Guitar Chords made simple

Looking at the guitar fretboard and all the possible places you can place your fingers can be daunting. However it may be useful to know that there are only really 3 true Guitar Chords Shapes that you can make in Standard Tuning. These guitar chords shapes derive from the C_A_G_E_D system and are closely related to this system. The 3 Guitar Chord Shapes are really just the following

  • The C Shape guitar chord
  • The A Shape guitar chord
  • and the E Shape guitar chord

There are 2 other shape guitar chords that are useful but in reality these are not really shapes at all just an extension of either the A guitar chord shape (this is the G Shape) and the D Shape ( which is just an extension of the C guitar chord Shape). I say this because the D Shape and the G Shape use the main part of the C Shape and the A Shape respectively and I will demonstrate what I mean in a diagram later on. From the 3 basic shapes you can make your major and your minor guitar chords and Dominant sevenths and Dominant 9th and any other chord you can find. Yes you can get a chord dictionary for every chord built on every Key but once you understand how to build chords from the 5 Patterns and the 3 chord Shapes there is no need for such a comprehensive Dictionary of Chords.

Lets start by looking at 2 of the most important guitar chords shapes ,the A Shape and the G Shape guitar chords.


Both the G Shape and the A Shape guitar chords share the same part of the basic chord highlighted in blue its is just that the Roots are in different places on the fingerboard. This is the reason I suggest that there is only really one shape instead of 2.  The A shape is the most useful shape whilst the G Shape is more difficult to finger on a guitar for most people and not very useful except in the open position. Think here of the G chord one of the first chords that you will learn on the guitar. Therefore if you look at the basic shape of 3 notes in the highlighted section/shape this contains all the basic chord information you need to make a major chord shape it contains the Root, the 3rd and the 5th. You could use this shape by itself but it is more usual to add another Root note. the highlighted section/shape should be considered the actual chord.

The same applies to the relationship between the C and the D Shape chords. Another way of looking at it is to consider one part of the diagram as the  note in front of the actual shape and the other section as the notes occurring after or behind the actual chord shape both can be used but I find one more useful than the other in chord building.

Another way to look at it is like this.


So we can see that both the A patterns and the G patterns fall either side of a main chord shape. This is why I suggest that instead of 2 Chords, one for A and one for G respectively, there is only one real chord shape so I call this shape the A Shape Chord for simplicity’s sake. So now instead of 5 chord shapes we have now narrowed this down to only 4 Chord shapes to learn.

The resulting shape and the one to learn is the A Shape. See Below.

this picture shows the A Shape Guitar Chord

This Chord can be placed anywhere on the fingerboard to make chords- it is a movable shape pattern. The chord is not an A pitched Chord (ie: it does not sound as an A in musical pitch unless it’s root note is placed on an A Note-for example if it’s Root Note were placed on a C note then it would sound a C pitched Chord) it is an A Shape Chord resulting from the A Shape Pattern of the C_A_G_E_D System. Depending on where it is placed and which note is it’s root note the chord can play any pitched chord you like. It is a movable pattern.

To see the Scale  Shape pattern from which the Chord is derived you should visit this page of the my explanation of the C_A_G_E_D System. Then look at the Summary Diagram of all the Major and Minor Scale patterns which also shows the chords related to these Patterns from my C-A-G-E-D System. In this case you only need to consider the Major Chords. In this instance look for the A Shape Pattern because we are using the A Shape Chord this shows the Chord shape we have been discussing and the Scale Pattern on which it lies. In this case I will reproduce it for you  below but for all future patterns use the method that I have outlined above selecting first the letter of the Chord Shape you are using then find the corresponding Major Shape pattern. For the moment use only Major Shapes.

diagram to show how the Chord relates to it's scale pattern from the C_A_G_E_D System of guitar scales

All the guitar chords shapes that I will show you use the Major Scale Pattern Shapes.

As I said there are only 3 real Guitar Chords Shapes

We are now going to narrow this down even further to only the 3 essential guitar chords shapes to learn by looking at what happens with the C and D Chord Shapes.

Lets work from the C shape Major pattern Scale to start with. Here it is in diagram form.


All notes from the C shape Major pattern
Shows the positions of all notes in the C Shape Major Pattern derived from my C-A-G-E-D System for guitar

Now let’s work with the key notes the Root, 3rd and 5th Notes (labelled in Roman Numerals III and V) to make the movable C Chord Shape. These notes make up a major chord.

This diagram shows the C Chord Shape superimposed on the C Shape Major Scale pattern
Using the Root, II and V Notes we can make the movable C Chord Shape from the C Shape Major pattern of my C-A-G-E-D System. The Chord shape has been superimposed over the Scale Pattern selecting only these notes.

This is the C Chord Shape in its most simple form presented as a shape without the underlying scale pattern.

Image shows a C Shape chord
This is the Basic movable C Shape Chord without it’s underlying scale

If we do the same to the D Shape Scale pattern we get the following.

D Shape major Scale Pattern from my C-A-G-E-D System for guitar. Diagram shows the position of the Root, III and V notes that make up a Major Chord
D Shape major Scale Pattern from my C-A-G-E-D System for guitar. Clearly labelled to show the Root, III and V notes that make up the Major Chord

From this if we add the Shape to highlight where the chord is we get the following.

Diagram shows the D Chord Shape superimposed on the D Shape Major pattern Scale from my C-A-G-E-D System
D Shape major pattern Scale showing position of Chord Shape

We can see that the D Chord Shape uses exactly the same notes and same shape that can be found in the C Shape pattern. Again the 2 scales can be drawn into just one and considered as a a portion before the basic chord shape and a portion that occurs behind the basic Chord shape shown ( or in front of and behind the basic Chord Shape).

The diagram shows both the C and D Chord shapes and how they relate to one another
Shows both the C and D Chord shapes and how they share a common Shape (the Triangular highlighted Section)

Because both the C and D shape share a common shape they can be simplified to one basic shape. This is the chord in the triangular highlighted section which contains all that you need to make a Basic Major Chord namely the Root , the III and V notes. This is why my system for chords only has 3 basic shapes to learn.

Now we have covered the theory I will give you a summary of the 3 shapes that you need to know in  Part II.

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