Welcome to the latest installment of Chord by Chord, a series designed to build your understanding of harmony and the fretboard. In the last lesson we went over the A major chord, and in this lesson I’ll be teaching you various ways of playing the very guitar-friendly chord E.

The Work

As you have learned, a major chord is comprised of three notes: the root, the third, and the fifth. An E chord is spelled E G# B, as shown in Example 1. (Note that there are four sharps in the key of E major: F#, C#, G#, and D#). Example 2 shows how to play an open E chord, and Example 3 depicts a nearby compact voicing using just the top three strings. Note that this shape is the same as an open D chord, but played two frets higher. If you’re fingerpicking, you can add the low E string.


Examples 4a and 4b show two different fingerings for an E barre chord in seventh position. For a three-note voicing derived from this shape, see Example 4c. You could also play an E barre chord at the 12th fret, but it’s not really practical on acoustic guitar. Instead, play just the top four strings (Example 5a) or use the open E shape in Ex. 2, but 12 frets higher, as shown in Example 5b. This voicing is made possible by the open E and B strings.

The Result

Now you should know a variety of E major voicings across the fretboard. A great tune that uses an E chord is “Scarlet Begonias” by the Grateful Dead. Next time I’ll show you another new chord, B major.