I'm sorry about the somewhat vague title, but my knowledge of chord notation is somewhat limited.

I've always had some issues when it comes to fretting this type of chord. If I leave the fifth out then no problem because I can just use one finger to fret each of the notes. Now, in this particular case I want to keep the fifth at the top but I can't seem to find a good way to fret the notes. Obviously, I can't use the same approach as before because I don't have enough fingers. I've seen blues and funk guitarists using their ring finger to bar the first three strings. I've tried doing that but no matter how I do it I always end up muting one of the strings. Usually the first or the fourth. If I really try I can get all the notes to ring out but I'm forced to put my fretting hand in a really awkward position which really gets in the way if I need to change chords even at moderate speeds.

The alternative is using my little finger to bar the strings, which seems to work a little better when I use my ring finger to put some extra pressure on the little finger. But that isn't good enough either because if I need to move the chord shape around (usually in a chromatic fashion) I start to mess up the sound because I don't have enough strength in my little finger.

My question then is, is there a 'proper' way to fret this chord shape other than one of the alternatives I mentioned above?

  • What does "R-3" mean? – piiperi Reinstate Monica May 26 at 8:19
  • Oh, it's a list, Root, 3rd, minor 7th, 5th – piiperi Reinstate Monica May 26 at 8:32
  • Yes, it's a list. Specifically I meant a chord of the form x32333 (in this case, with C as the root). I could've called it C9, but that coud mean x3233x which I can play without major issues. The problem is adding the 5 at the top when I need to change chords at moderate speeds, because I'm used to keeping my fingers (except perhaps my index finger) perpendicular to the strings. – Modesto Rosado May 26 at 23:16

First based on your description I believe you are referring to a 9th chord but you left out the 9 between the b7 and the 5, so R 3 b7 9 5, right? Let’s say a D9 for example, from low to high: D F# C E A.

The way to finger this chord is x54555, fingering 21333. You can use 21444 instead but like you said it’s not ideal when you have to change chords. It takes practice to play it clean, you have to get used to flattening 3 but keeping 1 and 2 on the tips. This will help you avoid muting strings. I suppose you can try 21334 till you get better at it but with some practice I bet you’ll eventually be able to play it clean with just the 3rd finger.

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  • 1
    I use 221334 - a full 6 string version, but the low A doesn't have to be played. We all know how guitarists must only play root position chords... The lower down the neck, the more chance I do use pinky. Wider fingerboard! That fingering is easy to change into a 13th chord - just move pinky up two frets, and cover two strings. +1. – Tim May 26 at 6:39
  • @Tim I’ve always been able to play this chord with the 3 string 3 finger barre but I thought about what could be done for someone who has trouble and I came up with the 21334 suggestion, very similar to your fingering. As for only playing root position chords, the Brazilian cats play a lot of low E string 5ths in the bass on 5th string root chords, it’s great! – John Belzaguy May 26 at 6:54
  • My 'root position' was taking the mick out of nearly every guitar orientated site! They seem duty bound that all guitarists only play in that position. I used 6 string chords for years, (and still often do) and it took a fair bit of work to only play 2,3 or 4 string chords. When you have 6 to use... – Tim May 26 at 7:20
  • It doesn't have to be a 9th chord being discussed. – ggcg May 26 at 14:20
  • @John Yes, I forgot to add the 9th to the list. I'm sorry. – Modesto Rosado May 26 at 23:20

Adding to John's excellent answer, the strength in your little finger isn't as important as using your whole hand for leverage. By extending your thumb maybe over the top of the fingerboard, your palm becomes the fulcrum point, and this puts more pressure on the pinky, without using its own strength. Let's face it - fingers themselves have little intrinsic strength, possessing no muscles of their own. So we have to resort to other means.

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You are asking about the fingering for a dom7 chord yet saying that you cannot use one finger. Others have pointed out that you may be referring to the 9th chord which has the common voicing (x, 1, 3, 7, 9, 5), fingered (x, 2, 1, 3, 3, 3), an example of the frets for C9 would be (x, 3, 2, 3, 3, 3). If you don't want the 5th on top you can finger it (x, 2, 1, 3, 4, x).

As for the 7th chord in the title one possible fingering for that voicing is (x, 3, 2, 3, x, 4) which is (x, 1, 3, b7, x, 5). You would need to "mute" the B string with your 3rd finger by letting it touch the B string enough to avoid buzzing but not enough to fret the note and hear it.


I am adding to my answer to address the other issue mentioned in the OP. As for NOT muting when barring this takes time, patience, and practice. I am going through this with one of my beginner students. I don't know if you are taking lessons but there are a few very simple exercises that you can do to teach your hand to bar correctly. First you need to be able to execute the bar on command and not after several seconds of adjustment. To do this you need to first know what a bar "feels" like. One method is to flatten out the finger so it is almost bending out, away from the palm, rather than in. This is fairly easy to do with the index finger but harder to do with the others. Many folks will hyper extend the ring finger to allow it to flatten but that will usually cause the finger to not touch the high e string. That, however, depends on proper posture, and placement of the finger. I'm playing right now and have no problem getting all 3 top strings down with one finger and no rotation. Another option is piiperi Reinstate Monica's rotation that effectively turns the finger on its edge. Some folks do this with the full bar chord rotating the other way. Once you get it right you can try something like toggling between an X9 (if that is indeed the chord you want) and an X(b9, b5). This will require you to flatten the ring finger then rotating on its tip and flatten the index. It may be uncomfortable at first but it should not be painful and in time you should be able to execute this movement quickly and without extreme movement or pressure.

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  • Thank you for your advice. I am currently mostly self-taught but I took guitar lessons for several years. I don't have a lot of problems with standard chord shapes, but I rarely practiced more complex shapes since I'm not that much into blues music. I was mainly concerned about the proper way to do it to avoid injuring myself. – Modesto Rosado May 26 at 23:37
  • Well if it was helpful please +1 – ggcg May 26 at 23:41
  • I tried upvoting but it's not showing up in the counter for some reason. – Modesto Rosado May 26 at 23:45
  • Maybe it was canceled by a downvote – ggcg May 26 at 23:57

So you're trying to play a 9 chord? John and Tim explained it well, but I'll add one more tip with a video example. Instead of trying to squeeze the neck between your palm and your fingers by pushing down with the fingers, rotate your wrist like this. The rotating motion is exaggerated to show what it's about


If you rotate instead of muscle-squeezing, you get much more leverage. By using a rotating motion you can play a nine chord, or a minor-seventh with the ring finger doing multi-string barres very lightly. IMO this technique works without using almost any muscle force on even a heavy 12-string acoustic.

Particularly if your wrist is like when playing open C or F chords, and you try to extend your fingers to the x54555 chord grip, you'd have to do an impossibly hard squeeze.

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  • Note your thumb is where I said. – Tim May 26 at 9:28
  • There should be no need to do this if the guitar is set up properly. And your nails are very long, how do you play like that? – ggcg May 26 at 12:22
  • @ggcg I actually thought about it, should I trim my nails just to do this one-second GIF ... nah, if the peanut gallery is in the mood for complaining, they'll find things to complain about. This rotation thing was how I managed to play this when I was 13, it made me jump from no-can-do to wow-its-easy. Go ahead and -1 my harmful advice. – piiperi Reinstate Monica May 26 at 13:26
  • If you want to get hostile no one can stop you, and why should they. If you need to rotate like that to play it then you should have taken lessons with a good teacher or get your ax set up. No need to contort like that to make it easy. – ggcg May 26 at 13:42
  • @ggcg I said "motion exaggerated a bit to make the point clearer". No, I don't have to do it like that. The rotation thing helps to see a new axis of movement, and it's helped everybody I've showed it to, when they've tried to awkwardly squeeze down, say, a 5x5555 m7 chord. If you disagree, list the things why this is harmful, downvote and show a better way in your own answer. – piiperi Reinstate Monica May 26 at 14:10

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