If you’re looking for some new and innovative ways to play open chords, movable open chord shapes are for you! These shapes will add some spice to your playing and will expand your knowledge on how to play chords, and they are great for developing improvisational skills.
Moving Chord Shapes
Every note is everywhere!
You will find the same note in multiple places on the fretboard. This repetition is due to the design of the guitar and its tuning. When you understand this concept, it opens up a world of creative possibilities on the guitar.
A movable chord shape is simply a chord shape pattern that can be moved to any fret on the guitar. These chord shapes are not anything new but they are mostly the basic chords you learned as a beginner.
You can create new and interesting chord voicing for your favorite chords with this technique. You’ll find that it’s an easy way to expand the size of your chord vocabulary, too!
Understanding Movable Chord Shapes
Don’t try to run before you can walk—learn the fundamentals of moving chord shapes first. Skipping ahead will only make it harder to improve later on. Learning the foundation is crucial if you ever want to make any real progress.
In order to learn how to move chord shapes, you need to start with the basics.
- Notes on the Fretboard
- Basic Open Guitar Chords
- Barre Chords: E & A Shapes
- Chord Formula
- CAGED System
Notes on the Fretboard
We’ll start by finding the notes on the open strings, and then work our way up the fretboard. It’s easy because they’re right in front of you!
The following are the notes played by the open strings, from lowest to highest pitch (thickest string to thinnest):
- E – A – D – G – B – E (open strings)
- 0 – 0 – 0 – 0 – 0 – 0 (open strings notation)
There are seven letters that make up the musical alphabet. When you add in sharps (#) and flats (b), there are a total of twelve notes.
- 7 musical alphabet: A–B–C–D–E–F–G–(A)
- 12 Notes: A – A#/Bb – B – C – C#/Db – D – D#/Eb – E – F – F#/Gb – G – G#/Ab – (A)
Here are the notes from the open strings to fretted strings:
- 1st string, E: F – F#/Gb – G – G#/Ab – A – A#/Bb – B – C – C#/Db – D – D#/Eb – E
- 2nd string, B: C – C#/Db – D – D#/Eb – E – F – F#/Gb – G – G#/Ab – A – A#/Bb – B
- 3rd string, G: G#/Ab – A – A#/Bb – B – C – C#/Db – D – D#/Eb – E – F – F#/Gb – G
- 4th string, D: D#/Eb – E – F – F#/Gb – G – G#/Ab – A – A#/Bb – B – C – C#/Db – D
- 5th string, A: A#/Bb – B – C – C#/Db – D – D#/Eb – E – F – F#/Gb – G – G#/Ab – A
- 6th string, E: F – F#/Gb – G – G#/Ab – A – A#/Bb – B – C – C#/Db – D – D#/Eb – E
Basic Open Guitar Chords
The first five basic guitar chords we learned as a beginner are A, D, E, C and G. These chords are sometimes referred to as cowboy chords.
Open chords are some of the most basic and important chords for guitar players to learn. They are called “open” because they use open strings on the guitar, as opposed to barre chords which require you to hold down more than one string with your fretting hand. They are easy to play, and you can find them in almost every song out there.
Barre Chords: E & A Shapes
Now that we know some open chords, we can move on to barre chords. Barre chords are just open chords with an added note, which is held down by the index finger “barring” across all the strings.
The two most common barre chord shapes are the E shape and the A shape. These shapes can be moved up and down the fretboard to create different chords.
Now that we know the notes on the fretboard and some basic open and barre chords, we can start to learn how to build chords.
The formula for building a major chord is Root (1) – 3 – 5. The movable chord shapes consist of the 1st, 3rd, and the 5th note of the major scale.
What this means is that if you are building a C chord, you would use the notes C – E – G.
Keep in mind that every note in the musical alphabet is found multiple times on the fretboard. With this knowledge, we can find different chord shape patterns using these three notes.
The CAGED system uses five chord shapes to create all the other chords on the fretboard. It is a method of helping you visually find notes and chords all over the guitar neck. It is a great tool for beginner and intermediate guitar players to learn.
The CAGED system is based on the open chords C, A, G, E, and D. These are the first movable chord shapes we learn.
The CAGED System, which simply refers to chords, became chord shapes that turn into different chords as they move up and down the fretboard. Once you move these shapes up the fretboard, they turn into barre chords.
C Shape: The C shape open chord is based off of the open C chord – X32010. By moving your open C chord up two frets or a whole step, you will be able to create a D chord. Bar across strings 1 and 3 with your index finger on the fret right before the C-chord shape to convert a C open chord to a closed position.
A Shape: The A shape open chord is one of the most common shapes that you will see. It is based off of the open A chord – X02220. To form a B major chord, the open A chord is moved up two frets. Moving the rest of the open string up two frets will also bar the strings 1 and 5 on the second fret, with your root or bass note in the 5th string.
G Shape: The G shape open chord is based off of the open G chord – 320003. By moving the G chord shape up two frets, you get a G-form A chord. To complete the shape, you need to barre strings 4, 3 and 2 on the 2nd fret. You should also be aware that pressing the root note on the 1st string may be difficult. This note is frequently left out.
E Shape: The E shape open chord is one of the most common shapes that you will see. It is based off of the open E chord – 022100. Moving this pattern up a fret, half-step, produces an F chord with all strings barred on the first fret (or specifically strings 1, 2 and 6).
D Shape: The D shape open chord is based off of the open D chord – XX0232. The open D chord shape is moved up two frets to form a D-form E chord with a fretted 4th string on the 2nd fret.
How to Play Open Chord Shapes for Guitar
As CAGED chord shapes turn into barre chords, it might take a beginner longer to master these shapes. Movable open guitar chord shapes are a great way to ease into playing barre chords. Open guitar chord shapes are easy to play, and they sound great. If you have another acoustic guitarist playing with you, they also create new voicings.
To play moving open chord shapes, follow these steps:
1. You can play any chord shapes in an open position on any fret.
To do this, don’t barre any strings.
- Mute the open strings. You can play any chord shapes as long as you are fretting the three notes of the triad (root – 3 – 5) and all open strings are muted. Now, try playing the triad in any chord position.
- Play on selected frets. You can play barre chords at any fret, but open chord shapes are only possible to play at specific frets. Open chord shapes sound best when played at the right frets – if not, they will just sound terrible.
Here is an example on how to read the chord notation:
Open String Notes = EADGBE (the strings from left to right, thickest to thinnest)
E major (E) = 022100
- The numbers correspond to which fret you should place your fingers on.
- The numbers are also arranged according to the order of strings.
- E, 6th string = 0 – you play an open string (no fingers on the fret).
- A, 5th string = 2 – place your middle finger on the 2nd fret.
- D, 4th string = 2 – place your ring finger on the 2nd fret.
- G, 3rd string = 1 – place your index finger on the 1st fret.
- B, 2nd string = 0 – you play an open string (no fingers on the fret).
- E, 1st string = 0 – you play an open string (no fingers on the fret).
If you see an X in the notation, then mute that particular string it was marked X.
Open Chord Shapes
Now that we know about movable chord shapes, let’s explore how to play them in the open position and with muted strings.
|Movable Open Chord Shapes||Chord Shape Notation||Fret Number (reference finger: 1st/index finger)|
|1st, 3rd, 8th|
|2nd, 4th, 5th, 7th, 9th, 11th, 12th, 14th|
|G||xxx433||You can play on any fret as long as you mute (x) the other strings.|
|1st, 2nd, 4th, 6th, 8th, 9th, 11th|
|D||xx0232||2nd, 4th, 5th, 7th, 9th, 10th, 12th, 14th|
|Fsus2||x33011||1st, 3rd, 8th|
|F#m7(11)||2×2200||2nd, 4th, 5th, 7th, 9th, 10th, 12th|
|Bb triad||xx0331||1st, 3rd, 5th, 7th, 8th, 10th, 12th|
|Dmaj7sus2||xx0220||2nd, 5th, 7th, 9th, 10th, 12th, 14th|
2. Choose a key and identify various open chord shapes within that key.
This exercise is strategic to your success in playing a song with open chord shapes. Since we are dealing with patterns, it makes things a lot easier. This will help you memorize the shapes and play at the right frets.
|Key||Open chords in the key|
|E||022100 – 2×2200 – 4×4400 – 577600 – 799800 – 9×9900 – 11×11 11 00 – 0 14 14 13 0 0|
|022100 – x44200 – x66400 – x77600 – x99800 – x11 11 9 00 – x12 13 11 00 – 0 14 14 13 00|
|A||x02020 – x04030 – x05050 – x07070 – x09080 – x0 11 0 10 0 – x0 12 0 12 0 – x0 14 0 14 0|
3. Use a basic chord progression and try out new chord shapes.
To spice up your playing, experiment with new chord shapes. Don’t worry about getting too fancy – just start with a simple chord progression and move on from there.
This is especially beneficial when playing with other acoustic guitarists. If you’re playing with a band, open chord shapes can add new texture and color to your sound.
4. Create new chord shapes using the triad, root (1) – 3 – 5.
Open chord shapes are not limited to the CAGED system, it is simply something that can get you started exploring new chord shapes. The 1st, 3rd and 5th note of the scale—the triad—forms the framework of all chord shapes. As long as you have these notes, you can make any open chord shape anywhere on the fretboard.
Put your creativity to the test, stretch your creative muscles and learn to trust your ears. Learn to hear what sounds right and what feels good.
By exploring all possibilities, you’ll come across amazing new things.