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How Music Works - How Em Uses 3 Notes Across 6 Strings

Updated: Nov 24, 2020

Greetings fellow reader you magnificent beast!

Over the years, I've received a lot of the same types of questions from my students.

One of my favorite ones being “Why is an open Em chord made of 3 notes but played on 6 strings?”

I know right? I was so confused by this starting out as a beginner trying to make sense of this whole "playing my guitar" thing.

In a nutshell, it is because the open position E minor chord is made up of three notes and these three notes repeat across all six strings to help thicken out the sound of the chord.

This rule also applies to the rest of your basic open chord shapes. Meaning your C, A, G, E, D as well as Am, Em and Dm open chord shapes are all base on just 3 notes.

Granted, the number of strings you'll use for each different chord shape will vary but nonetheless, every chord shape shown here is made of only three notes.

Let me explain.

Here's an open position E minor chord.

As shown, the notes in an E minor chord are as follows

E - G - B

As shown, you can see that E is the root note (1), G is the minor third (or flat third) (b3) and B is the perfect fifth or (5).

When analyzing the fretboard, you’ll see these three notes repeat throughout the fretboard.

Low E string = Open ( E )

A String = 2nd fret ( B )

D String = 2nd fret ( E )

G String = Open ( G )

B String = Open ( B )

High E String = Open ( E )


I hope this all makes sense so far but to go deeper and hear this concept in action, feel free to check out the accompanying video.

How Music Works - Episode 13 - Why Is an Open Em Chord Only 3 notes?

If you found this to be helpful or have any questions, be sure to leave a comment and let me know.

While you're at it, let me know what you would like to see me talk about in the future pertaining to songwriting and music theory.

Thanks for reading.


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