As beginner guitarists progress more into the intermediate stage, many discover that there are numerous different ways to finger and fret chords that they already learnt. Although the possibilities are limitless for playing the same chord all over the neck, in today’s guitar lesson we will be looking at 11 different possible fingerings for an open G chord. I can think of no other basic open chord that has as many different possible permutations as the familiar open G chord, and I have seen every one of the 12 possibilities presented in this lesson crop up in songs before. Therefore, I think it’s important to at least be aware of each of these different shapes, as you never know when you might need to use one of them!
Why Are There So Many Different Ways To Play This Chord?
G is short for G major. Any G major chord contains the notes G, B and D, which are the root note, major third and fifth notes of the G major scale respectively. This means that there are a number of possibilities for variations on this same chord, since these three notes can be arranged in any order. To demonstrate this, let’s have a look at the familiar 4 finger open G voicing on guitar:
Below is the same chord shape with each individual note fretted instead of the fingering:
As you can see, from low to high we have the notes G, B, open D, open G, D and G. So, even though this chord voicing utilises all 6 strings, we only have 3 different notes. With that in mind, let’s now take a look at some variations on this shape, starting with this version of a G major chord:
From low to high, this chord voicing contains the notes G, B, open D, open G, open B and G. It sounds slightly different to the 4 finger version of the G chord shown above. I have also seen this chord played with fingers 2, 3 and 4 instead of 1, 2 and 3, so it’s whichever method is easiest for you. Below is a variation on this shape:
This method of playing the G chord involves muting the high E string with your ring finger. To do this, make sure to place the finger in such a position that you feel some of the tip of the finger touching the high E string. From low to high, this gives us a note selection of G, B, open D, open G and D.
It is also possible to play a variation on the above shapes with just 2 fingers, as demonstrated in this diagram:
This is still a G major chord, as we now have notes G, B, open D, open G and B. Again, this method involves muting the high E string. However, this chord voicing will require you to position your first finger in such a way that part of your finger touches the E string in order to successfully mute it.
Another method for a 2 finger G chord is shown below:
This shape requires you to mute the open A string with your second finger. You will need to move your finger just slightly so that you can feel part of it touching the string in order to stop it vibrating. This gives us the notes G, open D, open G, open B and G from low to high.
Did you know it’s possible to play a G chord with just one finger on guitar? Here’s a way to do it:
With the A and high E strings muted, this gives us the notes G, open D, open G and B. Although I have written this chord as being fretted with the 2nd finger, you could actually use whichever finger is convenient for you. To mute the two open strings, ensure that the finger you choose to fret the low E string is touching the A string and that your first finger is close to the neck to mute the high E string.
It is also possible to sound this chord without the use of the 2 low strings on the guitar. Here is the first example using that method:
Even though this chord will sound light and airy, it is still a G chord, as it contains the notes open D, G, B and G. Because the first note played is D, it is written as G/D (G with D in the bass.)
If you’re feeling super lazy, then it is possible to play a G chord on the guitar with just open strings, as shown below:
Despite its minimalist approach, this chord contains D, G and B, which is everything you need to sound a G chord on the guitar. Although it might be more hassle to not play the open E string in this chord voicing, it is still a valid option. As with the previous example, this is written as G/D because the first note sounded in the chord is D.
Open G5 Chord Voicings
Although not technically a full G major chord, the G5 chord can be used as an acceptable substitute for any G chord. G5 chords only contain the notes G & D, the root and fifth note of the G major scale, thus omitting the 3rd from the G major chord. These chord types are also known as “power chords” because of their strong sound. Let’s have a look at some great sounding G5 chord shapes which you can use instead of a G chord:
A rich, full sounding chord containing the notes G, open D, open G, D and G from low to high. Remember to mute the A string with the pad of your middle finger. Here is a variation on the shape shown above:
I’ve found that this chord sounds great with an overdriven sound, as it essentially contains two powerchords stacked together. From low to high, we have G, open D, open G and another D. As with the previous shape, mute the A string with the pad of your middle finger, and use the pad of your ring finger to mute the high E string.
We can shorten the two previous examples to get rid of the bass notes in each chord voicing. Here is a convenient G5/D shape:
From left to right we have the notes open D, open G, D and G. As with previous examples, because D is the first note in this chord, it is referred to as G5/D. You could shorten this chord to an even simpler fingering if you wish:
Using your ring finger to mute the high E string, I find this chord particularly useful to change to from a D chord on the guitar, with a slightly overdriven sound for a great crunch effect.
So there you have it, with 8 different versions of a G major chord and 4 different versions of G5, we have 12 different possibilities for experimentation with your old favourite G major chord. As I mentioned above, I have seen every single one of these chord shapes crop up in various songs over the years, so it’s useful to get familiar with them. You may even find inspiration from one of these voicings to use in your own compositions. Until then, I leave you with a picture of Ed Sheeran playing one of the G5 chords shown above: