In this article we show you how to build the E minor chord, starting with a simple E root note and adding one interval at a time, giving us both the easiest and more complex E minor chord voicings.
In this primer lesson we're going to look at the E minor chord, first by locating the root E notes on the fretboard and building all the way up to the fullest form of the chord at those positions. We structure chord primer lessons by building one interval at a time -meaning the chords can be variably complex or basic according to preference. If you want just the root E, we'll show you where those notes are.
If you want the full form E minor chord, we'll cover those as well and everything in between.
This approach requires more patience and some theoretical understanding of chord composition. At the same time, it will give you a ton of different chord shapes and voicings to work with. Instead of memorizing full form chord diagrams, we'll use incremental steps - along with guitar tabs - to build the E minor chord one note at a time.
Other E Chord Guitar Resources
The E Minor Chord Step by Step
For quick reference, here's how we'll approach the E minor chord in this lesson:
- Optimal positions of the root E note on the fretboard
- Perfect fifth interval positions (E power chords)
- Minor third interval positions at established fretboard locations
- Additional octaves and/or compound intervals (full form)
We're covering the three most essential aspects of the E minor chord first. We'll show you the notes you need to play before we get into octaves and extensions that aren't as necessary to the tone of the chord.
We'll start by finding our E note at root positions on the fretboard.
The E minor chord can be as difficult or simple as you want it to be.
Finding E Root Positions on the Fretboard
All chords emanate from a single root note. Since we're focusing on the E minor chord, we'll first need to identify all the places on the fretboard that have a root E. In doing so, we'll look at the lowest three strings - the sixth, fifth and fourth - since they're the easiest and most common locations to find the root position of a chord.
You can brush up on your guitar fretboard notes if you want to find the root E notes yourself. Otherwise, I'll provide them in tab form via the following diagram. Here are the most common starting points for an E chord:
E root note locations on the fretboard give us four of the most optimal places to begin building our E minor chords. (View Larger Image)
While there are other spots on the fretboard where E notes naturally occur, these four are the most common root positions. We'll build chords in each spot, giving us the following E minor chord forms:
Memorize and familiarize yourself with the E notes at these locations. Whenever you need to play an E chord - minor or otherwise - these four spots should jump out in your mind as viable starting points. If you know where the E notes are located, you'll be quicker to improve, play in the correct key and better understand the structure of your fretboard.
In the rest of this lesson we'll use that structure to add intervals to our root E notes, building up our E minor chords one note at a time.
We'll start by adding the perfect fifth to all four root positions.
Adding a Fifth to the E Root Note
Our first interval - the perfect fifth - is known to be perfectly consonant with its root, thereby often referred to as the "consonant interval." Since it's such a common shape, we can use it as a starting point for building our E minor chord.
The fifth is seven semitones (frets) from its root note, meaning we'll climb seven frets up from our original E note position. Considering a semitone pattern can continue on the next string up, the perfect fifth occurs one string and two frets higher than the original root note, thus giving us our typical power chord shape.
Adding a consonant interval to all four roots, we get the following group of dyads:
We add a perfect fifth to each root note at all four fret positions. These shapes serve as the base for our E minor chords (note the familiar power chord shape). (View Larger Image)
We now have a "dyad" for each chord with just two notes at each root position. These are not yet E minor chords because there's no minor interval in any of the shapes. However, that does not mean that you can't play these shapes in place of a E minor chord. The E5 - as you might call it to indicate the perfect fifth interval - can substitute for an E major or minor chord.
To get the real tone of an E minor chord we must add the minor third interval.
First, here's a chord diagram graphic for all four of the above shapes.
Diagrams of all four E chord dyads positioned at root E fretboard locations. (View Larger Image)
Creating an E Minor Chord with Thirds
To get that dark minor-sounding E chord, you've got to add minor third intervals to each dyad. A minor third is three semitones above its root, meaning we're adding a high G to each existing chord.
Note that the two intervals distinguishing a major or minor E chord are only one semitone apart.
Since a major third is four semitones above the root, dropping the third of a major chord one half step creates a minor chord, per the following diagram:
Any time you have a major chord, you can simply drop the third of that chord one semitone to get the minor version. (View Larger Image)
Root, Fifth and Minor Third
With the minor third we've got chord shapes that are minor both in tone and from a theoretical perspective. These shapes are far simpler and easier to play than many full form E minor chords (which we'll get to shortly).
Here's a tab sheet with each E minor triad we've built:
We can create E minor chords by adding the minor third interval to wherever we have a root E and perfect fifth of that root. (View Larger Image)
Practice going through the shapes both by strumming the full chord and finger picking through the three notes. You can also arpeggiate the chords to more easily target buzzing or missed notes. Take the following tab for example:
Arpeggiate the notes of each chord to improve chord clarity and focus on problem areas where buzzing or missed notes might be occurring. (View Larger Image)
Here's the chord diagram graphic for the above tab sheet:
Chord diagrams with triads containing the root E, perfect fifth and minor third intervals. (View Larger Image)
Inverted Triad E Minor Chords
You might have noticed the gap (skipped string) between the third and fifth interval.
Since this makes the chord more complex, let's find a way to play the E minor chord without jumping that string but still using just three notes. It's an easy fix when you omit the root note and use inversions.
Any triadic chord can be understood in the following three voicings:
- Root position (root note is in the bass of the chord)
- First inversion (third is in the bass of the chord)
- Second inversion (fifth is in the bass of the chord)
This means that in each chord we can omit the low root E in favor of the octave of that root, which puts our perfect fifth in the bass position of each chord. This means we'll be using the second inversion of the E minor triads. You have the same three elements - root, fifth and minor third - they're just ordered differently, thereby the root is no longer the bass-most note in the chord.
Here's our tab sheet with each inverted E minor shape:
In an inverted chord, the root note is no longer the lowest note in the chord, meaning we've bumped the perfect fifth to the chord's lowest point, removing the need to skip over a string yet still allowing us to play only three notes. (View Larger Image)
Inverted chords sound the same as root position chords, but - in this case - they allow you to avoid the skipped string. These triadic forms (both the root position or first and second inversions) are much easier to play than the full form E minor chords, which we'll cover in the next section.
Full Form E Minor Chord
After you have the base elements of a chord in place, namely the root, third and the more optional perfect fifth, you can begin adding more nuanced intervals. Those intervals could include any of the following:
- Seventh extensions
- Ninth extensions
- Compound intervals
Seventh and ninth chord extensions would technically change the voicing of the chord, so we won't address those in this chord primer. However, in the full form E minor chords, compound intervals and octaves are commonly used.
For an easy example, let's backtrack to the open E minor chord we looked at earlier:
The traditional form of the open E minor chord. (View Larger Image)
All six strings are being played, yet only the root, fifth and minor third are expected. What are those other notes? The note at the third fret (on the second string) is an octave above the root E.
We find two additional octave E notes and one compound interval, which is a high B note from the second open string. (View Larger Image)
An octave above any existing interval (in relation to the root) is a compound interval. Thus if you have a minor third, which is three semitones above the root, using the note 12 semitones above that minor third (15 semitones total) would be considered a compound interval.
It's important to keep in mind that additional octaves and compound intervals (at least those that are duplicates of existing intervals) are not crucial to the structure of the chord, which is why it's better to learn them last. In the early stages of learning the E minor chords we simply omit the octaves and extra intervals that don't help shape the chord's core tone.
If you're comfortable with each element we've covered so far, here are some of the most common full form E minor chords:
The full form or "conventional" ways to play the E minor chord at four fretboard positions. (View Larger Image)
In most situations, these voicings should not be your go-to E minor chords. They have more notes than you need which is not helpful in certain contexts that call for cleaner or more minimal chording. It's advisable to be able to play them, but don't rely on them as your primary voicing.
The triadic shapes we covered (both the root and inverted forms), will be far more practical and usable.
Once you're comfortable with all the shapes, settle on the three-note structure and use the inverted patterns to create more variety. Here's the diagrams for all four E minor chords:
Full form or "conventional" E minor chord diagrams at four fretboard positions. (View Larger Image)
While it requires some music theory, looking at guitar chords in the context of structure and chord building is helpful- far more so than memorizing full patterns with a lot of non-critical intervals. You'll have an easier time mastering the E minor chord using this method and starting at the most basic element (the root note) before working your way up from there.
Here's a quick recap of those elements:
- Root note (start here)
- Perfect fifth
- Minor third
- Octaves and/or compound intervals (end here)
This is a great process to follow if you're having trouble with any chord. Instead of starting with the full version, get the root notes down first and build up your chord from there. You'll learn the chord in a more functional way, as well as valuable theory that you can reuse and apply to other chords.
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