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Get creative with your guitar chord playing in 20 minutes

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Guitar skills (opens in new tab): Once you know the open chord shapes (opens in new tab) you can turn C and G into barre chords and give your rhythm playing a boost.

Open chord shapes

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Of all the open shapes, C and G are perhaps the least commonly used as barre chords, most likely due to their awkward fingering. To make things easier, guitarists use ‘partial chords’, ie, you play only a few strings of the finger-twisting full barre chords.

This practical approach allows you to easily integrate C and G shapes into your playing - and, of course, more shapes means more creative rhythm chops.

The best way to get started is to play the open C and G shapes farther up the fretboard, including that tricky first finger barre.

New strings?

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It doesn’t really matter if you can’t manage the stretches (many players can’t!). At this stage your aim is to familiarise yourself with the shapes - and you can build on this as you explore the partial shapes. These tab exercises cover a mixture of styles and techniques so there’s something for everyone.

Basic arpeggios

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Here we begin by moving between major and maj7 shapes (in the key of F in this case). Hopefully, you recognise the open C shape played five frets higher here. To get around the awkward G shape on the Bb chords in bar 2, we’re playing only the middle four strings. No top or bottom strings means no need to stretch. Easy!

Using the minor shape

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This soul progression focuses on the upper four strings of the C and G shape. F and Ab chords are based on the C shape, while the C chord itself is based on a partial G shape. Take note of the slight alteration to the fingering to give us a minor shape on Gm. Follow the strumming pattern below the tab for a jaunty Steve Cropper vibe.

What chords?

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At first glance this funky riff doesn’t look like it uses any chords but trust us, it does! The third, fourth and fifth notes in bar 1 outline the important notes of the G shape (in 5th position here); in bar 2, the third, fourth and fifth notes outline the C shape. The Bb and Eb notes are all-important b7th intervals giving the 7th chord sound.

Hard rock slash chords

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This Van Halen/Brian May approach of using the open strings to give interesting slash chords is a great way to really milk the sound of each shape all across the fretboard. The basic chord progression is A-Bm-C#m-E and the sus4, slash chords and minor arpeggios give a more varied sound.

Practice plan

  1. Two minutes: Play through one exercise slowly
  2. One minute: Try to identify the C and G shapes
  3. Two minutes: Practise the changes and gradually build speed
  4. Try out the other examples

Once you’ve had a go at the tab exercises it’s easy to start being more creative. Examples 1 to 3 can be moved around the fretboard - just play the riffs in a higher or lower fret position to change the pitch.

Example 4 uses open strings and can’t be transposed so easily, but if you ditch the open strings you have the basis for a great rock ‘n’ roll riff that can be moved to other keys.

We’ll say it again though: try to spot the open C and G shapes in every example.

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