The Am chord

You can learn how to play the open position Am chord and CAGED Am shape!

The Am is a really easy chord to fret and to turn into a movable shape, maybe even the easiest one out of all CAGED shapes.

Below, displayed as an open position chord using a Chordcus image. There is no debate here about how to fret it, it’s all very self-explanatory.

When we turn it into a moveable shape, we barre with the index finger so the top string is fretted.

Am chord/shape

As an alternative, you can mute that top string with the flesh of the index finger and only play strings 2-5.

The intervals are root, 5th, root, m3rd, and if you play the top string, another 5th.

A great exercise is to play this Am shape using the cycle of 4th. Start on Am, the next chord is a Dm, then Gm, Cm, Fm, Bbm, Ebm, Abm, Dbm, Gbm, Bm, Em.

The next level of this exercise would be to play the Am-shaped chord on strings 1-3, again, around the cycle of 4th.

You could also play strings 2-4, now the root is in the middle of the shape. This is still an Am chord, we’re just using what pianists call the 2nd inversion because the order is 5th, root, m3rd.

Play this around the cycle of 4th and you have to visualize that root in the middle of the shape.

Am chord extensions

Let’s look at extending this Am chord. These are all possible Am-shaped chords that you can play if you can see the intervals surrounding the shape.

  • Am chord (root, 5th, root, m3rd, 5th)
  • Amadd9 (root, 5th, 9, m3rd)
  • Am6 (root, root, m3rd, 6)
  • Am7 (root, 5th, b7, m3rd, 5th)
  • Am7b5 (root, b5, b7, m3rd)
  • Adim7 (root, b5, bb7, m3rd)
  • Ammaj7 (root, 5, 7, m3rd)
  • Am11 (root, 4/11, b7, m3rd)

To learn these chords, it is not enough to just memorize them and perhaps practice using the cycle of 4th as described above, although it is a good start.

However, just doing this won’t be enough, you must instead experience them as you play real songs. You could even try extending chords in songs even if the chords are not extended on the original recording.

A great Am7 is found in Ain’t No Sunshine. In One More Cup Of Coffee, we play an Amadd9, although we do it in a different chord shape.

In Cannonball, for guitar 2, we play Amadd9 in the open position using a capo on fret 1.

In Blackbird, we’re flirting with Am-shaped dim7 chords. In Papa Ain’t Salty, you get a great substitution chord lick using the m7b5.

Building scales and arpeggios around the Am chord/shape

Let’s build arpeggios and modes using the Am-shaped chord as our framework.

The Am7-shaped arpeggio contain: Root, m3rd, 5th, b7, root, m3rd, 5th, and the top note is a b7.

Add a 4th to these notes and we have a Minor Pentatonic.

Keep all those notes, add the 2nd and the b6 and you get Aeolian.

Lower the 2 to a b2, keep that b6 as well and you get Phrygian.

Minor Pentatonic, add 2 and 6 gives us Dorian.

So as you can see, as long as we know the Am shape, and the intervals around it, we can build any chord, arpeggio, or mode.

We just have to combine our knowledge of what a chord or mode is in intervals, with how they’re laid out around the Am shape.

There are exercises for this is the SEPR, a module you get when you sign up for my guitar courses.

Here’s a diagram covering all intervals you need to play each arpeggio and scale. These are the same for all minor CAGED shapes!

Min7 ArpeggioRm35b7
Min7b5 ArpeggioRm35b7
Minor PentatonicR2m356
Minor BluesRm34b55b7

Guitar chords

Learn how to build minor and major guitar chords using the CAGED system.

This is the foundation upon which we learn to extend chords and build arpeggios and modes as well.

Go to Guitar chords.