While learning new chords can often be daunting, even the trickiest chord shapes can feel not so scary when you’re able to relate them to shapes you’re already comfortable with. Any chord shape can be mastered with enough practice and elbow grease, but you might be surprised to learn just how many chord shapes are out there where you’ve already put in the bulk of the effort without even knowing it. In this article, we’re going to go over some chords that you may not know but are very similar to two chords that you probably do: C and Am.
Chords Based On C
We’re going to start by learning some chords built off of the open C shape, one of the most common chords in popular music. Although there are a couple of ways to play a C-chord in the open position, the shape we’re going to be using here is the most common version, with your ring finger on the 3rd fret of the 5th string, your middle finger on the 2nd fret of the 4th string and your index finger on the 1st fret of the 2nd string. Skip the 6th string entirely and allow the 3rd and 1st strings to ring out open.
In order to play a Cadd9 chord, start by playing an open C-major chord as described above. Once you have the shape, add your pinky to the 3rd fret of the 2nd string. And that’s it, you’re playing a Cadd9! You can either leave your index finger down or remove it. It makes no difference, as the note on the 2nd string that will sound out will be the 3rd fret either way. However if you leave your index finger down, then it’s super easy to quickly switch back and forth between your C and Cadd9 chords which can sound really great.
Alternatively, this same Cadd9 chord can be played by placing your ring finger on the 3rd fret of the 5th string, your index finger on the 2nd of the 4th string and your ring finger on the 3rd fret of the 2nd string. While you’re playing the same frets either way, this second fingering doesn’t use the framework of the C-chord you already know, so it might be a little more work to get down at first. This Cadd9 should work anywhere your ordinary C-chord would, and the two can be used almost interchangeably.
To make a C-major7 chord (commonly abbreviated as Cmaj7), you’re essentially going to do the opposite of what you did to make a Cadd9 chord; instead of adding a finger, you’re going to remove one. Start by playing the C-chord as described above, but take your index finger off the guitar, leaving the 2nd string to ring out open. And that’s all there is to it! The Cmaj7-chord while work about two of every three times that you see an ordinary C-chord used, so it can often make for a good substitute.
In order to make a C7 chord, you’re going to do almost the same thing you did to make a Cadd9 chord. You’re just going to add your pinky to your typical C-chord shape, but this time you’re going to add your pinky to the 3rd fret of the 3rd string instead of the 3rd of the 2nd string. So altogether, you’re going to have your ring finger on the 3rd fret of the 5th string, your middle finger on the 2nd fret of the 4th string, your pinky on the 3rd fret of the 3rd string, and your index finger on the 1st fret of the 2nd string.
This chord might be just a little bit rougher on your fingers than many of the chords you may know at this point, but it sounds good enough that’s is definitely worth it! It’ll work about one in every three times you see an ordinary C-chord listed, but it sounds different enough from an ordinary C-chord that I’d recommend generally sticking to the chord that’s written down.
Chords Based On The Open Am
Next, we’re going to learn some chords built off of the open A-minor (typically abbreviated at Am) shape. While most open chords have several ways they can be played in that position, we are again going to be using this chord’s most common open voicing. To play this voicing, put your middle finger on the 2nd fret of the 4th string, your ring finger on the 2nd fret of the 3rd string, and your index finger on the 1st fret of the second string. Skip over the 6th string entirely, and let the 5th and 1st strings ring out open.
In order to play an open Am7 chord, starting by playing the Am shape described above. Then remove your ring finger, allowing the 3rd string to ring out open. And there you have it! The Am7 will work everywhere that an Am-chord will and all but the rarest circumstances, and the chords’ sonic similarities allow the Am7 to make a great but subtle substitution for a plain old Am-chord.
An A-suspended second chord (or Asus2) is created similarly to an Am7. Your are again going to be starting with the previously described open Am chord, but instead of removing your ring finger the 3rd string, remove your index finger from the second string and allow it to ring out open. An Asus2 chord has a pretty different sound than an Am, but it’ll work in most places that an Am chord would (and almost all places that an A-major chord would). This means that while substituting an Asus2 chord for an Am or A-major chord would likely change the sound of the progression somewhat considerably, it is in most cases an option worth remembering.
To play an Am6 chord, all you have to do is add your pinky finger to the 2nd fret of the 1st string to your open Am shape. This means that altogether, your middle finger will be on the 2nd fret of the 4th string, your ring finger will be on the 2nd fret of the 3rd string, your index finger will be on the 1st fret of the 2nd string, and your pinky will be on the 2nd fret on the 1st string. That note that your pinky adds is the 6 that gives the Am6 its name. The Am6 is a bit more jarring than the Am, and it’ll work as a substitute for the Am in any key with one or more sharps.
I hope you learned something from this article! If you have any questions, comments, corrections (I have been known to commit the more than occasional type or notation mistake), or requests for future articles like this one, please feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.