Movable Chords, Part 1

Hopefully by now you’ve had plenty of time to work on all the open position chords we’ve been reviewing over the last week or so. Those are great, and again, nothing sounds quite like an open string or two ringing in with several fretted notes in constructing a clear, resonant chord that you can build a song around.

But movable chord forms will give you maximum versatility up and down the neck, and all around the fretboard. We’ll take a look at the movable versions of the five main chord forms (major, minor, dominant 7th, major 7th, minor 7th) in three segments, using 4, 5, and all 6 strings. This post will cover the 6-string forms.

As with the open chord series, for this series we’ll assume that you have never attempted this sort of chord before, so we’ll start with some fundamentals. Barring is one of the more difficult things for beginners to do successfully, so follow the fingering suggestions closely, and be patient with yourself. Strum slowly through the chord, making sure all notes ring out clear and clean.

A good way to practice barring before trying one of these chord forms is to just use the index finger, barre it across all six strings (pick any position you like), and strum slowly and evenly, maybe a quarter to half a second between each note. By the time you get to the last note, the first notes should still be audible. If one or more of the notes can’t be heard all the way through, you may be slightly altering the pressure of your finger, and allowing the note to choke or deaden early. This is especially likely to happen midway beneath the finger, along the four interior strings (ADGB). Again, maintain even, consistent pressure throughout, and keep at it until you can hear all six notes.

You might be thinking that it would be easier to start with 4-string forms, and move on to 5 and 6 strings. However, it’s actually simpler to learn the concept of barring by starting with all the strings at once. If you can do six strings, five or four strings will be no problem at all.

All of the movable forms we’re going to be checking out will be done at the 5th position. So for 6-string chords, as the 5th fret on the low E (6th) string is A, these will all be A chords. Root notes are indicated in red. Here’s A major:

A(barre)A(barre)

Try a variety of strumming techniques:  faster, slower, downstrokes, upstrokes, etc. No matter how you play it, you should be able to hear all six notes in the chord.

The interval that determines whether a chord is major or minor is the third, which is played here by the 2nd (middle) finger. So for this 6-string form, to change from major to minor just lift the middle finger:

Am(barre) Am(barre)

It may not be easy to tell in the photo, but the middle finger is actually lifted here, just the barest distance needed. An easy way to build your barring ability is to go back and forth between the major and minor chords, just pressing and lifting that middle finger, without moving the others. When you can play both chords perfectly, moving just the one finger, then you’ve got it nailed.

The dominant 7th form is the same as the major, with the 4th finger (pinky) lifted:

A7(barre) A7(barre)

Again, work back and forth between this chord and the major, this time pressing and lifting only the 4th finger. Work in the minor form also, as that gets more comfortable.

The minor 7th (m7) is the easiest of these 6-string chords to play:

Am7(barre) Am7(barre)_

The m7 may be easier than the others, but it can be deceptively simple. You still want to be sure that all six notes are coming through clearly. Work back and forth between the m7 and the minor, by pressing and lifting the 4th finger.

The major 7th (M7) chord is slightly more difficult than the others, but not too bad:

AM7(barre)_ AM7(barre)

The “bunching” of the 2nd and 3rd fingers in the middle there will probably feel unnatural at first, but stick with it. You may find it easier to switch the 2nd and 3rd fingers. Either way, this will definitely be the most difficult chord in this group to switch from or to another chord.

Try all five chords in various positions, up and down the neck, and in various combinations of chords and strumming patterns.

Stay tuned, we’ll look at 5- and 4-string movable formations in a few days.

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