A Fretboard Theory customer recently asked me to shed some light on the verse to “Sour Girl” by Stone Temple Pilots. I remember a student bringing this song in to learn way back when it first came out in 2000 and I couldn’t figure it out. The STP guitarist, Dean DeLeo, has a knack for coming up with unique chord voicings and unpredictable chord changes. In fact, many music transcribers have been throw off by his style, so much so that the official sheet music is inaccurate. Take a look at the score for sale at musicnotes.com and you’ll see that the chords notated for the verse don’t sound anything like the song. Fortunately, YouTube user bronyraur nails the Sour Girl chords and breaks it all down for you.
As for the theory (my specialty) behind this chord progression, I see it like this:
D-Bb-F-G or I-bVI-bIII-IV in the key of D. These changes are based on minor scale intervals (hence all the flats) but played all as major chords, and can be thought of as a type of modal interchange. A lot of rock music features similar changes only with plain power chords.
Next, you add some chord tones and extensions to the basic chords listed above. But, before you do, play an open C major chord. C major is built from the notes C, E and G. In the open position you can combine these notes in a few different ways. Obviously, you can play a standard open C chord shape. With this shape, you can also play G at the 3rd fret of the 1st string using your pinky finger. This is still a C chord, it’s just a slightly different voicing with the 5th, G, on top. You can also put an alternate note in the bass position. Move your 3rd finger from C at the 3rd fret of the 5th string to G at the 3rd fret of the 6th string and mute the 5th string. Again, this is still a C chord, just another voicing, although it is technically named C/G with the slash used to indicate a note other than the root in the bass.
Now, starting on the C/G from above, move your fingers up two frets. You have gone from C/G to D/A, but with the addition of a new chord tone. The open 3rd string, G, is a 4th to the new chord root, D. Since the 3rd of the D chord, F#, remains, you call this Dadd4/A (as opposed to Dsus4 which would omit the 3rd, F#). This is the first chord in the “Sour Girl” verses. From string 6 to string 1 you play in the following frets: 5 x 4 0 3 5.
Next is a Bbmaj9 played from string 6 to string 1 as follows: 6 x 0 5 6 5. That’s a root, 3rd, 9th, 5th and 7th. I would think of this shape as being built around an “E form” barre chord. If you take away the 9th by moving it up two frets to a 3rd, and take away the 7th by moving it up one fret to the root, then you make the chord shape: 6 x 0 7 6 6. Disregard the open string and you should be able to see how this shape fits into a common 6th string barre chord.
Dadd4/A and Bbmaj9 are followed by F and G using standard barre chord shapes, although you lift your pinky on the “and” of beat three and move it over to the 5th fret of the 3rd string temporarily creating a G7sus4. Your pinky returns to the 5th fret of the 4th string on beat four.
I also found a live version of “Sour Girl” in which you can catch some glimpses of DeLeo’s fingerings, however, it sounds like the band is tuned down a half-step to Eb.
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Play Until Yer Fingers Bleed!
Mr. Desi Serna