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I played in the band at church yesterday, and a certain song had two chords that had me curious how to play them.

The first chord is Dmaj9. The notes in this chord are D, F#, A, C#, and E. This seems like a lot of notes that are close together, meaning it would be difficult to play on a guitar without dropping some notes. My question is this: If I were to drop a note or two, which notes (in order) should I be dropping? (The converse of this is, Which notes are most important?) I'm tempted to play an A with a D in the bass (i.e., xx0220), but I don't know if this misses something important.

The second chord is E(4). I haven't run into this notation before. Is it different from Esus4? In Esus4, you play the fourth instead of the third. Does this notation mean you play both the third and the fourth together? If so, that would be difficult on guitar, so again, which note should I emphasize, the third or the fourth?

I should state the song in question is in the key of A, so the Dmaj9 adds color to the IV and the E(4) takes the place of the V. The E(4) never moves to an E, it always goes directly to the I (A).

Thanks in advance for your tips, tricks, and hints!

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For a 9th chord, the 9th is a pretty important note, and this note, along with the 3rd and the 7th establish the character of a 9th chord. The root is probably next in line of importance, followed by the 5th. If you are playing with a bass player, there is a good chance that they will have the root, and probably the 5th, covered anyway. To some extent, the notes that you can leave out will depend on the way that you are putting chords together when you play, but it is usually safe to start by dropping the 5th.

A good voicing to know for major 9th chords is:

%X/X.5/2.4/1.6/4.5/3.X/X[DMaj9]

Here the 5th has been omitted, but the chord still has the root, 3rd, 7th, and 9th. This voicing can be moved to the other four-string groups:

%10/2.9/1.11/3.9/1.X/X.X/X[DMaj9] %X/X.X/X.12/2.11/1.14/4.12/3[DMaj9]

You can also get a big, full voicing for EMaj9 with no notes omitted (or use a capo to play this with different roots):

%0/0.2/3.1/1.1/2.0/0.2/4[EMaj9]

A sparser, more spread-out version of the last voicing can be formed by omitting the 5th again, and used as a movable form:

%10/1.X/X.11/2.11/3.X/X.12/4[DMaj9]

As for the E(4) chord, I would probably interpret that as an E(sus4) chord, and I would expect the rarer E(add4) chord to be written that way.

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The first note to go, when playing chords, especially on guitar with its problems of too many close notes, not enough strings (!) is the 5. It's actually still present in the form of a harmonic from the root, so it's no great loss.

In most chords, the root (obviously) is very important, as it provides the name. As David says, if there's a bass or keyboard playing, they'll most likely have the root and maybe the 5th too, in a given bar. Next is the 3rd, which specifies major or minor, which is why sus 2 and sus 4 chords sound ungrounded. The 7th is also important, with two available, major or minor (again). Since the chord is designated as a 9th of some sort, it will normally have a 7th note included.

Dmaj 9 will include D F# A C# and E. 200220 is a straightforward open version.

E(4) is an unusual name, but will probably be Esus4, spelled E A B. A simple fingering is the open 022200. If indeed, it's supposed to be E with an extra A, it should be notated as E11, or better, E (add A).

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I'd play it by starting with a standard D shape (xx0232) <- assuming 0 = open string, x= not played) Leave the thinnest E string open to get the E, and flatten the B string to get the C#:

xx0220

That's a really simple way, but doen'st give you the F#.

To get the F# you could get a finger or thumb onto the thick E string, and leave A open: 200220

I think the F# might muddy things this way though, so you could swap them around ont he E strings:

000222

E4: Lots of ways but simplest is probably 022200

Or for a higher one: 0799(10)x (you could leave the high E open but it's hard to get your fingers around that)

EDIT: As leftaroundabout pointed out below, 000222 isn't really a Dmaj9 as the 9 (the E) is'nt really a 9- it's too low.

An alternative might be x54220.

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