Movable Chord Shapes Explanation & Exercises 

Understanding and utilizing movable chord shapes is a must for any well-rounded banjo player. In this lesson you’ll learn the basic concepts behind movable chord shapes and then we’ll put those ideas to work with a few playing exercises.  Any closed chord shape is movable.

A chord is considered closed if no open strings are involved. The first three chords in our chord alphabet are closed chords. 

Notice what happens when we move all of these shapes two frets up the neck:   

Closed shapes will travel up and down the neck by way of the musical alphabet! This time let’s move everything up one more fret:   

Now two more frets:   

You get the idea?  Alright.    

So far we’ve only studied “natural” chords (no sharps or flats in the name). So how do we name the chords we’ve been ignoring?

Easy. Just keep on following the musical alphabet.

As an example, lets look at our A chords again:


If we move these chords up one fret we get: 

Remember all of the notes and chords in between the naturals can be expressed in two different ways. They have two names!

So A# Major, A# Minor, A# Seventh can also be called Bb Major, Bb Minor, Bb Seventh:   

So now you see how these movable shapes can be quite handy. Anyone of them can be moved up and down the neck to iterate any major, minor, or seventh chord that you want to play!    

Now lets focus in on what I call the three “master” shapes:   

You should remember these from Day 2 when I introduced the chord alphabet. By concentrating on only these three shapes you can drastically simplify your movable chord studies.

After gaining proficiency and familiarity with these three major chord shapes, you can easily find your minors and sevenths with just a slight modification or two. More on that later.

For now, let’s get our brains and our fingers working with a few exercises:

Movable Shape Study #1
Movable Shape Study #2
Movable Shape Study #3 

Your Assignment for the Day Spend about ten minutes moving various closed chord shapes up and down the neck while naming the new chords that result.

Don’t just stick to the natural chords.
Make sure to name some sharp and flat chords, too. Spend twenty minutes with the movable shape studies. As always, if you get through them in less than twenty minutes start over at the beginning.

*note: When playing through the movable chord studies, use the back of your finger to strum these chords. Avoid using your thumb.   Tomorrow we’ll expand our movable chord studies by studying partial chords and chord clusters.

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