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Vertical Guitar Shapes

The guitar is a shape-oriented instrument. Once we have learned a fretboard shape or pattern, it can be moved around the neck to different frets and strings. This ability allows us to assimilate musical information much more quickly, develops muscle memory, and assists in improvisation. The only caveat to this process is due to the nature of the tuning system we use. All of the strings are tuned in fourths, except between the 3rd and 2nd, which is a major 3rd.*

This is a blessing and a curse. The tuning arrangement allows for many sounds that could not be achieved otherwise. However, it does make it more challenging to move the shape vertically. If you learn a chord shape, you can slide it horizontally to any fret and have the same sound, only transposed to a new key. However, the same shape when moved vertically across a fret will change to a different type of chord if the movement involves crossing the 3rd and 2nd strings.

For instance, the chord shape achieved by depressing the fifth fret on the 1st-3rd strings creates an Am chord. Moving horizontally two frets higher to the seventh fret, it becomes Bm. It stays a minor chord no matter where you move it. However, that same shape moved vertically to strings 2nd-4th becomes a C major chord. Moving to strings 3rd-5th or 4th-6th changes it to Gsus and Dsus, respectively. This anomaly means some extra time spent learning various shapes, but it can make a lot of chords a lot easier once you know where to put them.

In order to master vertical fretboard movement quickly, I suggest practicing the following shapes across the fifth fret on every possible set of strings, starting with the bass strings and moving toward the treble. You may add more advanced shapes after you learn these basic buildings blocks. Remember the one-fret warp factor: raise the note one fret higher as it crosses to the 2nd string.

These shapes start with the first finger on the 5th fret of the 6th string. All the numbers are the frets, and each string is separated by dashes. Note: With intervals and chords, the notes are to be played simultaneously; with arpeggios and scales, they are to be played consecutively.


two notes, two strings

Perfect 5th: 5-7, 5-7, 5-7, 5-8, 6-8

Perfect 4th: 5-5, 5-5, 5-5, 5-6, 6-6

Major 3rd: 5-4, 5-4, 5-4, 5-5, 6-5

Minor 3rd: 5-3, 5-3, 5-3, 5-4, 6-4

Major 6th: 5-4, 5-4, 5-5, 5-5  (skip a string between notes)

Minor 6th: 5-3, 5-3, 5-4, 5-4  (skip a string)

Tritone: 5-6, 5-6, 5-6, 5-7, 6-7

Octave: 5-7, 5-7, 5-8, 5-8 (skip a string); 8-5, 7-5, 7-5 (skip two strings)


three notes, two strings

Major: 5-47, 5-47, 5-47, 5-58, 6-58; also 59-7, 59-7, 59-7, 59-8, 6 10-8

Minor: 5-37, 5-37, 5-37, 5-48, 6-48; also 58-7, 58-7, 58-7, 58-8, 69-8

four notes, three strings

Major 7th: 5-47-6, 5-47-6, 5-47-7, 5-58-7; also 5-4-26, 5-4-26, 5-4-37, 5-5-37

Dominant 7th: 5-47-5, 5-47-5, 5-47-6, 5-58-6; also 5-4-25, 5-4-25, 5-4-36, 5-5-36

Minor 7th: 5-37-5, 5-37-5, 5-37-6, 5-48-6; also 5-3-25, 5-3-25, 5-3-36, 5-4-36


three notes, three strings

Major: 5-4-2, 5-4-2, 5-4-3, 5-5-3

Minor: 5-3-2, 5-3-2, 5-3-3, 5-4-3


eight notes, three strings

Major: 57-457-467, 57-457-467, 57-457-578, 57-568-578

Minor: 578-578-57, 578-578-57, 578-578-68, 578-689-68

six notes, three strings

Major Pentatonic: 57-47-47, 57-47-47, 57-47-58, 57-58-58

Minor Pentatonic: 58-57-57, 58-57-57, 58-57-68, 58-68-68

*When tuning the guitar, you match the 5th fret, 6th string with the 5th string open and make them sound in unison (same pitch). You do the same for each pair of strings except for the 2nd string, which is tuned at the 3rd string, 4th fret.

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