8xx88x. The guitar chord shape, not the smiley.
June 8, 2012 5:05 AM   Subscribe

[GuitarFilter] Please help me name that chord shape!

Hey, guitar-knowledgeable people!

There's a specific chord shape I'm seeing in many songs I like, and I'd like to be able to name it correctly. Only thing is, when I use online chord namers or such, they usually blurt out some add12 and sus4 one after the other, which make little sense to me and are a mouthful, really.

Would you be able to help me out?

The shape is basically the one at the very start of Paranoid Android by Radiohead:


I've also seen it other positions:


There are sometimes some subtle variation, such as 200230 -- well, subtle for my newbie fingers, but might give the chord an entirely different for what I know :)

Thank you for your wisdom.
posted by XiBe to Media & Arts (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
That's a stripped down C minor, no?
posted by Admiral Haddock at 5:27 AM on June 8, 2012

I've never seen chord 'shapes' being named, I'm not sure I understand what you're asking for. Your examples *are* different chords although they look like the same shape.

So as an example, you can play the top 3 strings of D major using XXX232. If you slide up two frets and play XXX454 you're still playing that kinda triangular D major shape but you're now actually playing a version of E major. So is XXX454 a version of D major or is XXX232 a version of A major?
posted by nofunnyname at 5:33 AM on June 8, 2012

/edit bah, I meant to end that ".... a version of E major"
posted by nofunnyname at 5:34 AM on June 8, 2012

8xx88x is just a Cm. You can slide it all up and down the neck and you'll get these little minor chords.

The others are a different case, and probably depend upon context. 200220 I might read as F#m7add6? Or maybe D dominant 7 add9/F#?

Regardless, I wouldn't say it has a "name," although it's a form of the Em barre chord shape.
posted by uncleozzy at 5:35 AM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

uncleozzy - I think OP is referring to strings in the order EADGBE but you're looking at them the other way round? Tab for Paranoid Android
posted by nofunnyname at 5:43 AM on June 8, 2012

Are the unfretted strings "x" or "0"?
posted by John Cohen at 5:54 AM on June 8, 2012

"x" means to deaden that string.
"0" means to play it open.
posted by gatsby died at 6:08 AM on June 8, 2012

I'm asking the OP which way the chords are supposed to be played. The post makes it sound like these are all different positions of the same chord, but they're not.
posted by John Cohen at 6:12 AM on June 8, 2012

uncleozzy - I think OP is referring to strings in the order EADGBE but you're looking at them the other way round

No, that's the Em shape. There's a root on the low E string, then you've got your m3 on the G and a 5th on the B. (Although I can see the confusion.)
posted by uncleozzy at 6:14 AM on June 8, 2012

Yes, uncleozzy is right about the 8xx88x.
posted by John Cohen at 6:33 AM on June 8, 2012

Agree that the 8xx88x "shape" is a minor chord, with the root note of the chord on the low E string (in this example, the 8th fret is on the low string is C, so this is a C minor chord). Adding in the open strings (a la 800880) definitely yields more complex chords with complicated names (the sus4, add-whatevers that you refer to). Something that is kind of tedious but has really paid dividends for me is learning the letter names of all the different notes on different frets/different strings on the guitar - definitely helps with naming funny chords that my fingers find their way to sometimes!
posted by gorbichov at 6:37 AM on June 8, 2012

Well, when we want to take shortcuts to learn the guitar, we learn shapes and call them something. "Use an Em shape here and you get this cool sound!" Or, "Use your Am shape barre chord and you get this cool sound!" "You only need to learn three (or four) shapes and you can play ANY chord!!!"

But the really cool thing is that professional musicians are slightly more advanced, so they break away from "shapes" and the CAGED system.

So, when you get to chords like the OP presented, you need to get away from thinking about "shapes" and actually learn what the heck the chord actually is if you want to know the answer.

A simpler example I like to use is Paul Simon's "Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard." Sure, you can play the entire song using open chords (with one exception) based on the shapes of the CAGED system, but that isn't really how Simon played the song, especially in the opening: He used the same chord names, but much further up the neck, resulting in a re-voicing of the open chord versions of the same chord. It makes things much more interesting. Do those chords up the neck have "shape" names? No, I do not believe so.

they usually blurt out some add12 and sus4 one after the other, which make little sense to me and are a mouthful, really.

No offense intended, but these "add12" and "sus4" things are extremely important. Maybe the next step is to take an online theory class and start to make sense out of them. You will enjoy chord playing much, much more that way. I promise.
posted by TinWhistle at 6:37 AM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yes, uncleozzy is right about the 8xx88x.

Yes, I see now.

I'm seconding the suggestions of learning this stuff. All music/chord theory that I know is self-taught (and I'm clearly still learning!), but I find it invaluable to my playing/composing when I learn something new.
posted by nofunnyname at 6:54 AM on June 8, 2012

Everyone is correct that the chord changes bases on where on the neck you play the shape you describe. So that shape cannot logically carry the name of a single chord.

If you play your shape sloppily and mute all the open strings then the three strings you are actually fretting are essentially a minor triad: root, minor third, 5th. But if you play the open strings with the fretted strings, that's where things can change because then the notes you're fretting are defined in the context of their relationships to all the other notes in the rest of chord. As you move the shape up and down the neck, those relationships change, so the chord names and the fretted strings' positions in the chord change.

If you hear someone say "the D shape" or "the E shape" they most likely mean the shape of the standard fingerings for those chords in the first position on the neck. But as nofunnyname pointed out, if you play "the D shape" somewhere else on the neck, you are not necessarily playing a D chord at all. The shape name is an easy reference, but giving it the name of a chord is essentially meaningless beyond the fact that it references the shape of a first position chord that every guitarist knows. It's basically shorthand for people who don't know any better.

Since your shape doesn't relate to a standard first position chord shape, I suggest naming it "Sloppy Minor (Conditional)."
posted by Balonious Assault at 7:09 AM on June 8, 2012

I just realized where you might have gotten 200220. The second chord in Radiohead's "Fake Plastic Trees"?

It's basically F# minor, but the notes on the D and high E strings are oddly dissonant. The above comments are right about how it could help to learn music theory and complex chord names. However, for purposes of understanding the occasional weird chord in a Radiohead song (for instance), that isn't really necessary. Thom Yorke might not even know what to call the chord. He was probably playing the open A chord that begins the song, then wanted to play F# minor. But he didn't want to play a standard F# minor because it would sound too conventional and obvious, so he probably experimented with leaving most of the A chord in place while fretting the low E string at 2 to create F# minor, and he hit on something that sounds good and fits with the lazy feel of the song.

Guitarists often allow themselves to play some open strings that wouldn't seem to make sense with the rest of the chord. It can give a nice feel to a guitar part. It isn't always worth analyzing in traditional music-theory terms.
posted by John Cohen at 7:10 AM on June 8, 2012

I would call this "shape" a variation or short form of a minor or minor 7 with the root on the low E.

the long form of Am7 would be:


or Am:


I second Balonious Assault on this, describing chord shapes is not an effective way to communicate which chord you are playing. This is true even with barre chords. Rather than describing a chord as "an E barred on the 5th fret" you should call it an A.
posted by unreasonable at 7:19 AM on June 8, 2012

It's basically F# minor, but the notes on the D and high E strings are oddly dissonant.

I read it as D9/F#, which makes sense in terms of functional harmony...
posted by monkey closet at 7:36 AM on June 8, 2012

I read it as D9/F#, which makes sense in terms of functional harmony...

You mean D major 9/F#. Good point.
posted by John Cohen at 7:42 AM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

As a lifelong musician but beginning guitarist, saying to myself 'D shape' or 'C shape' doesn't do anything but help me, if I'm trying to play chords up the neck a bit. I don't find it confusing to say something like 'To play this Ab chord up the neck, you slap a D shape on the 7th fret.' (Not meant to be an actual example.)

To the OP, you're thinking productively to have recognized a recurring chord shape that you weren't familiar with, but as you keep learning more and more diverse ways to create chords trying to have names for all of them will get less practical.

More important is to remember the physical position and associate it with the sonic character of the chord it makes.
posted by TheRedArmy at 10:35 AM on June 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

To summarize: some of the very most common chord shapes have names. There are way more possible chord shapes than there are names, though, and you'll run into plenty of them that don't have names. This is one of the unnamed ones.
posted by nebulawindphone at 5:35 PM on June 8, 2012

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