Guitar Chord Lists


Why is it so hard to find a comprehensive list of guitar chords on the web?

This page points out some of the problems with using chord dictionaries, explains why it is not possible to have a single list containing "all guitar chords" or even "all the main guitar chords", and offers a method (a little applied chord theory!) that allows you to find chord shapes for literally any chord you come across.

Read on to see why most chord lists just don't do the job, or go here to look at my Big List Of Guitar Chords.


Problem 1: limited set of chord types

With any chord list or chord dictionary, try looking up chords such as Bm11, A/C#, F#7add4, Cmaj9, Am7-5. The chances are, you'd be struggling to find a single shape for most of these chords. Many chord lists only cover the most basic chord types (e.g major, minor, 7, m7, maj7, sus4, sus2). Some may have a bigger chord vocabulary, including chords like add2, add4, 9, maj9, m9, 11, m11 and so on,

BUT

All the chord lists and chord dictionaries I've seen (both those on the net and those in books) have a fairly limited set of chords that they include shapes for. Most have fewer than 20 basic chord types, so you would be lucky to find jazz-type chords (e.g 7-5, m7-5, 7#9, 7-9 etc) or chords with altered bass notes (A/C#, Bm7/F#, G/D etc).

Problem 2: limited number of chord shapes for each chord name

Let's say you strike lucky, and the chord dictionary you are using does have a few shapes for, say, Bm11. How many different chord shapes does it suggest? More than one? More than three?

Chord dictionaries often suggest just a few different shapes for each chord type. If you get more than three shapes for each type, you are doing pretty well! The trouble is, for most chord types there are lots of different ways of playing that chord - often 10, 20 or 30 shapes, but you'd be lucky to find more than a handful of these. A lot of the more interesting and unusual chord voicings simply won't be listed.

Did you know that there are well over 100 playable shapes for an Em7 chord? Here are just a few of them:

EADGBE    EADGBE     E  A  D  G  B  E     EADGBE     EADGBE
070000    020000     0  10 12 12 0  0     050000     070007

EADGBE    EADGBE     EADGBE     EADGBE     EADGBE
055000    050050     055050     070080     020003

EADGBE    EADGBE     EADGBE     EADGBE     E A  D G B E
020030    070087     070780     022030     0 10 0 9 0 0

So, what's the solution???

There are no easy answers here (sorry!). The first thing to realise is that there are a LOT OF GUITAR CHORDS.

A list containing 500 chords may sound like a lot, but it only represents a tiny fraction of all possible guitar chords (and I'm only talking about standard tuning here). Such a list might cover 15 basic chord types (e.g major, minor, 7, m7, maj7, sus4, sus2, aug, dim, 5, 6, m6, 9, m9, 11) in all 12 keys, with 3 shapes for each chord. Not a bad start, but I'm interested in finding as many shapes as possible for each chord type. The more shapes you have to choose from, the more chances you have of finding the chord shape that suits your needs. And 15 chord types doesn't cover a lot of ground ...

A chord list or dictionary should contain at least a couple of thousand shapes to make it worth considering. But even chord lists as big as this are unlikely to be able to offer shapes for any chord you want to look up. If you want to look up chords with altered bass notes (like A/C#, D/F#, G/D etc) most chord dictionaries won't be able to help. There are simply too many possibilities - for every chord type, you would have to include shapes that used every possible bass note (A/Ab, A/G, A/F, A/F, A/E ... etc). The possibilities just multiply out of control: to cover around 30 basic chord types, with 6 shapes for each type, and covering possibilities for altered bass notes you end up needing a database of 20 or 30 thousand chord shapes!

Chord theory

The best way to expand your chord vocabulary is to learn a little chord theory. That way, you won't need to rely on chord dictionaries and you will be able to figure out your own chord shapes for any chord you want. It doesn't take long to understand the basics, and you'll find a little knowledge of triads, chord construction and chord naming will really help your guitar playing.

Why not take a look at my Introduction to Guitar Chord Theory and see how easy it is to work out your own chord shapes for any chord name you can think of!

The best chord dictionary is the one in your head!

Last updated April 2011