How to Play Chord Progressions with Open Chords on the Guitar

You can track chord progressions in the open position on the guitar, although doing so takes some extra work and requires that you identify the actual note name of each chord. To play in the key of G using common open chords, visualize the 6th string chord pattern starting on G at the 3rd fret (Figure 6-2) and replace each barre chord with an open chord. Here’s how:

  1. Visualize the 1st barre chord, the I chord (G), but play an open G chord instead.

  2. Visualize the 2nd chord, the ii chord (Am), but play an open Am instead.

  3. Because there’s no open chord iii (Bm), play Bm at the 2nd fret of the 5th string close to the open position instead.

  4. Use common open chords to play chords IV, V, and vi (C, D, and Em).

  5. Play through all the chords forward and backward, calling out the numbers as you go.

Follow along with your eye using the 6th string chord pattern even though you’re not using its barre chords.

You can see an example in Playing by Number in the Open Position.

After you get the hang of playing like this in G, you can move the chord pattern and use open chords in other keys like F and A. When you do this, play open chords when you can and use the barre chords to fill in the rest, staying as close to the open position as possible.

For example, in the key of F, you can play the Am, C, and Dm as open chords, but you have to use the barre chords to play the rest. In the key of A, you can play A, D, and E as open chords, Bm and Csm at the 2nd and 4th frets of the 5th string, and Fsm at the 2nd fret of the 6th string.

Do the same thing with the 5th string chord pattern starting in the key of C. In C, you can play all the chords as open chords except for F, which guitarists usually play as a partial barre chord when it’s paired with open chords. Move the chord pattern and use open chords in other keys; just remember to stay as close to the open position as possible.

After you get the hang of playing in the open position, you can revisit any of the song lists in this chapter and try working out the progressions using open chords. When you do, call out the numbers as you go so that in time you know your way around the open position by number as well as you do the barre chord patterns.

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