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Guitar Lesson Chords - Using Shapes

Here's a shortcut to learning a lot of useful chords that I found out the hard way!

Chords - an introduction

This hub is mainly for more advanced level players - if you haven't been playing for long, treat it with caution, as you may get confused.

What we're looking at here is the concept of learning a chord shape, and moving across strings to form dozens of chords from each shape - in theory, saving a lot of time memorizing different chords. Most of the chords will be on four strings, so it's going to mean muting or avoiding the other strings. If you are a visual learner - I think I am mostly - you will find that using transferable patterns can dramatically speed up your progress, both on guitar and piano.

A simple exercise is to take an E chord, just by moving it across one string we get an Am chord.

Here's an example, not on the chart below. Take an A chord shape (in fret 2) - if you move it across one string, you now have D maj7 on the top four strings. Moving it across one string in the opposite direction produces an E sus4 chord. These are all chords from the key of A, so they can be used together.

Apart from this concept of moving a shape across different string groups, you can also slide the same shape up and down the neck to form some really interesting chords. A good example is the flamenco or Spanish style chords - just take an E chord, slide it up one fret, then another two frets. Or take an A chord shape and play it in fret 5, fret 4, fret 3, fret 2.

Transferable Chord shapes


Shape 1

Probably the most useful, as you can play any 7th chord in two ways, and any maj 7 chord. The maj 7 chords need a barre, as shown in the last grid, for Bbmaj7.

Both versions of the 7th chord can be used all over the neck, giving you 24 chords for the price of 1 !

Although actually only 22 different chords.

Shape 2

Again, this chord shape really has a lot of applications. The m7b5 shape, based on a root 5 (root is on the 5th string, which I find to be a good way of classifying chords) will give you 11 different chords as the shape is moved up the neck.

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The diminished chord has four different names - it can be named after any of the notes in the chord.

You can also move this dim shape across 2 strings, so the root note is on string 6. This is really useful and I now use this move all the time.

Shape 3

This shape can be used for 7th chords and 6 chords. The C7 chord shape is very useful - move it up 2 frets for D7, up another 2 frets for E7, and so on - 11 different chords in all.

Shape 4

A useful trick for moving a major chord to the dominant 7th - for instance F to C aug 5, or G to D aug etc. Augmented just means "with a sharp 5".

Shape 5

Am7 to D11 - almost the same shape, you'll find these chords used together fairly often.

Shape 6

A three-note chord which I use all the time - all 7th chords (root 6) and all m7 chords (root 5)

This is very useful, as so many chord progressions go from A7 to Dm7, B7 to Em7, E7 to Am7, etc.

Shape 7

Maj 7 chord shape, or move it down a string, still starting in fret 7, to make the James Bond chord. Spooky.


Jon Green (author) from Frome, Somerset, UK on June 29, 2010:

Thanks Kev - I used to have a more modest volume entitled 7,449 chords. It's all about the context though.

KevCC on June 29, 2010:

Excellent lesson, I remember when I was starting to play guitar and saw a book called "12000 guitar chords" I nearly gave up then.

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