The Em chord on the guitar

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How to play the open position Em chord and CAGED Em shape

This video lesson is about the Em chord and also the Em-shaped chord.

Let’s look at how this simple chord will become a “one out of five guides” to everything we do in minor on the guitar.

Starting as an open-position chord, we have a few options on how to fret it. This may vary from song to song so you need many songs to learn how to play this chord in context.

My beginner course will be enough to teach you how to play this chord using strumming, picking, and fingerpicking.

You need real songs, and lots of them to learn how to play the Em chord.

Once you can play it in the open position, we turn it into a chord shape. Here you can see it as a Chordacus image, both in the open position as well as a moveable chord shape at fret 12.

The Em chord in the open-position and as a CAGED barre shape.
Em chord/shape

As a chord shape, we don’t want to play all strings. Instead, we play strings 3-6, or strings 2-4, 1-4, or even 1-3.

All these fractions of the full chord shape are complete Em chords as they all have a root, m3rd, and a 5th in them.

Em chord extensions

Let’s take a look at what possible chords we can extend an Em-shaped chord to.

  • Em chord (root, 5th, root, m3rd, 5th, root)
  • Emadd9 (root, 5th, 9, m3rd, 5th, root)
  • Em7 (root, m3rd, b7, root)
  • Em7b5 (root, b7, m3rd, b5)
  • Em9 (root, b7, m3rd, 5th, 9)
  • Em6 (root, root, m3rd, 6)

You can simply memorize these by understanding how to build them and trying them out by moving the chords around the fretboard.

Maybe you could even try some of the exercises I provide in the SEPR. However, if you want to get to know these chords, you must discover them and associate them with real songs.

You find an open position Emadd9 in Cannonball.

The Em7 chord is available in many songs, for example, the 2nd guitar part for Ain’t No Sunshine. This extension is the same as a Gm shape.

Building scales and arpeggios around the Em chord/shape

There are many more things you can do to the Em chord shape than just extend it, we can turn it into:

I go through some, but not all, of these in the video lesson above.

Below are all intervals used to build the arpeggios and all scales around the Em-shaped chord.

If you can see all the intervals around the chord shape, you can play all these arpeggios and scales.

Perhaps what’s most important to point out is the Minor Pentatonic. This is what all guitar players know as position 1. We want to make a switch here and call it an Em shape instead.

I’ve mentioned this before, you don’t go to the shop and buy fruit 1, fruit 2, fruit 3, 4, and 5, you buy a banana, an apple, a pear, etc. It’s easier to have names on these shapes than numbers.

The numbers don’t mean anything. Position 1 doesn’t mean anything.

It makes more sense than calling an apple an apple, because an Em shape looks like an Em, whereas an apple is just a name given to it that we have accepted to be the name.

Just like position 1, we just accepted it. Why is it called position 1? Probably because we learned it first. There is no logic to it.

So let’s call it an Em shape and let’s visualize that Em chord as a shape. Here are all the arpeggios and scales you can build around it if you can see all intervals.

All possible minor arpeggio and scale intervals using the CAGED system

The Em Chord | Related Pages

Guitar chords

Learn all guitar chords using the CAGED system.

You can learn how to build all minor and major guitar chords using the so-called CAGED system.

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

The E chord

Open position E chord, barre chord shape and extensions

Perhaps the easiest chord of them all to understand and fret is the huge open-position E chord.

Turn this into a moveable chord shape and you have the best starting point for understanding major chords on the guitar.

Beginner Acoustic

Many of the Beginner Acoustic Songs have an Em chord.

This collection of beginner acoustic tunes will teach you how to arrange for one acoustic guitar, as well as how to create a supporting part.

Playing songs will help you with switching between open-position chords and give you the context you need to understand how music works theoretically.

About me

Dan Lundholm wrote this article about the Em chord.

This article on the Em chord was written by Dan Lundholm. Discover more about him and how learning guitar with Spytunes has evolved.

Most importantly, find out why you should learn guitar through playing tunes, not practising scales, and studying theory in isolation.


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