How to Play an E Chord

The E chord (E major chord) is one of the most important basic chords to learn on guitar. Because of the way the guitar is tuned, certain chords are used more often than others, and E is at the top of the list. This is partly because three of the open strings on the guitar are notes in the E chord. But it’s also due to the way E is related to other commonly used chords on the guitar, such as A, A minor, and B minor. And finally, the chord shape for the open E chord forms the basis of the most common barre chord shape, explained down below. Anyway, the point is, it’s an important chord to learn early on.

The good news is that it’s a pretty easy chord to learn! Especially if you already know how to play E minor (go learn it now if you don’t) or A minor. The fingering for E major is shown below. As you can see, your 2nd and 3rd fingers play on the 2nd fret, on the A and D strings. And your 1st finger plays on the 1st fret, on the G string. All six strings of the guitar are played.

e major photo

Difference Between E Minor and E Major

If you already know E minor, you can see that the only difference here is that you’re adding your first finger to the 1st fret of the G string. If you don’t already know E minor, now you do: just remove your 1st finger from the fretboard and play the open G string and you have E minor.

E minor chord

E major chord

Difference Between A Minor and E Major

If you already know A minor, another way to think of the E chord is to take the exact same fingering for A minor, but move each finger down one string. By “down” I mean in the direction of the thicker strings. So instead of playing on the 4th, 3rd, and 2nd strings, you use the same exact fingering, but place your fingers on the 5th, 4th, and 3rd strings, like so:

A minor chord

E major chord

Barre Chords Based on the Open E Chord

One very important aspect of the open E chord is that it serves as the basic pattern for the most commonly used barre chords on guitar. If you’re not yet familiar with barre chords, these are movable chord shapes that allow you to use the same fingering up and down the fretboard to play any chords you want. Basically, you learn one chord shape and get a ton of other chords for free, just by moving that shape to different frets.

(Note: Barre chords are a slightly more advanced topic, simply because they’re physically harder to play than most open chords. It takes a little while to build up the hand strength to play them. So this is just meant to be a quick discussion, to show how some open chords can be transformed into barre chords. Feel free to try it out but don’t worry if barre chords are too hard to play right now. All in good time.)

Probably the most common barre chord is the “E-shape” barre chord. In this sequence of photos, you can see how it gets its name. This barre chord is essentially an E chord shape, but using the different fingering shown. That is, you finger the E chord shape with your 2nd, 3rd, and 4th strings while making a barre (pressing down on all the strings) with your 1st finger.

1. E major chord, re-fingered

2. Slide shape up to a different fret

3. Add 1st-finger barre

You can play this shape on any fret to get different major chords. Play it on the 1st fret, and it’s F major. Play it on the 5th fret and it’s A major. And so on. Check out the lesson on barre chords for lots more info.

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