The E chord is one of the first chords you should know on guitar. Although this is a simple chord to learn, knowing different chord variations gives you the flexibility to play throughout the fretboard whenever needed.
We’ll first go over some basic chord theory and then cover 12 ways to play an E chord which you can start to incorporate into your playing.
Let’s get started.
E chord theory intro
Major triad chords are built upon the chord tones 1, 3, and 5. These chord tones can also be thought of as the scale degrees related to one Major scale.
For example, the E Major chord has the chord tones E, G#, and B.
Here is the formula for Major chords below.
In contrast, minor triad chords contain the chord tones 1, b3, and 5. For example, an E minor chord would contain the chord tones E, G, and B. However, we will only be covering the different Major chord variations in this post.
Now that you know what notes belong to the chord structure let’s look at how to read the chord charts.
How to read the chord charts
The top horizontal line of the chord chart represents the high E string and the bottom horizontal line represents the low E string. The vertical lines separate each fret. The numbers in the blue dots tell you which fingers to use on the fretting hand.
The letters on the right of the charts tell you what notes you are playing on each string.
You can check this link for more on how to read guitar notation symbols.
E open chord
This is the first way I recommend learning a E Major chord. This is considered an open chord, meaning that there are open strings included in the shape.
E chord on the 4th string
This shape comes from the open D Major chord except you have to rearrange your fingers as you add your 1st finger. This shape can feel uncomfortable when first learning it but you will get better at it as you keep reviewing it.
E chord on the 5th string (without barre)
For this next shape, you can add the 1st and 6th strings because they happen to be the root of the chord.
E barre chord on the 5th string
This is another common chord shape that will show up when looking up a E chord. This shape comes from the open A Major chord except you have to rearrange your fingers as you barre the 7th fret with your 1st finger.
*Tip: If this chord feels difficult to play, you can practice this shape higher up on the fretboard because the tension of the strings is lighter as you go up. Then you can gradually shift the shape down as you develop more strength in your hand.
E chord variation 5th string
This is another chord variation you can use starting on the 5th string. This shape uses your pinky so if you’re not used to using it, it can feel awkward at first. This is very similar to an open C Major chord shape except you have to rearrange your fingers when you add your pinky (4th finger).
The shape looks like this:
E chord variation with a mini barre
This is similar to the previous chord except you can use your first finger to barre the 1st string as well. It looks like this:
E chord above the 12th fret
Some guitars may not be suitable to play comfortably past the 12th fret but if your guitar has that extra space higher up on the fretboard, here are some other variations you can use for a E chord starting on the 5th string, 14th fret. Here is the shape:
E chord with a mini barre
Another step you can take to make the E chord sound fuller is to play a mini barre on the 1st and 2nd strings. The mini barre can be hard at first but it will get easier as you continue to review this shape. The chord looks like this:
E chord barre on the 6th string
At this point, we’ve worked on different steps to take before getting to this chord because it requires more strength in your fretting hand.
This shape is the same as the open E chord except you have to rearrange your fingers as you barre the 12th fret with your 1st finger.
Here is the chord:
Tip* If this chord is difficult to play, start the shape higher up on the fretboard. The tension of the strings is lighter as you press down on chords higher up the fretboard. Then you can gradually shift the shape down as you develop more strength in your hand.
You may also want to check out 5 tips to get better at playing barre chords on guitar.
E chord spread shapes
The following chords are called spread shapes because of the wider space between some of the notes within the chord shape. Because these chord shapes skip a string, they are more suitable for a finger picking style of playing. You might also hear these chords in a more classical music context.
To go more in-depth, check out this post on how to play spread triad chords on the guitar.
E spread chord on the 6th string
E spread chord on the 5th string
E spread chord on the 4th string
All these chords were mostly in root position, meaning the root note is in the bass. However, you have even more variations if you use different chord inversions. This is when you play a chord with notes other than the root in the bass.
It’s good to know many possibilities of playing the same chord because you have more flexibility to move around the fretboard. Also, you can use different chord variations when you need a certain note at the top to help define a melody that you are playing over.
I hope this helped you to broaden your understanding of how to play a E chord and also how you can apply these shapes to other chords.
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All the best,