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Guitar Lesson - Chords and Scales in Em

Updated on January 25, 2022
Jon Green profile image

I've been playing and teaching professionally for around 40 years, still really into it!

Chords in Em

The key of Em is a great one for playing guitar, and consequently it's been used widely - notably by The Beatles, Neil Young and Jimi Hendrix.

Heart of Gold, Little Wing, Wish You Were Here, all great songs in the key of Em

Partly that's because when you play the open strings on guitar in normal tuning, you get an Em chord of sorts, and it's kind of the default sound of the instrument. Add to that all the harmonics and the way you can incorporate open strings into many different chords, and it can really make it easier to come up with good solos. Chords with open strings have more ring and sustain, and I use them very frequently to bring out the best sound in a guitar, especially an acoustic guitar.

Guitar solos work very well in this key, with options of using open strings and harmonics.

NB - If you haven't had guitar lessons, it may be worth pointing out that the notes on the guitar fretboard repeat after fret 12. In other words, the note on Fret 1 and fret 13 are the same, just one octave higher. This also means that any pattern of notes or scales you learn in the first 12 frets are repeated after that point.

More info, including a complete fretboard diagram for the Em pentatonic scale, is on my new hub entitled

Guitar lesson - chords and scales, CAGED system.

Em chords and scales

Reading Chord Grids

The 6 vertical lines are the strings, the horizontal lines are the frets. The headstock would be above the diagram.

Fretboard picture, headstock is to the left of the diagram.

Chords in Em, the theory part

Em has a relative major key, which is G. So the sequence of chords in the key of G, based on the harmonised scale of G, are the same as Em for practical purposes, except that the Bm chord is often replaced by a B7 chord.

Chords in Em = Em, F♯m7b5, G, Am, Bm (B7) C, D, Em

You can use the Em pentatonic scale for playing over these chords. This scale is shown in the chord grids below, but can also be played along the neck as in the fretboard diagram at the top.

Notice how the notes line up with the dot markers, at least they nearly do, as fret 10 breaks this sequence. If you learn the scale in a descending pattern it's easier to learn - so play

fret 12, 10, 7, 5, 3, 0.

You can use these notes in any order with the given set of chords. Importantly, you can also use pull-offs to the open string from any of the notes, so try playing

3,0 5,0 7,0 etc

Using pull-offs will really increase the speed you can play at - just make the second note by snapping your finger off the neck in a downward direction.

More on chords

  • The basic set of chords can be adapted to include
  • Am7, Am9,
  • C maj7 and C add 9,
  • B7 sharp 9,
  • G maj7

You could practice using the chords and scales together by jamming with other players, or by using software such as GarageBand (Mac only) to record ideas.

Other keys

Now you've invested 5 mins in learning the scale down the neck, you are entitled to 5 more scales free! Yes, it's a great offer. Just playing the same pattern on the other strings will give you

B minor pentatonic (string 2)

G minor pentatonic (string 3)

D minor pentatonic (string 4)

A minor pentatonic (string 5)

E minor pentatonic (string 6)

Transposing chords

Transposing is just changing the key of a song. Once you learn the sequence of chords in one key, it's not too difficult to move the sequence to another key.

You could see the whole pattern of chords and scales on the neck as a template, which is movable to cover all of the various keys.

Let's take the key of Dm as an example, because it's again widely used in all types of music.

The Dm pentatonic scale is the same pattern of fret 12, 10, 7, 5, 3, 0 - but on string 4 (D)

Now the chords in Em are taken down by two semitones or 2 frets, leading to the harmonised scale of Dm:

Dm, Em7b5, F, Gm, Am, Bb, C, Dm.

  • Again, the Am chord is often changed to A7 (Sultans of Swing is a good example)
  • If you are a songwriter, you could use these chords together in any order
  • These chords are basically the same as those in the key of F, because it's the relative major key to Dm, just as G was the relative major key for Em. All the other keys work in the same way.


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