9 ways to play an E minor chord on guitar

The E minor chord is one of the first chords you should learn on guitar. This chord may also be written as Em or E min on sheet music.

The E minor chord has an easy open chord shape but there are many different ways you can play this chord throughout the guitar fretboard. By knowing different E minor chord variations, you’ll be able to use it different musical contexts.

We’ll first go over some basic chord theory and then cover 9 ways to play an E minor chord which you can start to incorporate into your playing.

Let’s get started.

E minor chord theory intro

Minor triad chords are built on the chord tones 1, b3, and 5. These chord tones can also be thought of as the scale degrees related to one minor scale.

For example, the E minor chord has the chord tones E, G, and B.

Here is the formula for minor chords below.

In contrast, Major triad chords contain the chord tones 1, 3, and 5. For example, E Major chord would contain the chord tones E, G#, and B. However, we will only be covering the different minor chord variations in this lesson.

Now that you know what notes belong to the chord structure let’s look at how to read the chord charts.

You can check this link for more on how to read guitar notation symbols.

How to read the chord charts

For the charts below:

  • 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.
  • Circles on the left represent open strings.
  • Red X means to avoid that string.

You can check this link for more on how to read guitar notation symbols.

E minor open chord

This is first shape I recommend learning for E minor, which is one of the first chords you should learn on guitar. You have two options to play this shape either using fingers 1 and 2 or 2 and 3.

E minor chord basic - open strings

E minor triad chord

This is a simple triad shape you can use starting on the 3rd string. We’ll build upon this shape ahead to make this sound fuller.

E minor triad chord with pinky

You can also add one more note to the previous shape by including your pinky like this:

E minor chord on the 5th string (no barre)

We’re gradually building upon each chord before we get to the barre chord shape. Now, you can add your 1st finger to the 5th string, 7th fret like this:

E minor barre chord on the 5th string

This shape comes from the open A minor chord except you have to rearrange your fingers as you barre the 7th fret with your 1st finger.

If you can’t get the note on the 1st string to sound clear, you can play this chord without the barre and only play the notes from the 5th to the 2nd string (as shown in the previous chart). Then, you can come back to this chord shape as you develop more strength in your fretting hand.

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This chart covers how to play:

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  • Minor chords
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  • Minor 7 chords
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  • Diminished chords
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E minor chord on the 4th string

This shape comes from the open D minor chord except you have to rearrange your fingers as you add your 1st finger to the 2nd fret. This shape can feel uncomfortable when first learning it but you will get better at it as you keep reviewing it. 

Spread chord 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 lesson on how to play spread triad chords on guitar.

E minor spread chord on the 6th string

E minor spread chord on the 5th string

E minor spread chord on the 4th string

Wrapping up

All these chords were mostly in root position, meaning the root note is in the bass. However, you certainly have more variations if you use different chord inversions. This is when you play a chord with notes other than the root.

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 understand how to play an E minor guitar chord or learn new ways of playing it. You can also try shifting the shapes that have all fretted notes to play other minor chords on the same string.

To learn more advanced chords, check out how to play an E minor 7, E Major 7, or E 7 chord on guitar.

Get the free guitar practice guide here!

All the best,

JG Music Lessons

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