Open Position Chords: E Position

So far so good, learning the five main chord types in the five main open positions, right? Only two more to go, the E and D positions, and both of those should be simpler to play and easier to master than some of the more demanding ones, such as the open G chords.

Today’s post will focus on the E position chords. Here’s the classic E major chord:

EE Major

No doubt you recognize this as the same formation as the A minor chord, just on a slightly different group of strings. As with the A minor form, the E major form is used as the barre form, so while in open position the above fingering is fine, it helps to also learn it with the 2-3-4 fingering that you’ll need for the barre form.

E(alt.)E Major (alt.)

Out of all of the open formations, the E is the simplest to turn from a major to a minor chord — simply lift whichever finger you have on the G string, and play it as an open string:

EmE Minor

Doesn’t get any easier than that, does it? Well, actually it does! Check out the formations for E7 and EM7, and then the ultimate single-finger, 6-note chord, the E minor 7th (m7). Here’s the E7:

E7 E7

A cool variation of this chord, found in quite a few rock songs from the ’60s through the ’80s, uses the 4th finger for an octave seventh on the B string (3rd fret).

E7(alt.) E7(alt.)

The EM7 is a little awkward, but not too bad:


Make sure the open B string is ringing properly, it’s very easy to let the 3rd finger hang down just enough to choke the note.

Here’s that amazingly simple 1-finger Em7 chord:

Eminor7 Eminor7

We’ll go over all of these formations again when we work on barre chords, but just keep in mind that all of these formations are movable. What are open strings in all these positions will be barred up the neck by your index finger.

It should be noted that while this series may seem exhaustive, and even then just working on 5 distinct types of chords in 5 open positions, the fact is that we’re hardly scratching the surface when it comes to the various types of chords that can be constructed once you know the formulas. There are suspended, diminished, augmented, extended and altered dominant, and many other types of chords, and multiple ways to play each of them. Some of these will be covered in the near future, others are fairly esoteric in nature and may be somewhat limited in application.

However, if you were familiar with just the major, minor, and dominant 7th chords, that would be sufficient for probably 80-90% of all pop, rock, metal, blues, country, and even classical music. Jazz is another animal altogether; many of the more “esoteric” chord types mentioned are more commonplace in jazz guitar.

Maybe some enterprising soul out there might put some distortion on those unusual chords, and apply them to fresh territory (hint, hint). In the meantime, mastering these more conventional shapes and tonalities will put you way ahead of the game, and not only help you build a repertoire quickly, but develop your own compositions with a great deal of musical color and textures to work with.

Let’s take a quick look at the five chord types we’ve been covering in this series, how they are constructed, and how they are “spelled” with the intervals that comprise them:

  • Major chord:  Root (R), major third (M3), perfect fifth (P5). R-3-5.
  • Minor chord:  Root, minor third (m3), perfect fifth. R-b3-5.
  • Major 7th chord (M7):  Major chord with seventh (M7). R-3-5-7.
  • Dominant 7th chord (7):  Major chord with flattened (minor) seventh (m7). R-3-5-b7.
  • Minor 7th chord (m7):  Minor chord with flattened seventh. R-b3-5-b7.

We’ll take a look at the last of the five CAGED positions tomorrow.

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