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Guitar Chords Simplified

Over years of teaching guitar in college, I worked out some easier ways of playing problem chords.

How to play problem chords

When you've been teaching guitar for a long time, you tend to see the same chord problems over and over again. The F chord, for instance, can cause problems. We'll also look at B and Bm, both very common chords that may be difficult initially. Watch out for the signs - x means don't play this string, o means open string.

  • There is no one single chord shape for any chord - due to the nature of the guitar neck, you can play any chord in many different ways
  • Any major chord is constructed from only 3 notes. As we have six strings there is a tendency to use all of them all the time!
  • Looking at the full F barre chord, (chord 5 on the chart) notice that all the other shapes just use part of that shape.
  • The F chord is mainly hard because of the size of the frets - near the headstock the frets are further apart - leading to buzzes if you don't get the right pressure. Getting close to the fret can help.


You can change the chord voicings you use, depending on the context. Although it might seem to make things more complicated, it can really help to have some alternative ways to play each chord. Here are some hints on the F chord:

  • If you are playing acoustic rhythm guitar, and trying to make the guitar part sound as full as possible, try using shapes 3 or 5 from the chord grids chart. Chord 3 is an F chord, with the thumb over the neck to cover string 5, and strings 1 and 2 covered by your first finger flattened out. Chord 5 is a standard barre chord.
  • Check out my other hub on barre chords for photos and hints on these shapes.
  • A more rocky version is F5, a power chord. This works best with amp distortion on electric guitar, but it can be useful at other times too, especially for fast chord changes or riff - based songs, like Kinks songs.
  • Chord shape 6 shows a three- note version of F, that works best when there is a band context or a second guitar to fill out the sound.

Chord pictures - problem chords


B chords

The best B chord for most songs is shape 10 on the chord chart. To play this, barre with your first finger in fret 2, and use your little finger of third finger to barre in fret 4. Don't play the outside strings, just the middle 4.

  • Chord shape 9 shows a related shape, which now has an open B string added. This may be a lot easier, and sounds great too.
  • If you are in the key of E, you may be able to use a B7 chord instead, as shown. This is because B7 is the dominant 7th chord that resolves to E, one of the most common chord progressions in nearly all styles of music.
  • For Bm, the most standard shape is chord shape 7.
  • You can often play the next chord voicing instead, a three note version of Bm7.
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Moving the shapes

Chord 1 is an easy F - usually you can play string 1 open, a Fmaj7 chord that will often work well.

  • Moving the whole shape up two frets will give you a G chord, on strings 2, 3, 4 only.
  • Move up another two frets for an A chord, etc.
  • F5 - the power chord can be played all over the lower four strings of the guitar, and it's a quick shape for changing chords. Here it's a root 6 chord shape - the root note is on string 6, the thickest string.
  • Starting at fret 3 = G5 (use instead of G for rock songs)
  • Fret 5 = A
  • Fret 7 = B
  • Fret 8 = C
  • Fret 10 = D
  • Fret 12 = E

More on 5 or power chords

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You might want to check out my other hub on power chords. Using the F5 shape shown, you can move it across one string, to make root 5 chords - that is, the root note is now on string 5.

  • Fret 2 will give you a B5 chord, chord 9 on the chord chart.
  • Fret 3 = C5
  • Fret 4 = C sharp
  • Fret 5 = D
  • Fret 7 = E
  • Fret 8 = F
  • Fret 10 = G
  • Fret 12 = A
  • If you look at the notes in these chords, there is no third, just root or fifth notes.

The dreaded Bb chord

You can also use the power chord or 5 chord shape to play Bb. In this case, take the chord picture 9 shape for B5 down one fret. (B is one fret higher than Bb)

Now, you need to be careful here, and just play the strings 5, 4 and 3 that you have fingers on - either by putting your pick just above string 5 or by fingerpicking. Strings 6, 2 and 1 will sound terrible, interesting, but not in a good way!

Problems with barre chords? see the photos on my other hub.


I'll try to answer any questions through the comments box.

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