Four Very Useful Chord Shapes To Make Your Guitar Playing Sound Richer: D-String Root and 2nd Inversion Drop 2 Chords

Add these chord shapes to your chord vocabulary to get more variation into your chord playing, so you and your listeners never get bored when you play guitar!

This article is for you if you meet these requirements:

  • You have a good grasp of basic open chord shapes

  • You have a good grasp of E-based and A-based bar chords

  • You like music which contains major 7th chords (such as pop, soul, funk, jazz, some blues, some rock, alt-rock, jazz-rock, fusion, country and alt-country)

  • When you play songs with major 7th chords, you are not always satisfied that the chord shapes you are playing work well in the context of the song.

  • You are eager to learn more chord shapes to be able to get a wider range of textures from your guitar when playing chords

  • You would love to be able to play chord-melody (when you play the melody AND the chords of the song at the same time)

In this article we will look at 4 chord shapes which use only the first 4 strings of the guitar, the E, B, G and D strings. This is called “string set 4321”.

Here are the 4 shapes we will look at:

The first two, Amaj7 and A7, are 2nd inversion chords, which means the 5th

note of the chord is in the bass. If this means nothing to you – don’t worry, it’s not that important! Guitarists rarely use the term “inversion” when talking about chord shapes, it’s more of a piano players term. The second two chords are root position chords.

These chords are also called “Drop 2” chords, which means the 2nd note in the chord (note – NOT the 2nd note of the scale!) is “dropped”. “Dropped” in this case actually means raised. Confusing, I know – it took me a while to get my head around it, so if it doesn’t make sense yet, it will. Here is a tab to show you what I mean:

If you play Dmaj7 as a close position Root 3rd 5th 7th chord, it would look like this:

—–

–2–

–2–

–4–

–5–

—–

then if you “drop” the 2nd note, which is the F# on the D string, you get:

—–

–7–

–6–

–7–

–5–

—–

which is a common voicing for Dmaj7 on guitar. The F# on the D string “dropped” which means it jumped up an octave to the 7th fret on the B string. The A which was on the G string moved to the 7th fret D string and the C# on the B string moved to the 6th fret G string – and that’s why it’s called a Drop 2 chord. Dumb, I know, but there you have it J

Again, knowing it’s called a Drop 2 chord is not very important. Most of the time the chord will just be referred to as an Amaj7 on string set 4321. But if you hear people talking about “Drop 2”, now you know what it means!

These 4 shapes can be moved up and down the fretboard to make any chords you want. For example, if you slide the Amaj7 shape up 1 fret, it becomes A#maj7 or Bbmaj7. As a side note – these are 2 different names for the same chord. It is called Bbmaj7 WAY more often than A#maj7. If you’re wondering why that is, it is just because there are way more sharps in the key of A# than there are flats in the key of Bb, so it looks a lot easier to read if written in Bb! If you aren’t reading notation then it won’t make much difference to you. But you don’t want to mix sharps and flats so follow the rules as if you WERE reading the notation!

Sometimes, these type of shapes may look unfamiliar to you, but actually you will most likely recognize them if you move them down to the open position like so:

In these chord shapes, the 5th and 6th string is not played. It is very easy to play Gmaj7 or G7 like this, as you only need one finger. They sound good as well – don’t worry about leaving out the 5th and 6th strings! Those notes (G and B) are already in the chord (on the 3rd and 2nd open strings) so nothing is getting left out.

If you move the Gmaj7 shape two frets up the fretboard, you have the Amaj7 shape we looked at earlier (remember, the open strings have to move up the fretboard also!). Likewise, moving G7 up the fretboard 2 frets gives you A7.

If this is new to you, it should start making much more sense why certain chords have the shape they do. Some bar chords look very different to the open shape you are used to, because of the fact that you have to hold down the open strings as you move them up the neck.

If you CAN move them up the neck, then you have total freedom to play in whatever key you like. This is why jazz guitarists usually look down on players who use capos. If you know your chord shapes, you never need a capo. Especially with these Drop 2 chords, it is quite easy to move them up and down the neck – the shapes are not THAT hard to play, unlike certain other bar chords.

The Dmaj7 and D7 in open position above should be familiar to you. But perhaps you never moved them up the neck into higher frets. If you did, you would have recognized the Emaj7 and E7 at the beginning of the article.

Play around with these shapes! Here are a few ideas for working with them:

  • Write a song with them!

  • Come up with 4 different chord sequences using them in different combinations and with other chords

  • Play one chord through the cycle of fifths (example: Gmaj7, Cmaj7, Fmaj7, Bbmaj7, Ebmaj7… and so on till you get back to Gmaj7. Then do it with G7)

  • Record a backing track using one or two of these chords and practice soloing over it

Oh, one last thing. In case you are wondering why we looked at Root Position and 2nd inversion, and not 1st or 3rd inversion chords, it’s because the 1st inversion chords are quite a stretch and difficult to play! And the 3rd inversion chords don’t sound that great to me most of the time. Nevertheless, it’s good to know all the inversions, so we’ll look at these in a future article. Happy playing!

About the author: Daniel Jacobson is a guitarist, guitar teacher and music school director in Dublin, Ireland. He has been playing for 25 years and teaching for 20. Anyone in Dublin interested in becoming a better guitarist, click here for the best guitar lessons in Dublin.