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!


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:


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):


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


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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  • Thanks for the note about E11 being the preferred notation for playing both the 3rd and the 4th. – scott Aug 28 '18 at 20:09
  • @scott -- E11 would imply that there is a ♭7 in the chord: E - G♯ - B - D - A; any of E(add4), E(add11), or E(add A) would be better if the 7th is not included in the chord. – ex nihilo Aug 28 '18 at 21:09
  • @Tim -- that's a nice open DMaj9 voicing, +1 – ex nihilo Aug 28 '18 at 21:19

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#:


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:


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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  • you really can't sell 000222 as Dmaj9. The only way the low E could actually be a 9 is if the bass plays the contra-D underneath, but that would be very muddy. – leftaroundabout Aug 28 '18 at 9:29
  • @leftaroundabout that is a very good point: I was just thinking in terms of including the notes, rather than where they are pitch-wise in the chord. I shall amend my answer – user2808054 Aug 28 '18 at 15:27
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    ps. "you really can't sell 000222 as Dmaj9" <- this made me laugh. Like poor chord packaging lol – user2808054 Aug 28 '18 at 16:54
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    Wouldn't x5778x be a D(4)? So the chord you suggest 05778x would be D(4)/E. I think you meant to try 0799(10)x, but I would barre that so I end up with 0799(10)7, or Esus4 barred on the 87th fret. – scott Aug 28 '18 at 20:06
  • derp! yes, i did mean 0799(10)x- thanks. Edited. Incidentally I wouldn't barre that just because if you leave the bottom E open you get a huge sounding chord.. one of my faves :-) – user2808054 Aug 29 '18 at 8:50

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