This lesson gives an overview of basic to advanced chord shapes and explains some common concepts on chord memorisation. First, the most common voicings of all basic chords are listed. Where possible, open chords [chords with open strings] are given. Second, a list of all power chords is provided, starting with bass notes on the 6th string, up to the 3rd string. Learning these is an easy step on the way to memorising bar chords. The E- and A-shaped bar chords are then introduced first, before moving to the explanation of the CAGED system. Finally, important chord extensions are provided with reference to the previously introduced shapes before introducing the world of jazz.
Below, all the basic chord shapes are listed alphabetically. The major (X), dominant (X7), minor (Xm) and minor seventh (Xm7) chords are all given. Many voicings of these chords exist of course on the guitar neck, but the most common ones are given here. When possible, the open chord version is given, otherwise a fairly easy voicing in a low position is displayed. This list should serve as a reference for beginning guitar players. Advanced chord strummers should know these by heart. This list might be sufficient in certain genres of guitar playing but some knowledge on (at least) the basic bar chords is recommended since it opens the door to lots of different sounding voicings. It should be noted however that open strings have a unique sound (frequency spectrum), and hence original open chords form the soul of many a song.
The first two images are the most important here, since they represent the principal chord vocabulary of many rhythm guitarists in all kinds of genres. The other ones are used less frequently, but, in my opinion, knowing them is of equal importance. The special thing about power chords is not the fact that they are very easy to play, but their tonal characteristics. Since they only contain the tonic and the dominant, which both occur in most diatonic scale chords, they offer the most freedom with respect to the tonal centre of a composition. Basically this means that if you play power chords, your soloist has much more freedom than if you play triads or tetrachords. Another remark I could add is that the limited amount of frequencies in these chords do not cause the sound to break up when sending it through overdrive/distortion effects, hence the extensive use of power chords in the heavier genres.
Basic bar chords
The two most easy / often used bar chord shapes are the full versions of the F and Bb voicings shown above. The black bar denotes the use of the first finger (index) to push down all the strings crossed by the bar, which can be troublesome in the beginning. Again the X, X7, Xm and Xm7 versions are given here. Note that all the F-chords are the equivalent of the basic E chords (see above) with a bar on the first fret, and the Bb-chords of their A equivalents with bar. Bar chords thus correspond to basic chord shapes put down on the fretboard after a bar with the first finger. This is in fact the principle of the CAGED system to memorise chords on the entire fretboard (and create a framework to remember scale patterns later-on), which explained below.
The CAGED system
The CAGED system is one of the things that can help you to move from 1st position oriented guitar playing towards exploring the entire fretboard up to the highest accessible regions. The requirements are that you know the C, A, G, E and D chord shapes, and that you're already able to play the basic bar chords listed above (which form in fact 2/5 of the entire system). These chords are again given below, together with their corresponding bar shapes in the second figure. Fretting these chord shapes can be very hard for beginners and young players. They can be simplified in many ways however. An example simplification is shown in the third figure below, but the link with the open chords should remain clear.
Another nice exercise is to play a I-IV-V chord progression (e.g. C-F-G) on all positions on the guitar neck. Once you are familiar with all major chords positions on the guitar neck, it is not very difficult to find the corresponding dominant, minor and minor seventh chords using the relationship with the open chords which you already know by now.
Building further on the CAGED system, the most common chord alterations and extensions are listed below for each of the 5 different basic chord shapes. These include the major 7th, suspended chords (sus2, sus4), add9, diminished and augmented chords. More advanced ones are given later-on.
Basic jazz chords
Some basic jazz chords are listed below. This should be enough to get you started with the most common jazz extensions for major, minor and dominant chords. Try not to memorise them all separately, but look at the differences between the voicings with similar extensions and bass strings. Relating those to the theory you know on chords and scales will help a lot.