Chord Shapes: Major Shapes

Learning chord shapes can seem tricky but an easy start is to focus on some of the basic chord shapes. In this series, I’m going to cover various chord shapes of a particular type.

In today’s review, we’ll look at the basic Major triad. I mostly grouped these by which string the Root is on however, since major chords have 3 notes (see below), in many shapes, the Root could be on 2 different strings. So, the grouping is a little loose.

What is a Major Triad?
A triad is any three notes played together. A major Triad is simply playing the 1 3 and 5 of any key. So for a C Major chord, that’d be C E and G. This is the basic building block of most major chord variations including 7ths, 9ths, and more.

3 note vs 4 note chords
In my diagrams I’ll mostly display 4 note chords, though I will explain 3 note variations in some cases. While you can certainly play just 3 note chords and be great (a la Jethro Burns for example), learning the 4 note variations gives you more bang for your buck. Understanding and knowing the 4 note variation allows you the flexibility to drop one note to get a 3 note variation – giving you a lot more options with less to memorize.

What’s the “starting fret”?
The shapes here are general moveable patterns – meaning there’s no specific starting fret. Simply find the root note on the fretboard and that will tell you what fret you should start on etc. Using a fretboard roadmap like this can help.

Shape names
I don’t know of any official naming of these shapes (aside from maybe “the Big Chop”). I do however enjoy making up my own names. Since I write the posts, you’ll have to deal with my silly names. On a side note, I think making up silly names for things can be a great way to remember them – and laugh about it. If you rename these, tell me what names you use! Enjoy.

Root on G (and E) – Shape 1 – A Shape
A great standard chord to get down, this shape is a really common and easy one to use. Generally I play this as a full 4 note chord though when playing rhythm in a large group, playing just the G and D strings (Root and 5) can be a good idea to keep things simple. You could play the 3 note variations using the G D and A strings or the D A and E strings.

I call this the A shape because it’s usually the first way to learn this chord. To play an A with this, just put the Root on the G string at the 2nd fret.

Generally fingers are:
G String – First
D String – First
A String – Ring
E String – Pinky

Root on G (and A) – Shape 2 – C Shape
Another standard position to get used to. I think most people (myself included) typically just play the 3 note variation using the G D and A strings. You could also play the other 3 note variation using the D A and E strings to add the 5th to the chord.

I call this the C shape because it’s usually the first way to learn this chord. To play a C with this, just put the Root on the G string on the 5th fret.

Generally fingers are:
G String – Ring
D String – First
A String – Middle
E String – Middle

Root on the G (and A) – Shape 3 – The Inside Line
While I don’t use this shape often, I know a lot of folks that do so I figured I’d include it. Since there’s no 5th in this shape, it can sound a little less “full” than the others here but does have some good uses – especially if the melody uses that high 3rd on the E string.

Most often, I use one of the 3 note variations of this shape by either playing the G D and A strings or the D A and E strings.

Generally fingers are:
G String – Pinky
D String – Middle
A String -Ring
E String – First

Root on the D (and E) – Shape 1 – The Big Chop or Big G
This is a pretty standard chord and definitely one to be familiar with. You can lose the 5th on the low G to create an easy 3 note chord (though this is just a 5th chord, more on that in another lesson). Note: When you use this chord for the open G (meaning the Root is on the 3rd fret), you could either play the G open and fret the D, A, and E strings or play the G and D strings open and fret just the A and E strings.

The Big Chop chord I think is a standard name. The Big G is mainly because you’ll usually learn this first as a G chord. To play a G chord with this, just place the Root on the 5th fret of the D string.

Generally fingers are:
G String – Pinky
D String – Ring
A String – First
E String – Middle

Root on the D – Shape 2 – the Saddle
I love this shape. It sounds nice as a 4 note chord. Also, when playing in a larger group, the 3 note chord with G D A strings can be a great choice to get a good rhythmic chop and stay out of the soloists way. Last the 3 note chord with D A E strings can provide a nice light touch.

Generally fingers are:
G String – Middle
D String – First
A String – First
E String – Ring

Root on the D – Shape 3 – E Shape
This is a great shape to use, especially as the 5 chord for a standard 1 4 5 (or I IV V) progression. If you use the Root on G Shape 1 (A Shape) with the root on the 2nd fret followed by the Root on D Shape 5 (D Shape) with the root on the 5th fret, then this shape (Root on D Shape 5) with the Root on the 2nd fret, you’d have a 1 4 5 in A.

I call this the E shape because it’s usually the first way to learn this chord. To play a E with this, just put the Root on the D string on the 2nd fret.

Generally fingers are:
G String – First
D String – Middle
A String – Middle
E String – Pinky

Root on the D (and E) – Shape 4 – The Chair
I generally don’t play the full 4 note chord of this shape. Instead I usually play the 3 note variation with the G D and A strings or using the D A and E strings.

If you play the 3 note variation with the D A and E strings, you get a 5th chord (or a “power chord”). This basically means there’s no 3rd in the chord. While I think they “lean” towards major, 5th chords can be great when you want to avoid playing a major or minor chord.

Generally fingers are:
G String – First
D String – Ring
A String – Pinky
E String – Middle

Root on the A – Shape 1 – D Shape
This chord shape provides a lot of options. Often this is played as a 3 note chord just playing the G D and A strings – but sometimes you’ll want the high 3rd, so might as well know how!

I call this the D shape because it’s usually the first way to learn this chord. To play a D with this, just put the Root on the A string on the 5th fret.

Generally fingers are:
G String – First
D String – Ring
A String – Pinky
E String – Middle

Root on the A – Shape 2 – D Shape
Basically this is the same chord as above, but instead of doubling the 3rd, it doubles the 5th. I don’t use this particular shape too often unless I want/need to hit the high 5th note. Most often, I’ll play just the 3 note variation as I mentioned above.

That said, this is a great option for an “open” C chord, where the G string is open and the Root is on the 3rd fret of the A.

Generally fingers are:
G String – First
D String – Ring (or First as “open chord)
A String – Pinky (or Middle as “open chord)
E String – Pinky (or Middle as “open chord)

Wrapping Up
These shapes are a great easy way to start getting comfortable with chords. Aside from just memorizing the shapes, I strongly recommend you memorize the note function of each chord (i.e. where is the 3rd in the chord etc), the name of the note on each string, and how to spell chords. Longer term, this will pay off significantly.

A good way to learn these chords is through playing tunes. Just pick any song you like and try using these chords when appropriate. Use the chord diagrams above to create at least 2 variations of the progression – meaning you’ll use different voicings of each chord for each variation. Start with something simple like a I IV V song before moving to more complex tunes.

I hope this review helps! And remember – this is just the beginning, there’s so many other variations out there! Next we’ll be diving in to Minor chords.

If you’d like to take a deeper dive into chord shapes look click here for more information on private coaching. If you like this free content and would like more of it, considering donating to my site here – donations really help keep things going!

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