The Em chord on the guitar

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You can learn 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 out 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 in order to learn how to play this in context.

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

You definitely need real songs, and lots of them in order to actually 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.

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 really 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 shape 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 two arpeggios, a Minor Pentatonic, the Minor Blues scale, Conspirian, Dorian, Aeolian (the natural minor scale), and Phrygian.

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 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 actually makes more sense than calling an apple an apple, because an Em shape actually 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 arpeggios and scales you can build around it if you can see all intervals.

Min7 ArpeggioRm35b7
Min7b5 ArpeggioRm35b7
Minor PentatonicR2m356
Minor BluesRm34b55b7

The Em chord | Related pages

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.

Guitar chords.

The E chord

Perhaps the easiest chord of them all to understand and fret might be the huge E chord.

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

The E chord.

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