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Guitar Chord Shapes Lesson

Updated on December 28, 2021
Jon Green profile image

I taught guitar and music theory for many years in college, learning many short cuts along the way.

Guitar chords lesson

In the chord grids below I've shown some of the more useful chords you might find in the key of C and the key of C minor. As usual, the chord grids read like this:

  • six vertical lines for the strings, the horizontal lines are the frets.
  • The headstock would appear above the diagram

On the first line, the basic C chord is shown - don't play string 6. String 6 is the thickest string, at the far left of the chord grid picture. The cross means you should not play this string.

The reason for this is that you want the root note of the chord as the lowest sounding note, and the C is fret three on string 5.The other chords on this line are variations on a C chord, that can often be used together. If you learn them in a group like this, it will give you some alternatives to the basic chord.

Line 2 has C7, C9, C13 and C11, all variations on the basic C7 chord. Again, these can be mixed up, and would work very well in a Blues sequence. The loop symbol means it's a barre chord or part-barre chord. Playing barre chords means using your first finger flattened out to cover several strings - with the ninth chord shape (C9) (C13) use your third finger to do this.

Just like the first example, don't play string 6, we want the root note on the 5th string.

Line 3 shows a chord progression in the key of C minor. The chords are for a funk, blues, or jazz chord progression. Note the use of three-note chords, which improve the sound if you're playing in a band, and are less tiring to play than standard barre chords.

Line 4 shows the barre chord versions of some C chords. Note that the barre is not covering string 6 - this makes it easier to get a clean chord without buzzing, and with the correct root note at the bottom of the chord. If you want a plain C minor chord (Cm) just convert the Cm7 shape to a full Am shape instead. This shape will usually sound better though, in most contexts.

Music Theory

Chords have two components - the pitch (alphabet up to G) and intervals - expressed as numbers. So a C6 chord is a C chord with an added note six degrees up the major scale (A)

A Cmaj7 chord is adding a B to the chord, a C7 is adding a B flat.

When the numbers go beyond 8 (AKA the octave) the note sequence starts again - so note 9 is a D, same as note 2. If you subtract 7 from one of these chords it will help identify the added note.

C13 has an added sixth (13 - 7 = 6)

Most of the chords shown are transferable to other keys - as long as you don't include open strings, you can shift these shapes up the neck. C7 up 2 frets is D7, up another 2 = E7, up one more is F7, etc. In the same way, C9 moved up 2 frets is D9, up another 2 frets = E9, etc.

These are root 5 type chords - the root note is on the 5th string. So, just by learning the notes on string 5, you can play most of chords you would ever need to know.

The more chord shapes you know, the better - usually 4 or 5 versions for each chord is ideal. That can also help with improvising and playing single-note leads, because the chord shape can act as a template to show you which notes are going to fit. In other words, you are less reliant on learning scale patterns, as any note within the chord shape is going to work.

The concept of chord tones is also very important - if you are playing over a C7 chord and you use the notes of that chord, it sounds like you know what you're doing!

More Chord info

Try playing the C sus4, then resolve to C. A good example of this move is the intro to Dedicated Follower of Fashion by The Kinks, a great song.

To recap - a C chord has the notes 1, 3, 5 or C, E, G.

So Csus4 is a C chord with an added fourth, which is an F note.

Remember that C7, C9 and C13 are largely interchangable, they tend to lead towards an F chord.

G7 sharp 5, sharp 9 and close relatives tend to resolve to C or Cm.


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