10 Beautiful Guitar Chords You Need to Know
By Andy Aledort
One of the greatest joys for all aspiring guitar players is the discovery of beautiful “new” guitar chords. “New” is of course different for everyone, so in this chordal primer I will offer a handful of beautiful and unusual guitar chords that many guitar players will be both unfamiliar with and glad to add to their musical arsenal.
Beautiful-sounding guitar chords are often discovered by simply moving a familiar chord shape, or “grip” (the fingering position of the fretting hand) to different areas of the fretboard. The ability for guitar players to be able to create new, unusual and beautiful guitar chords by shifting up or down a fret or two is one of the great advantages guitarists - and players of other stringed instruments - have over playing an instrument such as the piano.
10 Beautiful Guitar Chords You Need to Know
Let’s begin our quest for new and beautiful guitar chords with a chord “grip” that every guitar players learns in the first week of playing the instrument. FIGURE 1A illustrates an E chord as played in the first, or “open” position (chord shapes fretted within the first two frets of the guitar are often referred to as “open” chords because these “grips” usually include the use of open strings). FIGURE 1B illustrates a first-position E7 chord, sounded by starting with a standard E chord and simply lifting the fret-hand ring finger off the fretboard and sounding the open fourth string.
Our first beautiful guitar chord is discovered by simply sliding the E7 “grip” up one fret and adding the index finger on the sixth string at the first fret, as shown in FIGURE 2A. This chord is known as Fmaj6/7#11. This “grip,” also often referred to as a chord voicing, is what is known as a mobile chord form, in that it can easily be moved to different spots on the fretboard, each position offering a new and unusual sound.
E7 Chord Voicing
FIGURES 2B-F illustrate this grip when moved up to the third fret, sounding G6, up to the fifth fret, sounding Aadd2/add4, up to the eighth fret, sounding Cmaj7/add2, up to the 10th fret, sounding D6/9, and finally up to the 12th fret, sounding an unusual E7 chord voicing that is yet another beautiful guitar chord.
So as you can see, freely moving a chord “grip” up or down the fretboard while incorporating open strings will yield surprisingly beautiful-sounding chordal results.
Emaj9 and F#m7/E
FIGURE 3A offers another unusual and beautiful guitar chord, one that was favored by the greatest rock guitarist of all time, Jimi Hendrix, and used to great effect on his song, “Angel.” This chord, Emaj9 (also often referred to as G#m7/E), requires a little but of a fret-hand stretch, so if it feels uncomfortable at first, relax your fret-hand and then try it again. As shown in FIGURE 3B, we can move this “grip” down two frets to sound F#m7/E, and equally beautiful guitar chord.
Likewise, we can move this “grip” up to the ninth and seventh positions, as shown in FIGURES 3C and D, to yield the chord voicings E6 and Bm7/E, which are along the lines of what Jimi Hendrix used to kick off, “Third Stone From the Sun.” Many consider the chord voicings Jimi Hendrix used on “Angel” and “Third Stone From the Sun” to be among the most beautiful guitar chords of all.
Emaj9/13 and A6 Chord Voicings
One of Jimi Hendrix’s greatest disciples, Stevie Ray Vaughan, was inspired by Jimi’s chordal work to invent some beautiful guitar chords of his own. A Stevie Ray composition revered for its unusual and beautiful chords is “Lenny.” FIGURE 4 illustrates Emaj9/13, a chord voicing along the lines of the “one,” or tonic chord shape Stevie relies on. FIGURE 5 illustrates the very Hendrix-y A6 chord voicing, which serves as the “answering” “four” chord to Emaj9/13. Subsequently in the song, Stevie moves the A6 grip up to seventh and 10th positions (B6 and D6, respectively), then down to third position (G6) and resolves the bridge section of the song by shifting to sixth and fifth positions (Bb6 and A6, respectively).
Stevie revisited this “one”-to-“four” chord-voicing concept for another one of his greatest compositions, “Riviera Paradise.” FIGURES 6 and 7 illustrate chord voicings along the lines of what he plays during the verse and solo sections of the tune, as he alternates between an unusual Em9 “grip” and a more conventional A9/13 “grip.”
As you can easily see, moving these chord grips to different arrears of the fretboard will yield some very beautiful guitar chords; these voicings are applicable to just about any style of music, as they sound just as “at home” in blues and rock and they do in jazz and country.
Variations of E Major
Let’s wrap up with a few more beautiful guitar chords that can be discovered by simply changing one or two notes of a standard major or minor chord voicing.
FIGURE 8 illustrates this approach using an open-position E major chord as the starting point: add an F#, fourth string/fourth fret to an E major chord and the result is a very beautiful-sounding Eadd9.
Likewise, we can apply this approach to a standard open-position Em7 chord by keeping the F# fretted on the fourth string and adding another F# on the high E string at the second fret, as shown in FIGURE 9.
The same concept can be used to great effect with a standard open-position A chord: as shown in FIGURE 10A, a B note, third string/fourth fret, is added to a standard A chord, which yields a very lovely sounding Aadd2 chord. As shown in FIGURE 10B, this “grip” is moved up one fret to sound Amsus4/b6; the presence of the open strings really adds sparkle to this chord voicing.
Final Thoughts: 10 Beautiful Guitar Chords You Need to Know
As you prepare to embark on your chord discovery journey, why not get a practice amp that helps you learn as you jam? A powerhouse 40 Watt combo, Spark is a smart amp and app that jams along with you using Intelligent Technology, with backing tracks available for any style you play. Including Auto Chord technology, which allows you to import your music from Spotify, Apple Music and YouTube, and see the song’s guitar chords in real time as you play along, you’ll never run out of inspiration. Plus, you can use Spark as your USB audio interface for easy home recording and track your ideas with the included PreSonus Studio One Prime recording software. Find out more here.
Andy Aledort has contributed to the international music scene for over 35 years as a journalist, instructor, performer and editor of Guitar World magazine. His 2019 book, “Texas Flood: The Inside Story of Stevie Ray Vaughan,” is a New York Times bestseller. He has sold over one million instructional DVDs, on top of teaching guitar privately and on online sites such as Truefire.