When it comes to guitar chords with virtually countless numbers of voicings and combinations, E minor 7 (E, G, B, D) fits the bill better than any other. All told, there are more than 30 subtle variations of this chord, and nearly a dozen that you can play in open position alone.
That much variation might feel intimidating at first, but it's a net positive for you as a player, since E minor 7 is a frequently used chord across many musical genres, and you'll be seeing so much of it that having multiple ways to play will almost certainly come in handy.
While we won't be showing you every single permutation today, we will be showing you plenty of options -- those we feel are the most useful and a good mix of easy-to-learn and challenging-to-play voicings you'll have fun adding to your repertoire. Here's what you'll need to know.
Among the many ways you can play E minor 7, you'll likely find these three versions of the common, open position voicing to be the most useful, so we'll start with those:
These three voicings are very similar, and you should find them all easy to play, since you won't have to stretch your fingers very far or mute any strings to play them. Listen closely, though, and you'll hear that each has a slightly different sound. They're all Em7, mind you, but the specific notes are such that you can vary your sound by just adding or subtracting a single finger, making them rather useful and versatile when you're playing in open position.
These aren't the only open position voicings you can make use of, however, so if you're looking for something a bit trickier to play while you're here, you can try this challenging Em7 variant:
Again, there's no muting you'll have to worry about here, but some guitarists, particularly those with smaller hands, might find spanning these kinds of distances to be a difficult prospect. Don't get discouraged when you're learning; as you develop a bit more dexterity and strengthen your pinky, you'll find this E minor 7 voicing will be well within your reach.
If you're finding this chord still isn't testing your ability to pull off tricky fingering patterns, though, there's an even more awkward variation you can try that will also net you a pretty unique sound:
The difficulty here is in getting your 4th finger up to the 5th fret, while simultaneously keeping your 2nd finger on the 1st string and moving your pinky over to the 2nd string. It might feel uncomfortable moving your fingers into this position at first, but if you can execute this voicing without any hiccups, you'll know you're on the right track when it comes to exercising your fretting hand. You might also notice that this open position Em7 chord has a higher-pitched sound than the others you've learned thus far.
There's one more open position variation you'll want to check out, especially if you're already digging those higher-pitched notes. Thankfully, it's much easier to play:
And before we forget, there's also the so-called "easy way" to play Em7, if you want to play the chord but aren't quite ready to start learning the more complex voicings:
It's not glamorous, but it'll get the job done, and you might even find the deep sounds of all those open strings appealing.
Regardless, all those open position voicings should be more than enough to get you started, but what if you wanted to play E minor 7 as a barre chord instead? For that, you have several options, starting on the 5th fret:
It's not your typical barre chord shape, so you might be surprised by the sound at first. It's definitely Em7, though, and you'll find this voicing fits well into hard-hitting funk songs and upbeat pop tunes alike, so don't gloss over it.
As for our next barre chord options, you'll find two more on the 7th fret, with just one note that differentiates them:
Which to use? The choice is yours, but you'll probably find the first version of the 7th-fret E minor 7 barre chord a bit easier to play, since you don't have to stretch your pinky up to the 10th fret. All you intermediate and advanced players, however, won't find either voicing to be too challenging, and you'll find that alternating between the two in various ways will provide plenty of color for your frenetic funk playing. For example, you can start with the first 7th-fret barre voicing, then play with your pinky on the 1st string/9th fret to "step" up to the second barre voicing, a la Soul Power by James Brown.
Before we get too deep into our funk lesson, though, let's not forget about the final set of Em7 barre chords you'll need in your arsenal, on the 12th fret:
You won't have any crazy finger stretches to grapple with when playing these 12th-fret barre chords; the difficulty, however, comes with trying to fit your fingers so closely together on the narrow frets this high on the guitar neck. Accuracy and precision are key when playing these voicings, so pay close attention to what you're doing to ensure a clean sound.
Remember when we mentioned there are countless ways to play the Em7 chord? There are still plenty of non-barre alternatives for playing this chord you might find useful, and while we can cover them all today, we can highlight a few prominent options you might be interested in practicing, starting back on the 5th fret:
If you find yourself having trouble using your 3rd finger to reach up to the 7th fret while playing this chord, don't hesitate to substitute your 4th finger instead.
While you're working on improving your ability to stretch out your ring finger so you can play the voicing as written, you can also try conquering another challenging E minor 7 voicing at the 7th fret:
Wrist positioning will come in handy here. Make sure to approach from a low angle, with your hand almost perpendicular to the back of the guitar neck, so that you can reach your fingers around and into position with less difficulty.
Lastly, you can relax with this easy variation of Em7, on the 9th fret:
No tricks here; this voicing should be easy to play and give you a quick solution for playing the Em7 chord high on the fretboard.
There you have it -- more ways to play E minor 7 than you can shake a stick at. This is a lot to memorize, so remember to take things slow, and ensure you have each down pat before moving onto the next. Watch your technique, don't get discouraged if there's a voicing you can't play right away, and, as always, good luck, and happy practicing!
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