Aside from the formal, open version of the A chord that you probably already know, there are a lot of different ways to play it on the guitar. As with any guitar chord you can take the reductionist's approach and make the chord extremely simple- or you can take the more advanced approach and use the full form of the chord- extensions and all.
Regardless of which direction you go, knowing an A chord doesn't stop with that first chart. If you really want to know all the A chord guitar voicings and patterns, there's more road to be traveled. The following three concepts- when covered correctly- will tell that story in full:
These tools will provide everything you need to know and use the A chord effectively.
Keep in mind that this process is more than just memorizing charts. Yes, charts are involved. But learning a chord should lead to an understanding of music theory and chord construction. When these two concepts are joined together, application is easier and you're able to use a lot more chords.
We'll cover all of this here, in regards to the A chord.
Recommended Supplemental Courses
Other Chord References
Other A Chord Guitar Resources
Open A Major Chord Guitar Diagram
The A major chord that guitar students often learn first is the A major that uses the open fifth string (an A in standard tuning) as its root. All intervals are placed at the second fret and include a fifth, major third and octave A note. Many times the high open E string will also be allowed to ring as a thickening compound interval.
You can barre these three intervals or use three separate fingers to chord each note. The diagram below highlights the C sharp (the major third) with an empty circle:
The common, open A major chord diagram. (View Larger Image)
Once you're familiar with this chord, it's helpful to step back and learn some simpler A chords that can be used as building blocks. To do that we'll start with two-note A chords that are more accurately designated intervalic dyads.
Dyads in the Key of A
In music theory, a "dyad" is a term used to indicate two notes sounding simultaneously. Some theorists and academics consider this a chord while others do not. Whether you call it a simultaneous interval or a chord is of no consequence- The point is to learn them in the key of A so you can recognize them as a base for all other A chords.
Here's a quick list of dyadic A chord pairings to keep in mind:
- Root + perfect fifth (A + E)
- Root + major third (A + C♯)
- Root + minor third (A + C)
- Root + octave (low A + high A)
I included the dyadic octave pairing of two A notes (lower and higher), since it's often used on guitar as a way to chord or thicken up root notes. Take the example below where we show an open A major chord, then an octave dyad in the key of A at the end of the measure:
The dyadic version of an A chord. (View Larger Image)
Using a dyad to essentially replace a full open chord is a good way to minimize a chord shape, or to add a more subtle element to a progression. The dyad is much less complex than its full form A major cousin.
A CHORD DYAD #1 (octave)
Dyad with a root A on the fifth fret. (View Larger Image)
A CHORD DYAD #2 (major third)
Dyad with a root A on the third fret and a major third interval (C♯). (View Larger Image)
A CHORD DYAD #3 (perfect fifth)
Dyad with a root A on the third fret and a perfect fifth interval (E). (View Larger Image)
These three chord shapes are extremely simple ways to play the A chord on a guitar. Unlike piano, the structure of the fretboard - with adjacent strings - makes it easy to play these dyadic pairings.
Keep in mind that "dyad" can be used to refer to any two notes sounding simultaneously. However it's more commonly reserved for interval pairings that are reasonably consonant, like the ones listed above.
Power Chords in the Key of A
From dyads, we will jump to one of the guitar's most usable tools - the power chord. In most cases power chords are covered with no regard to key. However, we're going to cover them relative to our key - A in this case - for the following reasons:
- It provides context for understanding the theory and chord composition involved
- It's helpful to identify root notes (chords) based on fretboard position
This allows us to learn power chords not just in terms of their shapes (which are fairly consistent) but in terms of their location. If you want to play a power chord with an A root note, you should be able to locate that spot on the fretboard quickly. As you go over these power chord diagrams, pay attention to the location of the root A note, not just the shape of the chord itself (which you may be familiar with anyway).
A POWER CHORD #1 (fifth + octave)
Key of A power chord diagram with a fifth (E) and octave at the third fret position. (View Larger Image)
A POWER CHORD #2 (Major Third)
Power chord in the key of A major with major third (C♯) in the fifth fret position. (View Larger Image)
Triads in the Key of A
From power chords we can segue into triads, which are formally defined as a three note chord containing a root, third and fifth. You might also see this described as "stacked thirds" since each note is a third above the prior note. When it comes to knowing A chords or any chord on the guitar, triadic voicings are some of the most helpful to learn and memorize.
Not only do they give you some unique alternatives to common open A chords, but they also help you to learn chord composition and to understand the theory surrounding chord extensions.
We have diagrams for four of the most common A major triads. To make any of these chords minor, just drop the chord's major third interval one semitone (more on this in the minor chords section).
A MAJOR TRIAD #1
Key of A major triad at the seventh fret position. (View Larger Image)
A MAJOR TRIAD #2
Key of A major triad at the second fret position. (View Larger Image)
Inverted A MAJOR TRIAD #3
Inverted version of an A major triad at the fifth fret position. (View Larger Image)
Inverted A MAJOR TRIAD #4
Inverted version of an A major triad at the second fret position. (View Larger Image)
A minor Chord Guitar Diagrams
As we mentioned before the triad diagrams, you can make a major chord minor simply by dropping the major third interval one semitone (one fret). In the context of the A major scale, this is called a "flatted third," meaning we've dropped the note at the third scale degree one half step. This gives us the following notes: Root, minor third and fifth, in that order.
A, C and E
If you go by scale degrees in the major scale, you'd have the following:
1, ♭3, 5
If you have [1, 3, 5] you have a segment of a major scale. However, adding the flat to the third degree makes our major scale a minor scale [1,♭3, 5]. This theory holds for any major or minor A chord, meaning you can easily migrate between the two by simply shifting that one note.
We'll start with the open A minor chord, since it's the most common voicing.
Open A MINOR CHORD #1
Common A minor chord in the open position. (View Larger Image)
A MINOR CHORD #2 (Barre Version)
Barre version of the A minor chord at the fifth fret position. (View Larger Image)
A7 Chord Guitar Diagrams
Seventh chords are a type of extended chord, meaning they have an interval that extends beyond the triadic group of a root, third and fifth. Thus the A7 chord will typically have all of the following notes:
- Root A
- Major Third (C♯)
- Perfect Fifth (E)
- Minor Seventh (G)
Note: The A7 chord has a minor seventh interval, while the Amaj7 has a major seventh interval above the root. Thus, "maj" refers to the type of extension, not the type of third.
Since a minor seventh interval is 10 semitones above the root (per our interval diagram) then G is going to be the extended note, completing our A7 chord. To create an Amaj7 chord you would add an A♭, which is 11 semitones above the root A.
We'll show you a couple common A7 chord guitar shapes.
A7 CHORD #1 (Open form)
A7 chord at the open position. (View Larger Image)
A7 CHORD #2 (Seventh fret form)
A7 chord at the seventh fret position. (View Larger Image)
Other A Chords
We've covered the most common foundational A chord guitar patterns, though there are still plenty of other voicings and extension out there for those interested. We recommend narrowing in on these, memorizing them and getting them down to a science before moving on. As far as the guitar is concerned, these forms will likely account for about 95 percent of the A chords you'll ever play.
Another thing to keep in mind regarding the dyadic, triadic and power A chords is that all those forms are movable, meaning you can shift them to a different fret for an entirely new chord.
In more formal, educational contexts - perhaps in jazz or classical guitar - the more advanced A chord forms can be helpful and useful. In most other cases the forms we've covered here are going to give you a ton of real estate and won't need to be supplemented.
Do you have questions about the material?
If you're struggling with certain concepts or have lingering questions we didn't answer, feel free to let us know in the comments section below and we'll do our best to answer and explain as much as possible. Usually Bobby answers comments directly, and we prefer them over email so future readers can benefit from our conversations.
Moreover, if you have some additional insight or cool ideas about how to learn, master and apply the A chord on the guitar, we'd love to hear about it and possibly even include it in this content.