Every difficult guitar chord can be broken down to its root note. Then built back up in a manner that gives you a variety of ways to play it. It can be as complex or as simple as you want. The E chord, particularly in its common open form, is one of the best chords with which to practice this exercise of composition.
It's also one of the first open chords that beginning guitarists are exposed to. If you already know the E chord, we'll be going through it one interval at a time, so you'll probably still pickup some new forms and voicings for it.
We'll start with the low E root note and add intervals incrementally, which gives you the following E chord variations:
- Root form (single E note)
- Major Triad
- Minor Triad
- Full form E chord
To cover this material, it would be helpful to have a basic understanding of the following theoretical topics:
If you need to refresh your memory in any of these areas, click on the links above then come back to this material. Otherwise we'll cover all the important details here, at least enough for you to understand what this material is about.
USING COMPOSITION To Build E Chords
We'll use chord construction or "composition" to build our E chords beginning with the root E note and building our chord out from that point.
Each step will involve adding an interval-which means we'll build the chord one note at a time.
We'll go through the following incremental note combinations:
- The root note by itself
- The root plus the fifth
- The root, fifth and major third
- The root, fifth and minor third
- The full form of the E major and minor chords
We'll be using the following five elements for each E chord:
- Root E
- Perfect Fifth (seven semitones from the root)
- Major Third (four semitones from the root)
- Minor Third (three semitones from the root)
- Octave Extensions (increments of 12)
For each iteration, we'll have four different root fretboard positions where you can play the chord. This means that once we're done covering all the variations you'll have 18 different ways to play the E chord, via dyadic, triadic and full form patterns.
- Four dyadic chords
- Four triadic major chords
- Four triadic minor chords
- Three full form E major chords
- Three full form E minor chords
With this approach you can either backtrack to the simpler versions or incorporate the more difficult versions of the E chord to your benefit.
As it relates to building and playing chord progressions, it can be easier to play a minimized version of a chord - even a simple dyad - in place of the full, conventional versions of that chord.
We'll cover it all in this lesson.
Recommended Supplemental Courses
Other Chord References
Other E Chord Guitar Resources
Finding Fretboard Root Positions of the E Chord
All chords are built out from a root note.
In our case, that root note is E, which occurs naturally on the fretboard - assuming a standard tuning - at four prominent locations. Once we find these root locations on the fretboard, we can build our chord from each point.
Some root locations of E are not practical for building chords. For example, an E note occurs naturally at the 14th fret on the fourth string. Theoretically we could build a chord there, but we won't in this lesson since convention typically places E chords where they have lower-register root notes, closer to the bottom of the fretboard.
Thus the most obvious starting point for our root E is the sixth string in the open position.
Low root E note via the open sixth string. (View Larger Image)
This is the most commonly used root position for an E chord and perhaps something you've already learned. Let's go ahead and label a few other fretboard locations where the E root will fall and can be used as an anchor for our other E chord variations.
Here are three more ideal spots:
Four E root note fretboard locations where we can build our E chords. (View Larger Image)
Memorizing these three locations is the best way to start learning the E chord's physical positioning on the fretboard.
These notes are the first line of defense you have against messing up (or missing entirely) an E chord within a given progression. If you know where they are, you'll always know where you can start to build your chord.
Furthermore, if the "building" process fails you, it's always possible to play the E root note at one of these locations as a desperate fill-in.
Once we're familiarized with the E root positions on the fretboard, we can begin adding intervals to each root position starting with the perfect fifth, which is seven semitones from the root.
Adding the Fifth to the E Root Note
For the four E root positions on the fretboard we've identified, we'll add a perfect fifth that will build a base for each E chord. Since there's only a root and fifth, the chord technically isn't minor or major yet. Thus it can be played in place of any E chord, just as a bass player would play the root E note without any additional intervals.
We'll start with the open position and the low E string.
ROOT PLUS FIFTH
Root E plus a perfect fifth, forming a common open power chord. (View Larger Image)
Now the second fret position:
Root E plus a perfect fifth at the second fret position. (View Larger Image)
The seventh fret position:
Root E and a perfect fifth at the seventh fret position. (View Larger Image)
And lastly, the ninth fret position:
Root E and perfect fifth at the ninth fret position. (View Larger Image)
These three chords are dyads, meaning they're only made up of two notes. In the next section we'll make them into theoretically-complete major and minor E chords by adding the major and minor third interval to each shape.
Here are the chord diagrams for the three dyadic E chords we've tabbed out above.
Diagram for four E dyads with a root and perfect fifth. (View Larger Image)
Creating a Major and Minor E Chord with Thirds
To this point we've been working with E chords made up of only roots and fifths. When limited to those notes you have a power chord shape, but not a formal major or minor E chord. To get either a dark minor or upbeat major-sounding chord, you've got to add third intervals- either minor or major, depending on what type of E chord you want to build.
It might sound complex at first, but the two intervals that distinguish a major or minor E chord are only one semitone (fret) apart.
Minor chords can easily be created from major chord by dropping the third interval one semitone. (View Larger Image)
You can see in a conventional open E chord that the major third interval falls just one semitone above the minor third, which is the open G. This is how we distinguish between a major and minor E chord in the open position.
In this section, we'll expand our chord composition to include these four notes for each E chord shape:
- Major third
- Minor third
We'll start by adding a major third to all four of our E chord dyads then repeating the process with the minor third.
ROOT, FIFTH AND Major THIRD
E major chord with ghost note octave. (View Larger Image)
In this example, the note in parenthesis is an octave above the root E, which means it's not necessary to play, though traditionally this note is played as a part of the open E major chord. Since we're only shooting for a three-note triad, you can take or leave the additional octave depending on preference.
E major chord with third interval on the high E string. (View Larger Image)
Since our major third interval is the flatted A note on the third string (A♭), we can find the octave of that note at the fourth fret on the high E string, which gives us an E major triad with its root at the second fret.
E major chord at the seventh fret position. (View Larger Image)
Again the ghost note, an E one octave above the root, is optional.
E major chord at the ninth fret position. (View Larger Image)
In this voicing of E major, the fifth (B) falls on the high E string at the seventh fret, while the A♭ - our major third interval - falls right under the root E at the ninth fret on the second string.
Diagrams for the E major chords at all four fretboard positions. (View Larger Image)
Root, Fifth and Minor Third
Now we repeat the same process, but with tabs and diagrams that add a minor third interval to each root E and fifth. Recall that we can get a minor chord from a major chord easily by dropping the major third interval one semitone, giving us our necessary minor third tone.
We'll start with our open position:
E minor chord in the open position. (View Larger Image)
At the second fret position we use the same structure as we did with the major triad, but dropping the third interval one semitone. Again the octave on the fourth string is an optional ghost note.
E minor chord at the second fret position.
(View Larger Image)
In this form, the minor third interval is a G, which we can easily grab at the third fret on the high E string.
E minor chord positioned at the seventh fret. (View Larger Image)
Again our octave E is an optional ghost note. Our minor third is at the eighth fret on the second string.
E minor chord positioned at the ninth fret. (View Larger Image)
At the ninth fret position, the third is easily dropped one fret (settling at the eighth fret on the second string) to give us our minor tone.
Here are diagrams for all four E minor chords:
Diagrams for the E minor chord at all four fretboard positions. (View Larger Image)
Full Form Major and Minor E Chords
If you've gotten to this point and still want to tackle the more difficult E chord forms, the six we've tabbed out below (three minor and three major) are the most conventional and usable options based on the fretboard positions we've been working from. We're basically adding the optional octaves mentioned earlier.
We've built on the same root, fifth and third interval structure, meaning the full shapes are really similar to the triads we've already been playing.
At the same time they are somewhat more difficult, in that one form requires barring and another requires some additional stretching to grab all four notes.
Major versions first:
Full Form Major E Chords
Full form E major chords tab sheet. (View Larger Image)
And the minor versions:
Full Form Minor E Chords
Full form E minor chords tab sheet. (View Larger Image)
Note that we've left out the ninth fret E chord form, since it can't be expanded on from that point.
Keep in mind that while these full forms are helpful to know, you don't always have to use them. The dyadic and triadic forms we've covered are much simpler and in many cases will sound better.
If and when you do want to use the full form E chords, here are two diagrams to supplement the above tab sheets:
Full form E major chord diagrams. (View Larger Image)
Full form E minor chord diagrams. (View Larger Image)
While it does require a little bit of music theory, it's often helpful to look at guitar chords in the context of structure and chord building, as opposed to memorizing full patterns with a lot of extra, non-critical intervals. You'll have a far easier time mastering the E chord if you start at the absolute most basic element and work your way up from there.
To recap, those elements are the following, in the order given:
- Root note (start here)
- Perfect fifth
- Major third
- Minor third
- Octaves (if any)
- Full and barre form (end here)
If you're having trouble with any chord, don't start with the full version. Instead, get the root notes down first and build up your knowledge of the chord from there. Not only will you learn the chord in a more functional and usable way, but you'll also learn some valuable theory that you can reuse and apply to other chords and scenarios.
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