Expand Your Harmonic Vocabulary Using Django Chord Voicings

In this lesson, we’ll dive into some chordal innovations you can use to get a Django Reinhardt sound or to simply explore new ways of approaching chords.

Django Reinhardt had an unparalleled technique stemming from the most unfortunate of circumstances. On October 26, 1928, at the age of 18, the young guitarist returned home from a gig. As he entered his caravan, a candle fell over and set the place ablaze. While Reinhardt and his wife escaped, much of his body was badly burned. 

Against the odds, he recovered, but it took over a year until he began playing the guitar again. With his third and fourth fingers permanently paralyzed, he only had mobility in his first and second fingers and thumb. A determined Reinhardt not only taught himself how to play guitar again but invented an unorthodox approach to chord voicings. 


In this lesson, we’ll dive into some of these chordal innovations that you can use to get a Reinhardt sound or to simply explore new ways of voicing chords.

Week one: One Fingertip, Two Strings

Reinhardt relied heavily on his first and second fingers to play even the most basic triads. To do so, he would use a fingering where the tip of one finger pushed down two adjacent strings at once at the same fret. Start with the Em in Example 1 by playing the common fingering of the chord with your second and third fingers. Then, lift both fingers off the string and when you play it the second time, aim the tip of your second finger for the area in between the two strings. Maintain the arch of your finger and resist flattening your finger, especially if you are double-jointed. This may take some getting used to, so practice switching slowly between the two fingerings. 


Once you get comfortable with the one-fingered Em, try the same technique on the Am chord in Example 2. This is nearly the same shape, only moved over a string with the first finger added on the second string. Once this chord becomes more familiar, try moving back and forth between Am and E (Example 3). You will notice the shape is identical, except it shifts over one string. Remember to aim your second finger in between the strings but land on both. 

Once you can change back and forth with some ease, place these chords in waltz time with open-string bass notes that give you an extra beat to get back and forth (Example 4). Remember to wait to change the chord shape until the first beat of the next open string. Try giving it a little more Reinhardt flavor by using a rest stroke [see Greg Ruby’s Weekly Workout in the March/April 2023 issueed.] on the root note.

Beginners’ Tip #1
When practicing the one-fingered Em chord in Example 1, pick the chord one note at a time to make sure that each note is ringing clearly. 

That’s the end of week one. The complete lesson features four weeks of workouts (plus a bonus exercise.) There are two ways to access the full video and musical examples: Join our community at Patreon.com/acousticguitarplus OR Buy the November/December 2023 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.

Acoustic Guitar magazine cover for issue 343

This article originally appeared in the November/December 2023 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.

Greg Ruby
Greg Ruby

Greg Ruby is the director of Guitar Week for the Swannanoa Gathering and has taught extensively. He is the author of the Oscar Alemán Play-Along Songbook.

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