Movable Shapes
by Jon Skibic

Have you ever been in the situation where you are strumming big open chords and then the tune calls for a Bb chord? The sound of the guitar goes from a nice, big, ringing, and joyful sound, to a small, little, closed sounding, bar chord. It's like the whole timbre of guitar changes!  Well, here are some solutions and alternatives to keep that sound pressure up and make some basic chords a little more interesting. Let's call them "Movable Shapes". Rock on.

Archtop Jazz

Archtop Jazz

Example #1

Here is your standard, "cowboy" chord, open G. I've come up with a sort of chord-scale, using the G chord fingering. We will analyze the chord according to the root, which will be played on the low E string. There are two open strings ringing, so the chord has to be harmonious with those open strings. In the tab you will notice some repeated whole notes. The reason is, some of the fingerings have repeated notes, or unisons, with the open D and G strings.

Example 1


Example #2

Here is a chord-scale built with the standard C chord fingering. You will notice that they are all major and they all have the open G string ringing throughout.  The D chord in the second measure is pretty common. It has a nice suspended chord sound. It's not technically a sus chord because the 3rd is still included in the chord,  we will call it an add 4, or add 11th chord. When there is more than an octave between the root and the 4th, we can call it an 11th. When it is in the same octave we will call it an add 4 chord.

Example 2


Example #3

Here is the standard E major chord shape. Here is the chord scale that sounds good when the high E and B strings are ringing. I chose to leave out the possible C#major chord. It is could be called a C#7(#9) chord but the tensions ,b7 and #9, are all in the same octave and it didn't  give us the "Hendrix" chord sound. Some people may think playing chords in this manner is cheating, especially, if you are a beginner and you are having trouble holding down full bar chords. It's really not cheating at all. In fact I believe it to be advanced chord theory, if, you actually know what you are playing and, what the open strings are doing to the quality of the chords you are using.

Example 3


Example #4

This is an example of a simple chord progression. The first four measures are open chords. Measures five through eight are played with the movable G shape. They sound a little more interesting and colorful. Examples #5 through #10 will begin with the standard shapes then the four bar progression will be repeated using the movable shape method.

Example 4


Example #5

The G chord shape again. The A chord is a favorite of mine. Jeff Buckley used this chord in the "Last Goodbye" to great effect.

Example 5


Example #6

Here is a chord progression that has chords that are almost always played as bar chords. With a little "movable shape magic", we can convert these bar chords into gloriously ringing open chords!  The first four bars are the standard way and the last four measures are the new way.

Example 6


Example #7

Again here is an example of the movable shape working it's magic on the small bar chords. Nice.


Example 7

Example #8

Not only do they sound good, they're easier to play!


Example 8

Example #9

In this example, the movable shape method has a little more tension and nice voice leading.


Example 9

Example #10

Here is a great voicing for Cmaj7. Experiment with placing these movable shape chords into familiar songs or try them when you are composing. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don't, but what a small price to pay for such a handsome reward. Next time we'll explore more cool movable shape chords.


Example 10



  • Spider IV 120Jazz Clean

    Line 6

    7/1/11 | 2375 Downloads

  • Spider Valve MkII 112Jazz Clean

    Line 6

    6/30/11 | 783 Downloads