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Mobile Chord Forms for guitar II

Prepared by Alan Humm

If you are here, I am assuming you either know where the notes are on your guitar (at least the bottom two strings), or you know how to figure that out. If not, you probably skipped the previous page; you will need to look at that, and you will need to learn it.

I mentioned on that last page that you know most of the mobile chord forms already. This is because they are based on some of the nut position chords you have been using regularly. They are E, A, C, G, and D. Of these, the first two (E and A) are by far the most important. Many, many, decent guitarists never get past those two and do just fine. Here is how it works.

1 You can, in fact, play that with no further changes. What you get is an Em7—not the most obvious one, but it works.

Start with your E chord. Shift your fingering so that you are using your 2nd-4th fingers (rather than the first three) to play it. If this is a little uncomfortable at first, just work with it for a while. Do the same thing with the A, C, D, and G chords. Some are harder than others, but try doing a song or two that way. Now, back on the E chord, slide the whole thing up three frets, trying to keep the same relative position of your fingers.1 Take your index finger and stretch it behind the ones doing the chord pattern. Try playing it; chances are not all the strings will sound. It will be like when you were first learning to play the F chord (this is actually just its big brother). Don't give up; your hand just needs to get used to this strange way of doing things.

It should look something like this:


G chord barred on the the third fret.

Putting you finger across the frets like that is called a barre, which is why chords like this are called barre chords. Do you see where the thumb is in the picture. This is proper form, you should get in the habit of playing with your thumb on the back side of the neck all the time, no matter what you are playing. Contrary to what some teachers will tell you, however, it doesn't need to stay centered on the back of the neck all the time. Try to keep your left wrist close to comfortably straight. This allows your tendons to move freely, and reduces the chance of your picking up carpal tunnel from playing guitar. Move your thumb as needed to accommodate that, but resist letting it wrap around the neck. Neck wrapping will slow you down in the long run; I guarantee it.


E-form barre chart.

This is what the chord chart for that chord looks like:

If you happen to be playing it with the barre on the third fret, as I told you to, what you have is a G chord. If you are thinking, "Dang, the other G chord I learned was much easier; I think I'll stick with that one," you should now slide the whole thing up one fret. Now you are playing an A♭. Did you have an easier one of those that was working for you?

In any case, that is how these things work. You start with a basic chord and then use the barre to slide it into other places on the neck. So how do you decide which chord you are playing? This where knowing which string holds the root note comes into play. These are the red dots on my chord charts, especially the ones with the red V above them. Other chord charts will have different ways of marking the root, but any of them worth using will indicate it in some way. As you move the chord up and down the neck, whatever note is located where the root of the chord is, is the name of the chord (in the case of E-form chords, that is where the tip of your index finger is resting on the sixth string). If you were using an A-form barre, the root would be the note on the fifth string.

The other primary barre forms look like this:

2 You don't always have to do a full barre, although you do want to be able to. Sometimes you just want the treble notes, so you might leave out the bass notes, or visa-versa. Doing this will sometimes free up a finger that you can use to do some chord variations if you want to.

The last two don't get much use, mostly because they are hard. In point of fact, neither does the much more manageable C form, but being able to use it properly is one of the marks of a good guitarist.2

E7-form barre chart.

Perhaps you are thinking, "What about chords other than the basic major ones?" They work the same way. Using the E-form, just pick up your second finger (the one on the third [green dot]). Now you are playing an Em-form barre chord. The chart to the right has the E7-form. Notice how much it looks like a regular E7. Most of the other chords you learned in root position work the same way, so I am not going to tie up a bunch of band-width showing you all the other minors, sevenths, suspensions, and so forth; you can easily figure them out on your own.

The only thing is that some chords just don't lend themselves to being played as barres. Some are already using all four fingers, which doesn't leave you an extra one to barre with. Others simply create impossible-to-play fingerings when you try to do them. When that happens, you just have to use another form, unless the chord itself works without further assistance. C7, for example, can be satisfactorily slid up and down the neck as long as you block the high E string and don't play the low E.

There are a handful (no pun intended) of other mobile forms which are not based on root-position chords. I will cover them on the next page.


© 2013 Alan Humm