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Lesson 9: The A shape guitar chord


A hand plays an A shape on an acoustic guitar

In this lesson, we’ll be looking at the A shape.  

You’ll learn how to:

  • create and move the A shape
  • join the C shape and the A shape on the fretboard
  • play major chords with the A shape
  • change major chords played with the A shape, into minor chords

Spelling the A chord

If we want to play an A chord, using an A shape, we’ll play the notes A, C#, and E (the one note, the third interval and the fifth interval note in the A scale) - that’s how you spell the A chord.

1. A

2. B

3. C#

4. D

5. E

6. F#

7. G

You're probably already familiar with this form of the A chord  played across strings two, three, and four, on the second fret. 

The A shape is moveable

Just like other shapes, the A chord shape this is fully moveable up and down the neck of the guitar, to create other chords.

And just like before, it’s the root note of the shape that determines the chord name.

Building the A chord 

Our root note in this A chord is placed on the third string, second fret. So if this is our one note, we will easily be able to find our third interval on the second string, using the knowledge we already have.

Now, remember from our earlier lesson, that the B string is tuned to an interval of a perfect third in relation to the G string, whereas all other strings on the guitar are tuned in intervals of 4 scale degrees.

So we have to move that third up a half step towards the soundhole. The first and third notes are stacked on top of each other when we play on the B string.

And the note on top of this shape here, is the perfect 5th interval, the E note. It sits directly above the root note (you may remember this from the lesson on power chords).

Joining the C shape and the A shape

You’re going to expand your knowledge of the A chord, so you start to see this as the A shape.

To do this, you’re going to build on what you’ve already learned about the C shape in the previous lesson. If you've not completed this, I recommend you go back and do that first.

If you make a C shape in the first position on your guitar, your little finger (or anular finger) will be on the root note.

What I want you to do is replace your little finger with your index finger. So you are just playing a C note. Now, you need to imagine that your index finger is the nut of the guitar.

And now, I want you to use the rest of your fingers to make an A shape.

A fretboard diagram shows the root note of a C chord being used to form a C chord with the A shape

Congratulations, you just played a C chord using the A shape! You have your root note on the 5th string, and you also have another C note at the root position of the A shape, along with a third, and a fifth interval note.

And you can move this up and down the neck of the guitar to play the full range of major chords.

Let’s take a close look at the notes being played here. Let’s revisit what we know about where our 5th interval note is in relation to our root note - you’ll remember that from the lesson on power chords.

You’ll also remember that right below the 5th interval note sits the octave note, or the next root note.

So you’re already able to start to build up some mental patterns about where these interval notes are in relation to the root note - wherever you are on the guitar fretboard.

Notice that we don’t play our 6th string (low E string) in this shape, because our root note is on the 5th string when we use this shape.

So, hopefully, you can start to see how this knowledge about where your root notes are will help you to move around the fretboard. In this example our root note was C and we could play a C chord using the C shape (where our little finger played the root note) or we could play a C chord using the A shape (where our index finger played the root note).

Playing minor chords within the A shape

If we want to play a minor chord with the A shape, we simply find the third interval notes, and flatten them by half a step.

A really clear example of this is the A shape, played in the first position, to play the A chord. If we want to play an A minor, we find the perfect third interval note, flatten it down and we have this A minor shape which you might already be familiar with.

If we move the shape up a whole step to play a B chord, and we want to turn that into a B minor chord, the same principle applies. We find the third, and we flatten it by a half step. The D#, becomes a D note.

Guitar practice journal

Download the Guitar Practice Tracker today. It will help to keep you motivated and give you a visual representation of your progress, and areas of focus throughout the year. 

A guitar journal will enable you to:
  • Set personalised goals and monitor your progress

  • Identify the number of hours or days you've spent on a particular skill
  • Provide a quick reference to the notes and chords in a particuar key
  • List the songs you know and sort by key, capo placement, artist, and chord progression
  • Link directly to your favourite YouTube videos and tutorials 

Go to Lesson 10: The G shape guitar chord

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Photo by Yogendra Singh