After years of playing guitar by self study i know all the chords but i still strugle to find my way freely on the guitar especially with inversions and other unique chords. Is this a matter of practicing the variations,or studying all the notes on the fret board so i can easily remeber and constract it myself?

2 Answers 2


With something relatively complex like a chord shape, I think knowing the notes and where they are will work for some, but just knowing the shape and where it lives for certain chords is easier to establish.

A lot of chords are sort of related to each other - add an extra finger, or take off one from a known shape, and hey presto, a different chord. But some are just alien in that they are peculiar shapes of their own. In those cases, get the shape, and hammer it on many, many times, in different places on the fretboard, until muscle memory takes it in. You will have to find the individual places for each finger, and be aware of the muted strings in some cases.

When you're happy that it's nearly there, try putting other shapes either side so that a chord sequence is formed. This needs to be done with many different other known shapes. It's probably like what happened every time you learned a simpler chord - which would by definition get used more frequently - earlier in your career.

Knowing your notes on the guitar, and the notes in a new chord, will help a lot particularly if you want to find other inversions and voicings. It's an interesting exercise to take some new chord - let's say G9b5, and know the notes in it are G B Db F A, and trying to methodically make all (or most!) of those notes fit onto 3 or 4 consecutive frets on the guitar, using as many strings as you have to. It's actually an exercise I use with students to explain why chord shapes are as they are, and the pleasant surprise seen when a basic chord is made in this way is palpable.

  • thanks, Tim great answer. regarding the "A lot of chords are sort of related to each other - add an extra finger, or take off one from a known shape" lets say I take E7, or E9, will i have to remember the notes on the fret in order for me to remember and to know how to construct it or just playing it repeatedly is the way to absorb it? i mean in a piano it's much easier because you actually see the notes but in a guitar it's very hard to remember the notes on each string.
    – LoveIsHere
    Oct 24, 2017 at 10:18
  • My point is you don't need to know the notes on each string, let alone remember them. others no doubt will disagree. It's the shapes that need remembering - along with three or four fret positions for the most used versions, but names will only really come into use at the beginning, if indeed you're bothered about what notes actually make up that chord in that chord shape. I feel in a lot of cases it's not necessarily helpful to know exactly what notes constitute a chord, in order to play it successfully. just get the shape of the chord into your fingers, maybe think about the rest later.
    – Tim
    Oct 24, 2017 at 10:55
  • Did we really know the exact notes that made up our first B7 chord? Did it matter? Would it have helped if we did? How might it have helped? Could we play it better with that knowledge? So many questions...!
    – Tim
    Oct 24, 2017 at 10:58
  • ha, you are right, just want to make sure i am not missing out something:)
    – LoveIsHere
    Oct 24, 2017 at 11:00
  • "Did we really know the exact notes that made up our first B7 chord? Did it matter? Would it have helped if we did?" Some day you may want to add a b9 to that B7, and you'll figure it out faster if you can spell out the B7. There's a set of chords you can find by muscle memory and a larger set of chords you can work out if you have a moment. I think you always want to be expanding both sets.... Oct 24, 2017 at 14:33

The best thing you can do to achieve your purpose is to learn intervals.

Let's say you have your index finger on fret 5, string 6. From here you should know exactly where to find a 3rd or a minor 3rd, a 5th and so on.

When you'll read a chord like Asus2 you know you have to play 1, 2 and 5. It really doesn't matter too much that those notes happen to be A, B and E when we talk about chord fingerings, you will think about intervals to reach your result fast because they stay the same in any key.

You read A maj7 you think 1, 3, 5, 7 and you put your fingers on those intervals.

You need to know 5 basic shapes, C, A, G, E, D. Pretty much any imaginable chord is playable modifying those shapes to fit your intervals.

To further explain what I mean look at this diagram here: Caged Guitar Diagrams on Guitar Scientist

Guitar Scientist Caged Guitar Diagrams

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