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Guitar Lesson, Open String Chords

For many years I taught guitar in college, here are some tips.

Guitar chords lesson

These guitar chords can sound great - but you need to be accurate with right-hand technique. Watch out for the x sign - it means don't play this string. It's fine to use a pick, but be careful not to hit the wrong string. You could also finger-pick the chords, and it's a good idea to arpeggiate them, playing one string at a time to get the sound of the chord projecting clearly.

The concept is to use a familiar chord shape, such as C or G, and by moving it to different places on the guitar neck, form new chords with a lot of extra ring and sustain.

  • The first four rows of chord pictures are all adding an open G (3rd string) to different chord shapes.

Chord info

The chord pictures have 6 vertical lines - the 6 strings. The frets are shown as horizontal lines.

  • First chord is C, but with the G note doubled on string 1 - this gives a lot more ring.
  • By sliding up 2 frets, you get a D chord, with an added 4th, and an added ninth too if you play the first string open. A nice chord change that works well in the key of G.
  • Next 2 chords are the same shape, moved up the neck to make Eb and F add9, then G
  • Gm is a bit strange, with no root note, but very effective.

Guitar chords with open strings


G and C add 9 shapes

  • The G and C add 9 shapes shown are very widely used in guitar songs. A couple of examples: Good Riddance (Time of Your Life) by Green Day, Only Livin' Boy in New York (Simon and Garfunkel)
  • Moving these shapes up the neck gives you the other shapes shown. If you play a typical chord progression in the key of C, like C, F, G using these shapes it will sound really different, and definitely brighter. As so many songs use these chords there are many ways to apply the new voicings.
  • Next shape is a useful way to play some minor chords with added ring and sustain. The Dm chord has an add 9 (E) and an added 4th (G.) For me, it's easier to categorize it as a type of open Dm chord that can be substituted for a normal Dm chord, most of the time - it depends on the key you are in to some extent.

Key of E

Finally, some chords in the key of E, which make full use of the open strings E and B. As both these notes are diatonic to the key of E they will work with all chords in this key. The A and B chords are played like barre chords, but with the two open strings added. If you are new to barre chords, these chord shapes would be a good preparation for playing full barre chords.

The minor chords are even better, chord names are approximate. The home chord is E, the tonic note of the key of E.

The key of E is guitar-friendly. There are many chord options in this key that are not possible or very awkward in other keys.

If you want to experiment with recording some of these chords, try playing an E major scale on a new track. String 1 and string 6 are both E (open strings) so this scale pattern will work on both of them, and you can make it more flash by doing pull-offs to the open string.

Fret :12, 11, 9, 7, 5 , 4, 2, 0

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Chord names and intervals

When you see numbers in a chord name, they refer to an added note in the chord. To understand the naming, follow through the sequence of notes in a major scale. C add 9: add a ninth to a C chord. Count CDEFGABC and then D is the ninth note in the sequence. Major 7th ( triangle sign) means add the note one semitone below the 8th note. In the key of C this would be a B note. So, C maj 7 is a C chord with an added B.

In the same way, a C6 chord would be C, E, G, A

Cm6 would be the same, but with a flat 3rd: C. Eb, G, A

Music theory stuff like this is much easier to see on a piano keyboard, which is why I advocate learning a little piano, whichever instrument you play. I have a few hubs on piano chords with photos which might save some time and effort.


Jon Green (author) from Frome, Somerset, UK on September 27, 2012:

You're welcome. If you have another guitarist to play with you can do the Beatles trick of using first position chords and chords up the neck together for a really full sound.

WE5 on September 26, 2012:

Ahhhhhh...guitar talk! I have been experimenting with this sort of thing myself, but not with such organization! Thanks for the effort you've put in...and keep it coming!

Jon Green (author) from Frome, Somerset, UK on September 26, 2012:

Hi jimmar - some of these chords are easier on an electric, and they are unusual voicings I've found through experimentation. Open G is also fun, especially with a slide and some Ry Cooder attitude. Cheers.

jimmar from Michigan on September 26, 2012:

Where do I find the time? Thanks!!

I printed these chords and plan to experiment some. I like to trying to find new sounds and put them together. I've just been dinking around with open G tuning. Keep these hubs coming, they help to inspire.

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