Watch Mark Lettieri demonstrate the simple genius of his ‘Tiny Chords’ approach to rhythm guitar

Mark Lettieri and Brett Papa
(Image credit: Brett Papa / YouTube)

Mark Lettieri is one of those players who can turn his hand to anything, which is why his PRS signature guitar, the Fiore, is one of the most versatile high-end electric guitars on the market, but he wants to share the his knowledge, and has put together an online guitar lessons package based around his signature rhythm guitar approach, Tiny Chords.

That’s right, Tiny Chords, which essentially is a minimalists approach to playing rhythm guitar, stripping out the notes and paring a chord down to a triad or diad – or, occasionally, a four-note voicing.

On the face of it, Lettieri’s approach itself is simple. He is not the first player to have recognised that some guitar chords work better when they are trimmed down, particularly if you are playing over another player’s chord work, and especially if there is a keyboard in a mix.

But maybe this Tiny Chords business needs and explainer, and Brett Papa, who is offering Lettieri’s lesson via his website, shot an introductory video on YouTube to do just that, with Lettieri and Papa jamming on a funk guitar rhythm and Lettieri breaking down his approach.

As Papa describes it, Tiny Chords is “all about using little chordal fragments to really accentuate the rhythm parts.” 

“It’s a great way to describe it,” says Lettieri. “I mean, they’re full chords. They have all the qualities of the notes you want to establish the harmony but I use these in my compositions, I use them as a studio player – just stuff you can use to dress up a chord progression, to maybe play in a way that is in a specific register, that gives a specific tone, that stays out the way of a more meatier chordal part, or a keyboard part or something like that.”

Lettieri says he learned the technique from the likes of Al McKay of Earth, Wind & Fire, Steve Cropper and Wah Wah Watson of The Funk Brothers.

“I call them ‘Tiny Chords’ just ‘cos they generally exist on the top three or four strings,” says Lettieri, who jokes that he considered removing the low E and A string from his guitar because they lie dormant for the duration of the course.

The Tiny Chords package includes over three hours of lesson content, with backing tracks and downloadable PDFs of the tab. You can access the lesson from computer, tablet and smartphone,

“The beauty of this stuff is a lot of it’s just triads, and playing those triads,” says Lettieri “You’ve got the chord in there, you’ve got all the notes and you are not using all your fingers.”

Well, that’s us sold. Check out what Lettieri means above and you can get the full Tiny Chords lesson available direct from Brett Papa. The course is priced $79 but perhaps embracing the spirit of the lesson, they've taken the full price and made it smaller, and it is available right now for $39.50. A tiny price, if you will. 

Jonathan Horsley

Jonathan Horsley has been writing about guitars and guitar culture since 2005, playing them since 1990, and regularly contributes to MusicRadar, Total Guitar and Guitar World. He uses Jazz III nylon picks, 10s during the week, 9s at the weekend, and shamefully still struggles with rhythm figure one of Van Halen’s Panama.