Welcome to the latest installment of Chord by Chord, a series designed to build your understanding of harmony and the fretboard. In a previous lesson, I showed you how to  transition from C to G, the I and V, respectively, in the key of C major. This time I’ll show you how to switch between A and E, the I and V in the key of A.


Example 1 show how to move between A and E using open chords, while Example 2 demonstrates the same thing, with barre chords. Remember when practicing switching between any two chords to visualize the second shape before you get there. That can help to smooth the transition.


Example 3a shows two compact voicings on just the top three strings, derived from the barre chords in Ex. 2. You can also move down the neck to get to E, as shown in Example 3b. For these voicings, you might avail yourself of the open A and low E strings to add root notes—just use fingerpicking.

Example 4 shows a less common way of moving between A and E. Note that the E chord has the third (G#) as the lowest note, making for a neater transition between chords. For another compact voicing higher up the neck, see Example 5. You could play the progression with full barre chords at the 12th fret, but that generally isn’t practical on an acoustic guitar. Instead, try the three-note voicings depicted in Examples 6a and 6b.


After you’ve worked through this lesson you should know a handful of ways of moving between A and E chords. Fleet Foxes’ “If You Need To, Keep Time on Me” is a great song that makes use of this progression. Next time, I’ll show you how to do another I–V progression, in the key of E major.