As a beginning guitarist, you may run across confusing little chord symbols that you don’t know how to play yet. In this article I’ll show you how to read those symbols and give you simple fingerings for some of the most common extended chords.
So, you’re staring down a F#m7(#11) chord and don’t know what to do with it. First off, remember that chord symbols and any other kind of notation are simply instructions on how to play the music. You’re learning how to read this stuff a little at a time, just like you learned how to read a book in second grade. Go one step at a time and you’ll become adept at it very quickly.
All chord symbols follow this format: Root – Quality – Extensions
The first thing you’ll see is a letter that acts as the root note for the chord. It will be one of the regular 12 musical notes we have.
The next thing you might see is a quality marking. If there is a little “m” there, it means “minor”. If there is no “m”, then the chord is major. You may also see “dim”, which means “diminished” or “aug” which means augmented.
Gm = G minor
G = G major
Gdim = G diminished
Gaug = G augmented
Finally, you’ll see one or more extensions to the chord. This will be a number, most commonly 6,7,9,11,or 13. These numbers denote and interval above the root note. In other words, if you need a 9th above G, simply start on G and count up 9 notes. You’ll get to A. Make sure to count your root note as “1”.
Let me address 7ths by themselves first. In a chord symbol a 7 by itself means a minor 7th. The other option is “maj7″ which, obviously, is a major 7th. If your root is G, then you minor 7th is F and your major 7th is F#. An easy way to remember is your major 7th is a half step below the root, the minor 7th is a whole step below.
G7 = G major, minor 7th
Gm7 = G minor, minor 7th
Gm(maj 7) = G minor, major 7th
Gmaj7 = G major, major 7th
The other extensions – 6,9,11,and 13 will be the note that naturally occurs in the scale according to the key signature.
Example – Key of G Major
6 = E
9 = A
11 – C
13 – E
Example – Key of E Major (which has 4 sharps in the key signature)
6 = C#
9 = F#
11 = A
13 – C#
You’ll notice that 6 and 13 are the same. A chord that includes the 7th, will use 9,11,13. If there is no 7th in the chord, then it will use 6 (and sometimes 2 and 4).
In addition to the regular extension note, as in a chord like Dm9, you’ll sometimes see additional extension notes inside parentheses. As in our example of F#m7(b13#11) from the beginning. That is an additional note added on to the chord and sometimes modified with a sharp or flat.
Let’s pull apart this example of F#m7(#11) and figure out the notes as we go:
F# – root note – F#
m – quality of the F# triad (regular 3 note chord) – F# A C#
7 – adds a minor 7th – F# A C# E – remember the minor 7th is a whole step below the root
#11 – adds a sharp 11th – F# A C# E B#
It’s also common to see this chord written as F#m7(b5)
A simple fingering for this chord is
You’ll notice the C# was left out of that voicing. In extended fingerings the 5th is often left out.
Here are some easy fingerings for other common extended chords you’ll find. Though I’m giving you a fingering with a specific root, these are all moveable chords, just like your regular barre chords.
C9 – root note on the 5th string
C6 – root on 6th string
C13 – root on 1st string
C7b9 – root on 5th
Remember that your chord symbol is a set of directions to play the chord. Take it one element at a time and you’ll be able to construct any chord you need. Good luck!