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Make an impact with 5 expansive open guitar chords

Joni Mitchell
(Image credit: Jack Robinson/Getty Images)

Sometimes you want small chords in order to fit into a funk song or add a percussive backbeat. Today, we’re not talking about these – we’re looking at making the most sound possible, using all six strings and a wide range of notes (that is, from low to high). 

Chords such as these examples can be very effective on acoustic guitar, particularly if it is the sole accompaniment to a voice. Joni Mitchell is a master at this and would frequently use open tunings to assist with wide-ranging, complex chords. 

The good news here is that these chords capture much of that sound without the need for retuning. Based in the key of E major, the example chords outline part of an ascending major scale, which you’ll find quite useful as a compositional device with some experimentation, playing them in and out of scale sequence. 

All the chords feature the sixth, second and first string open (E, B and E), which allows us to make various triads and superimpose harmonic ideas elsewhere.  

1. Emaj7

(Image credit: Future)

This Emaj7 takes its name from the D# at the 8th fret of the G string. You’ll find the 3rd (G#) over on the D string and another root on the 7th fret of the A – giving us three Es in total! As well as strumming up a storm, unusual voicings such as this can yield very interesting arpeggiated parts.

2. F#m11/E

(Image credit: Future)

I’m calling this F#min11/E as we have (from low to high) E on the open sixth string, F# A E (in that order) making an F#min7 triad on the fifth, fourth and third strings, the open B giving us our 11th – then, finally, another 7th in the shape of the open high E string.

3. Eadd2

(Image credit: Future)

Of the various names this chord could correctly be given, I’m opting for Eadd2. It could also be called Eadd9, or G#min7/E. While the latter gives a context after the previous F#minor11/E, I’m not convinced enough to call it that as a ‘standalone’ chord. Hopefully, this will give a bit of insight into how and why people name chords the way they do!

4. Amaj9/E

(Image credit: Future)

This example suits the name Amaj9/E. I think we know where the low E comes from by this point, but the A, C# and G# on the fifth, fourth and third strings are our maj7 triad, further extended by the open B string as the 9th then the open E, which (as the 5th) doesn’t require adding any further numbers to the name!

5. Emaj9

(Image credit: Future)

Finally, we flip the shape round and get this nice ‘doo-wop’ style Emaj9. We have our open Es and B in the usual places, with the G#, D# and F# giving us the maj3, maj7 and 9th respectively. Like all of these examples, it’s worth shifting these about the fretboard for some nice surprises!

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As well as a longtime contributor to Guitarist and Guitar Techniques, Richard is Tony Hadley’s longstanding guitarist, and has worked with everyone from Roger Daltrey to Ronan Keating.