The Five Basic Chord Shapes

There are many thousands of chord shapes that can be played on the guitar. A deep understanding of chords brings to light such concepts as inversions and chords which leave out certain chord tones to build creative voicings all up and down the neck of the instrument. In short, it's very unlikely any of us will ever learn every chord there is, and even if you came close, you'd never be able to make use of all those chords in anything that resembles music.

But don't worry about all that. There are really only five basic chord shapes, and pretty much all those thousands of chord shapes I mentioned above can be thought of as variations on these five shapes. I'll show you how that works in future columns.

But better yet, you probably already know these five most important shapes they were probably the first five chords you learned though you may not have thought of moving all these chords up and down the neck. In this column Ill show you how and why you should.

The E Shape

Everything I'll discuss in this column is pretty basic, and this chord is no different. It's your basic E chord:

As you slide this chord shape up the neck, it turns into your basic barre chord and it changes chord name depending on which fret you play it at. When talking to other guitarists and explaining which chord shape I want them to play after telling them I want them to play a G chord or a B flat chord or whatever I refer to this chord as the E shape chord, regardless of where on the neck it is being played:

You probably know you can move this chord all the way up the neck of the guitar, and that it changes chord name at each fret. You can figure out which chord it is by determining the name of the note on the sixth string covered by your first finger barre, or the first string, or the note your little finger plays on the fourth string. They are all the same note.

The A Shape

Here is your basic A chord, played the proper way:

If you play the chord as a barre, don't play the high E string. The note that your barre covers on the high E string F# at the 2nd fret doesn't belong in the A chord.

This shape is your other basic barre chord, along with the E shape chord I showed you before. The E shape barre chord and the A shape barre chord are the two most common chords most rock musicians will ever play, and pretty much all styles of music make heavy use of these two chord shapes played as barre chords.

As you slide this A shape chord up the neck you can do two things: You can either attempt to squeeze your fingers into position to play it properly all the way up the neck, which is sometimes necessary to achieve certain musical goals, or you can do the easy thing and play it as a simple two-fingered barre chord. Both forms have their pros and cons. Practice them both.

Wherever you play this chord on the guitar, the name of the chord comes from the note on the fifth or third string (theyre the same note, an octave apart).

Here is an A shape chord played at the 5th fret, making it a D chord:


You can also stretch your first finger barre across the sixth string and play that note too. Its the fifth of the chord and adds an extra touch of heaviness to the chord.

The D Shape

This D chord is one of the easiest of all chords to play:

Now let's try sliding it up the neck. You can get a lot of mileage out of this chord by simply sliding up and playing only the top three strings. If you play a D shaped chord on the 7th fret, you'[re actually playing a G chord

The C Shape

Here is your typical C chord:

The name of this chord comes from the note on the fifth string or second string. When I think of this chord, I usually think of the note on the fifth string, so if I was playing the C shape (shown above) as a G chord, I would say I was playing the C shape chord at the 10th fret.

The G Shape

Here is the basic G chord:

You can slide the G shape chord slid up the neck. OK, that one is really tough but does have some interesting applications.

There you go. In future columns we'll explore how each of these five chord shapes serves as the basis for most of the chords you'll ever play. In the meantime, work on barring and sliding all five of these common shapes up and down the neck. With experimentation youll find ways to use all these chords, and your playing and songwriting will improve because you've got a good organized understanding of chord structure and how these chord shapes can be moved around the neck. Enjoy.

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