Learn 5 Ways to Play E Minor | Chord by Chord


Welcome to the latest installment of Chord by Chord, a series designed to build your understanding of harmony and the fretboard. Last week we looked at various A minor shapes, and this week we’ll follow up with E minor.


The Work

You have learned that a minor triad has three notes—the root, the minor third, and the fifth. The notes in an E minor triad are E (root), G (minor third), and B (fifth), as depicted in Example 1.

guitar notation for the E minor chord

On guitar, an E minor chord is most commonly played using the open position shape shown in Example 2, which contains three Es, two Bs, and one G. This chord shape makes the most of the guitar’s open strings (in standard tuning). Try playing the chord with your second and third fingers on strings 5 and 4, as shown in notation, or your first and second fingers, as I do in the video. Example 3 shows a leaner and less common E minor shape, in which only the note E is doubled.

An E minor barre chord can be found in seventh position (Example 4a). Feel free to add the low open E string to this shape, for a fatter sound. Or, take things in the opposite direction and play only the top three notes, as shown in Example 4b.

While on electric guitar it would be easy enough to play a full E minor barre chord at the 12th fret, unless your acoustic has a cutaway, this will be difficult or impossible. However, you can play just the top three notes of an E minor chord with strings 1–3 at the 12th fret. The lowest note in this shape is G, but if you’re fingerpicking, you can add the low open E string so that the root is the bottom note.

The Result

If you’ve been keeping up with these videos you should know how to play C, G, and D chords; how to switch between C and G and G and D; and various A minor and now E minor shapes. A couple of songs that make good use of that E minor chord include “Ashes to Ashes” by Steve Earle and “20/20” by Alanis Morissette. Next time I’ll teach you a third minor chord, Dm.

Kate Koenig
Kate Koenig

Kate Koenig is a singer-songwriter, music teacher, and music journalist based in Brooklyn, New York. They have been a regular contributor to Acoustic Guitar since 2017.

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