A Shape Chords (Guitar Lesson)

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Jim Deeming

A Shape Chords

Jim covers all possible fingering options pertaining to the basic open A chord shape.

Taught by Jim Deeming in Basic Guitar with Jim seriesLength: 17:42Difficulty: 2.5 of 5
Chapter 1: (00:54) Intro Music

Jim Deeming plays an arrangement of “Me and Bobby McGee” to start off the lesson. Many of you may be familiar with Johnny Cash’s rendition of this song. Jim’s arrangement of the tune is in the key of A major.

Many Jamplay members have voiced their difficulties with “A shape” chords. In this lesson, Jim presents several different chord shapes that can be used to play an A chord. He also demonstrates how the basic “open” A chord shape translates into a moveable barre chord.

Chapter 2: (09:07) Playing the A Shape Barre Chord

There are several different ways to play an A chord. The first A chord that every student should learn is referred to as the “open” A chord. A chord shape is referred to as “open” when it contains one or more open strings. There are three different ways to finger the basic A chord.

Option 1

The most common fingering of the A chord is demonstrated first. Here is a string-by-string breakdown of the left-hand fingering:

6th string: not played
5th string: open
4th string: 2nd fret, 1st finger
3rd string: 2nd fret, 2nd finger
2nd string: 2nd fret, 3rd finger
1st string: open

Notice how fingers 1, 2, and 3 are stacked on top of each other.

Note: For a fretboard diagram of this chord, click on the fourth chord from the top under the “Suplemental Content” tab.

This fingering is typically taught first, because it is easiest for most beginning guitarists to master. However, this is not always the best fingering to use. Some guitarists simply have bigger hands than others do. If you have spent significant time trying to master this fingering of the A chord with no success, it might be time to move on to another fingering option.

Option 2

Many guitarists with large hands prefer to play the open A shape a different way. Guitarists with large hands have difficulty with smashing three fingers into the space of one fret. Jim demonstrates a fingering for this chord that clears up this problem. The pinky finger is much smaller than the first finger. For this reason, the first finger is pulled from the chord fingering, and the pinky is added. Here is the appropriate fingering for the chord:

6th string: not played
5th string: open
4th string: 2nd fret, 2nd finger
3rd string: 2nd fret, 3rd finger
2nd string: 2nd fret, 4th finger
1st string: open

Notice how the left-hand fingers are still stacked on top of each other. As Jim mentions, this is a difficult fingering to use when adding additional melody notes to a chord.

Option 3

When playing an A chord, many players prefer to barre all the notes at the second fret with the first finger. This frees up the other three fingers to play a melody in conjunction with the chord. This particular fingering may be difficult for beginners who have not yet learned any barre chords.

Option 4

Note: Open the second A chord option under the “Supplemental Content” tab for a fretboard diagram of this chord.

Many guitarists prefer to use the third fingering option for the A chord. (Jamplay instructor Matt Brown uses this fingering exclusively for open A.) This shape provides many immediate advantages. Since each finger is not stacked in a line, it is much easier to fit three fingers into one fret. Take a look at the picture of this chord being fretted in Supplemental Content. The third finger is directly below the second finger. This saves some essential space.

It is much easier to switch to different chords when this fingering is applied. In the key of A, the primary chords are A, D, and E. When switching from A to D for example, the first finger does not need to move at all. If you use option 1 or 2 to finger the A chord, you will need to completely reposition your fingers to play D. Also, it is much easier to switch from A to E and vice versa. The first finger only needs to slide down one fret to set up for the E chord.

Although this fingering looks quite awkward, it is actually quite comfortable to play.

Chapter 3: (07:45) More Ways to Play the A Shape

Jim demonstrates a few different ways to play the “A shape” barre chord in this scene. All barre chords are moveable chord shapes. This means that the shape can be transposed anywhere on the fretboard. The root of this moveable chord shape is found on the fifth string. The first finger frets this note. The fifth string root indicates the name of the chord. For example, if you play a barre chord with a root note at the 1st fret, the name of the chord is Bb.

Option 1

Begin with the second option for the open A chord. This is the basis for the first A barre chord option. The open A chord contains two open strings: A and high E. When this chord shape is translated into a barre chord, the first finger is added to the fingering to fret these two notes. Here is a string-by-string fingering of a C chord at the third fret:

6th string: not played 5th string: 3rd fret, 1st finger
4th string: 5th fret, 2nd finger
3rd string: 5th fret, 3rd finger
2nd string: 5th fret, 4th finger
1st string: 3rd fret, 1st finger

As you have noticed, this fingering is nearly impossible to play. It is even more difficult to switch to this shape from another chord.

Option 2

It is much easier to play the A shape of the barre chord using an alternate fingering. Instead of cramming three fingers into one fret, use a barre with the third finger to fret the notes on the D, G, and B strings. This fingering is quite difficult as well, but it is much easier to play than the previous option. Notice how the third finger must slightly arch to avoid muting the high E string. Due to the shape of some peoples’ hands, this is simply not possible. Many players choose to ignore the note on the first string and mute it with the third finger. This is perfectly acceptable when playing this barre chord shape.

Note: Open the “Supplemental Content” tab for a fretboard diagram of this chord shape.

If you have any questions or problems with this lesson, feel free to email the Jamplay staff.

Video Subtitles / Captions


Member Comments about this Lesson

Discussions with our instructors are just one of the many benefits of becoming a member of JamPlay.

charliebrown3393charliebrown3393 replied

when you show a chord, could you put an x or o to show if that string is played or not

LSCalgaryLSCalgary replied

Thanks Jim! Awesome lessons!

wnanningwnanning replied

The third option Jim is showing makes the transition from E to A very easy, just slide the index finger from E from fret 1 to fret 2 and and bring your middle and ring finger in position and your good to go...

Sleuth86Sleuth86 replied

Like a few of you who posted comments here, I also find barre cords to be difficult to do especially in the 1st fret position. What Steve Eulberg suggested in one of his lessons was to move your finger up on the guitar (towards yourself) so that you are using more of the base of the finger rather than the tip. This works for me and lets me play all 6 strings without having that 2nd string (like Jim said) mute out on me. Loving the lessons, great job Jim!

ironwood1ironwood1 replied

I also have fat fingers, but have success in barring 2-2-2 to play a full A.

tcdelltcdell replied

This is very frustrating and discouraging. My index finger cannot properly barre all the strings. I find that with no additional fingers pressing, all strings are not pressed against the fret causing it to hum, buzz or whatever. Secondly, my 2-3-4 fingers then do not want to distance themselves far enough to skip a fret and go to the next one down. Unfortunately, with this type of learning the instructor is not here to see me and offer advice. Blech!

ramon90003ramon90003 replied

I dont understand, if I make a barre chord on the first fret and make an A shape on the third fret is that a A chord or a B flat? and if I hold this same shape with my index finger as the barre and skiping a fret and making a A shape going all the way down are all those A chords or other chords like B flat?

mpaynempayne replied

I am really enjoying this. I've played bar cords before but this particular shape is more difficult for me for some reason. Really enjoying all the lessons thus far. Thanks! I am really progressing.

blueshadow501blueshadow501 replied

I used to be able to bar chord and I used the one finger to press the 3 strings down, it's still easier for me to do this and I am trying the other ways but I haven't played in 8 years, not after I cut the tendons and ligaments in my thumb with a grinder at work, I quit because my thumb would go numb, now I wish I hadn't. I am enjoying the course, there is so much to learn and relearn. I may have to come up with different ideas on bar chords, not sure, it is getting better

larsmohrnielsenlarsmohrnielsen replied

Do You reccomend any stretch and strenght exercices just can´t get the barre chords working :(

jarls1jarls1 replied

This is such a fantastic lesson and so casually given. You've made a number of confusing topics seem easy and reduced a lot of tension. Great stuff. Thanks Jim!

kibosankibosan replied

Hi Jim, great lesson. As Ryan was saying he is using his ring finger to plae the three notes of the a shape chord. I have also found that to be easier for me. The question is ... playing the chord in that manner... will that sill allow us to pick/play as you did in your intro?

jodyzupancicjodyzupancic replied

i find the two finger A shape barre to be extremely difficult. i run into problems while playing it because i mute the high E with my 3rd finger and can't press down hard enough to allow strings 3 4 5 to ring clearly.

slvrwolfslvrwolf replied

I'm running into some issues with the barre chords, as I'm sure many people do. To be honest about the issue, I have some fat fingers and I'm not able to get a lot of strength on the barre with the index finger while shaping the others into the A Shape. Also, this may stem from part of the problem being how I learned my initial fingering for the Open A Major, which was having the Index Finger on the 4th string, the ring finger on the 3rd string and the middle finger on the second string. I didn't see you cover that arrangement... In any case, I'm definitely having issues with this, and while I have been practicing, I still can't get the barre down. I had a similar issue with the Barre F Chord.

mclovinmclovin replied

how do u find the melodi note for the chords? btw great lessons :D

patrpatr replied

lesson 11 on a chord fingering-i bar 4th and 3rd string with middle finger and 2nd with 2nd finger--do u c any dis advantages with this method

floorshakerfloorshaker replied

Hi Jim. I love the way that you experiment with new chord shapes and although I am used to the usual G-chord shape (fooled around with the guitar in my youth) have persevered with your alternative because I understand the advantages when tackling melody lines in bluegrass. Even better, playing around with this new A-chord shape has now given me what Steve Eulberg would call an `A-Ha' moment, because while playing the alternative A chord I realised that you can just slide down to E with the index finger and then you only have to move the second and third fingers retaining their shape. This pays dividends when you get into the Blues Shuffle and stuff. Thanks Jim. Chris

u2boyu2boy replied

Do you play strum the first string (high E) when playing an A shaped barre chord? How about the (low E) 6th string?

jboothjbooth replied

When playing the A shaped chord you do not strum the low E string. You could, as technically it's part of the chord, but it's better to have the 5th string (root note of chord) being the first note you strum. Generally people only strum 5 strings. For the A shape barre chord you do generally always strum the high E.

ryanj34ryanj34 replied

Jim, I learned A major with the index tucked in the middle and this is now my strongest A. I also learned to play the power chord version of the slideable A shaped long ago and have practiced this for many years. You touched on this in chap 3. I can hold the 2nd 3rd and 4th string and allow the 1st to ring open by arching my ring finger. The three finger version of this barre is a killer for me. The three fingers won't fit and sit due to the my hand being unable to stretch between index and middle fingers (to span the middle, unplayed fret). I guess this is something I will have to practice a while in order to develop strength. In order for me to learn to play finger style well, Is this three finger A-shape a mandatory learn?. If so is there a specific exercise that will help my hand open up to hold the barre with the index while stretching my middle finger (plus ring and pinky) over to the third fret.? The middle finger works pretty good if I keep it in the 2nd fret.

frisafrisa replied

i bar the chords with my third finger finding it easier the three fingers gives me trouble should i cntinue to play it my way

Jim.DeemingJim.Deeming replied

I'm not sure what you mean by barre the chord with your third finger. The first finger does the barre, and you can use the third finger to play the three notes of the A-shaped chord in front of the barre... that's fine.

aaroncharaaronchar replied

So when you move your barre chords its no longer an A chord right? It's just the A shape. The song"you're the world to me' by david gray uses a capo on the fifth fret, you play an f chord then a c chordetc. those are not an f and a c chord just the shapes is this correct, Im getting a bit confused. The only way they would be an f then a c chord would be if I put the capo on the 12th fret?

jboothjbooth replied

Indeed, each fret you move up changes the chord by a half step. So for instance if you were making an "A" chord with the A shape, moving up 1 fret would make it an A#, 2 frets a B, 3 frets a C, etc. The chord is named depending on either the 6th or 5th string, depending on how many of the strings the regular open chord uses. For instance the naming note of the A and C shapes is on the 5th fret, and the E shape is on the 6th.

Basic Guitar with Jim

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Fingerstyle master Jim Deeming teaches you the basics of guitar playing. With over 30 years of experience teaching and playing, Jim will definitely start you in the right direction. This is a great series for beginners and guitarists looking to refresh their knowledge.

Introduction LessonLesson 1

Introduction Lesson

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Choosing a GuitarLesson 2

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Jim introduces proper playing technique. Then, he explains how to play your first chord.

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Learning More ChordsLesson 6

Learning More Chords

Jim teaches you the 3 primary chords in G major. He also explains how chords relate to specific keys. A great lesson!

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Right Hand RevisitedLesson 7

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Jim discusses a plethora of right hand techniques that are essential to guitar playing.

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New Chords and KeysLesson 8

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This lesson provides additional information about chords and keys.

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Let's PlayLesson 9

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Alternating Bass and ChordsLesson 10

Alternating Bass and Chords

Jim teaches you a few more commonly used chords. Then, he discusses a technique known as the alternating bass line.

Length: 40:54 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
A Shape ChordsLesson 11

A Shape Chords

Jim covers all possible fingering options pertaining to the basic open A chord shape.

Length: 17:42 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Basic Guitar CheckupLesson 12

Basic Guitar Checkup

Jim talks about the future of his Phase 1 guitar series and where to go from here.

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Notes, Scales and TheoryLesson 13

Notes, Scales and Theory

Jim delves into basic music theory. He starts from square one in this lesson.

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Chord FiestaLesson 14

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Jim Deeming invites you to a veritable chord fiesta. He demonstrates common dominant and minor chord shapes.

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Movable ChordsLesson 15

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This lesson is all about movable chords. Learn the importance of barre chords and other movable shapes.

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Proper PracticingLesson 16

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The Pinky AnchorLesson 17

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Many guitarists use their pinky as an anchor. Jim explains the pros and cons of this technique.

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Let's Play: "Red River Valley"

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Jim Deeming

About Jim Deeming View Full Biography Jim Deeming got his first guitar when he was only six years old. His Dad was taking fingerpicking lessons, and Jim wanted to be just like him. The Mel Bay books didn't last very long before he strapped on a thumb pick and added the Chet part to Red River Valley so it sounded better.

Most of Jim's early learning was by ear. With unlimited access to his Dad's collection of Chet Atkins albums, he spent countless hours decoding his favorite songs. They were never "right" until they sounded just like Chet. Around the age of 12, Jim heard Jerry Reed for the first time and just knew he had to be able to make that "Alabama Wild Man" sound. The styles of Chet & Jerry always have been a big influence on his playing.

More recently he has pursued arrangements by Tommy Emmanuel and Doyle Dykes, in addition to creating some of his own and writing originals.

Jim has performed in front of a variety of audiences, including concerts, competitions, weddings and the like, but playing at church has always been a mainstay. Whether playing in worship bands or guitar solos, gospel music is deep in his roots and is also the driving theme behind his debut CD release, titled "First Fruits".

Jim has been playing for about 38 years. He also has taught private lessons in the past but believes JamPlay.com is an exciting and better venue with many advantages over the traditional method of weekly 30 minute sessions.

Jim lives in Berthoud, Colorado with his wife, Linda, and their four children. Although he still has a "day job", he is actively performing and is already back in the studio working on the next CD. If you wonder how he finds time, look no further than the back seat of his truck where he keeps a "travel guitar" to take advantage of any practice or song-writing opportunities he can get.

The opening song you hear in Jim's introductory JamPlay video is called, "A Pick In My Pocket". It's an original tune, written in memory of Jim's father who told him early on he should always keep a pick in his pocket in case he ever met Chet Atkins and got the chance to play for him. That song is slated to be the title track for his next CD, which will feature several more originals plus some of his favorite covers of Chet and Jerry arrangements.

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