This page points out some of the problems with using chord dictionaries, explains why it is not possible
to have a single list containing "all guitar chords" or even "all the main guitar chords", and offers a
method (a little applied chord theory!) that allows you to find chord shapes for literally any chord you come across.
Read on to see why most chord lists just don't do the job, or go here to look at my Big List Of Guitar Chords.
Chord dictionaries often suggest just a few different shapes for each chord type. If you get more than three shapes for each type, you are doing pretty well! The trouble is, for most chord types there are lots of different ways of playing that chord - often 10, 20 or 30 shapes, but you'd be lucky to find more than a handful of these. A lot of the more interesting and unusual chord voicings simply won't be listed.
Did you know that there are well over 100 playable shapes for an Em7 chord? Here are just a few of them:
EADGBE EADGBE E A D G B E EADGBE EADGBE 070000 020000 0 10 12 12 0 0 050000 070007 EADGBE EADGBE EADGBE EADGBE EADGBE 055000 050050 055050 070080 020003 EADGBE EADGBE EADGBE EADGBE E A D G B E 020030 070087 070780 022030 0 10 0 9 0 0
A list containing 500 chords may sound like a lot, but it only represents a tiny fraction of all possible guitar chords (and I'm only talking about standard tuning here). Such a list might cover 15 basic chord types (e.g major, minor, 7, m7, maj7, sus4, sus2, aug, dim, 5, 6, m6, 9, m9, 11) in all 12 keys, with 3 shapes for each chord. Not a bad start, but I'm interested in finding as many shapes as possible for each chord type. The more shapes you have to choose from, the more chances you have of finding the chord shape that suits your needs. And 15 chord types doesn't cover a lot of ground ...
A chord list or dictionary should contain at least a couple of thousand shapes to make it worth considering. But even chord lists as big as this are unlikely to be able to offer shapes for any chord you want to look up. If you want to look up chords with altered bass notes (like A/C#, D/F#, G/D etc) most chord dictionaries won't be able to help. There are simply too many possibilities - for every chord type, you would have to include shapes that used every possible bass note (A/Ab, A/G, A/F, A/F, A/E ... etc). The possibilities just multiply out of control: to cover around 30 basic chord types, with 6 shapes for each type, and covering possibilities for altered bass notes you end up needing a database of 20 or 30 thousand chord shapes!
Why not take a look at my Introduction to Guitar Chord Theory and see how easy it is to work out your own chord shapes for any chord name you can think of!
Last updated April 2011
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