatever the maths or theory behind it, the sound of people hammering away on that low E in a C chord (or other chords where it's bad) just send my teeth on edge. It's not hard to turn that E to a G, after all.

    I keep saying to my kids: 'No X's.' (i.e. where the chord doiagram shows an X, it means don't play it.) The kids' parents get a chuckle when they hear me telling their nine year olds that X's (exes) are terrible.
     
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  5. mitchfinck

    mitchfinck Tele-Holic

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    Also if you take just those low two notes (C with an open E below) you get the minor inversion of the major third (minor sixth). It's just at odds with the overall chordal harmony. Like @GigsbyBoyUK says, we want the C to dominate. Also, as he says, fretting a low G (inversion of a perfect fifth, resulting in a perfect fourth) works well and doesn't greatly colour the overall chord voicing.

    Alternatively, for certain songs and chord progressions, the low E probably adds a really nice flavour.
     
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  6. Tommy Biggs

    Tommy Biggs Friend of Leo's

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    Vernon's a machine. Just sayin'.
    Thanks for that.
     
  7. Larry F

    Larry F Doctor of Teleocity Vendor Member

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    Great questions. The problem with having the third in the bass occurs when other chord tones are close to it. For example, the C chord has these notes, from bottom to top: E C E G C E. The first 5 notes are sounding at and below middle C. The notes C and E, in this voicing, are a third apart, which can be a little muddy. Add the open low E to this, and the mud thickens. Now, consider this voicing for a D major chord: F# A D (strings 6 3 2). Here, the only notes below middle C are F# and A, which sound less muddy than the C chords E C E G.

    The problem with having a third in the bass stems from clashing harmonics. (Remember that a complex pitched sound with a frequency of f, can be acoustically analyzed into harmonics, which are sine waves of frequencies f, 2f, 3f, 4f,...) The third harmonic of E is B. This B clashes with C, the fundamental frequency of the C major chord. Having 3 E's sounding in a C chord is just asking for trouble, as you have tripled the number of third harmonic B's.

    In classical music, chords very often have only 1 third in the voicing. That third has a strong tendency to resolve upward a semitone to the root of a chord a 4th higher, which is usually a I or IV chord. When single-note instruments play chord tones, the way that these are connected in a melodic line sounds natural and balanced when these move by step. However, if 2 E's in a C chord resolve to 2 F's in an F chord, they form parallel octaves, which sound non-stylistic in classical music. This is the reason why 3rds are not doubled very frequently in classical music voice motion. I'm holding back some other info about doubled thirds to avoid complicating this discussion even more.

    To my mind, fundamentals are primarily concerned with the structure and content of chords and scales. Theory enters the discussion when we consider how chords move from one to another, producing certain musical effects and sensations in the listener.

    I could have answered this better, had I thought through more carefully what I wanted to say. I should mention that there are different schools of thought concerning voice-leading from the standpoint of harmonics.
     
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  8. LKB3rd

    LKB3rd Friend of Leo's

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    If it sounds good to you there is no reason not to play it. I use it when I am making basslines with my chords.
     
  9. BigDaddyLH

    BigDaddyLH Telefied Ad Free Member

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    Excellent explanation Larry!

    I find that in general, because the notes ring out more on an electric guitar, I avoid doubling any notes at all. Why double a note when they are other more interesting ones to play? Plus a chord with three notes seems to cut through better than one with six. On the other hand, on a deadnought, sometimes you just want to bang out big fat chords, like it's a drum that incidentally has six strings across it.
     
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  10. prebend

    prebend Tele-Holic

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    I don't hate the open low E in a cowboy C chord, but it doesn't sound as good as say an open A chord with the C# in the bass. The later I use all the time, and the C#'s outnumber the A's 2 to 1.

    So I think there is something to Larry's explanation of the third harmonic of E clashing with the C.
     
  11. waparker4

    waparker4 Doctor of Teleocity Ad Free Member

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    Larry is right. If you play piano, you will find that there are just certain intervals in the lower octaves that don't sound good, and also that the further down you play, you have to play wider intervals or it will sound muddy and sound like notes are clashing.
     
  12. dmitri

    dmitri Tele-Meister

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    Larry's explanation kinda covers it.

    The some way of saying it that thirds in the bass often get muddy. Same reason the D/F# cowboy chord only gets used at certain times. If your finger picking though it isn't as egregious.
     
  13. Tim Bowen

    Tim Bowen Poster Extraordinaire

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    C/E is a chord one sees a lot on charts. If I want a tighter sound, I'll play a voicing that eliminates open strings. It's often utilized as a passing chord, such as between F and Dm7; if I want a little open string ring I might choose this voicing:

    XX2013

    My arrangement of Robert Johnson's "Love in Vain" in G of course contains the prerequisite bluesy elements, but also utilizes some churchy, reverent sounds. One example of this involves quick use of an F chord going to the IV chord, C. The sparse voicings are key to making the low E in the bass work for the C chord, as well as a light touch and use of arpeggios, allowing the upper strings to continue ringing, with only the low E struck to imply the C chord, along with the still ringing strings. Actually Fadd9(no 3) to C/E:

    13X0XX
    03X0XX
     
    Last edited: Apr 20, 2016
  14. thunderbyrd

    thunderbyrd Poster Extraordinaire Silver Supporter

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    """E is the third in the C scale, so shouldn't it fit in a C chord? There are two other E notes in the cowboy C chord, why not the low one?"""

    see my thread titled "to be a Magician".
     
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  15. P Thought

    P Thought Poster Extraordinaire Silver Supporter

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    Man, I love this place. Thanks everyone.
     
  16. ac15

    ac15 Poster Extraordinaire Ad Free Member

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    You do indeed see C/E in charts, but the voicing the OP mentions just doesn't sound good. In fact, it sounds like a mistake!
     
  17. spauldingrules

    spauldingrules Tele-Holic

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    Sounds good if the bass player is playing the root.
     
  18. BigDaddyLH

    BigDaddyLH Telefied Ad Free Member

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    Try xx2x13

    ... or if you are feeling jazzy, make it a major seventh chord:

    xx2413

    Now if anyone says the minor second inside the chord sound bad, why thems fightin words!
     
    Last edited: Apr 20, 2016
  19. 1992guitars

    1992guitars TDPRI Member

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    Like so many things, it's a case-by-case basis. Playing solo guitar you'll use it quite frequently. Like if you're in the key of C and climbing up to the F chord through an alternating bass pattern...playing Chet-style or some variation.

    Or of course Neil Young used it on Unknown Legend. Going from the G chord to the low C/E. I disagree that the voicing "just doesn't sound good." Ted Greene talked about this in Chord Chemistry. Some chords sound downright crummy when practiced in an isolated fashion, but when you're in the process of actually playing or composing a song and making music, a whole other world opens up. Chords create feelings and some feelings involve tension. There are a lot of good reasons to use one particular chord rather than another. This also includes inversions of said chords...which the cowboy C/E would fit into.

    Lots of possibilities
     
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  20. ColonelPanic

    ColonelPanic Tele-Meister

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    For some nice usage of the full C/E, Tommy Emmanuel's 'Keepin It Simple' is a good example, it's the first chord of the main section. It forms a nice ascending bass-line from C/E -> F -> G -> E/G#
     
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