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How-To

How to Play the Em7 Guitar Chord

This complex-sounding chord is surprisingly approachable for beginners.

Embedded content: http://youtube.com/watch?v=IV6gqL7x_sM


E minor 7 (Em7) is a beautiful chord composed of the notes E, G, B, and D. The combination of the minor key (G is the flat 3rd of the major scale) and the 7th interval (D) give it a rich, interesting sound.

There are several different ways to play Em7 in an open position with standard tuning, most of which are highly accessible for beginner guitar players without compromising sound. Let’s go over a few of those formations along with examples of songs that use each of these Em7 chord variations wisely.

Let’s Get It on with This Simple Em7

If you’re already familiar with a open E minor chord (and even if you’re not), the following formation is probably the easiest to pick up. You’ll fret just one note and play all six strings.

  • - Middle finger: 2nd fret of the A (5th) string


Em7-guitar-chord-insert-01


Strumming down from the low E string gives you the following notes from lowest to highest: E, B, D, G, B, E.

This simple yet deep version of the chord is used in Marvin Gaye’s “Let's Get It On”. The chord progression of the song is repetitive and relatively simple—which is exactly what the song needs. It creates a consistent groove that allows all the other elements to dance around it: Gaye’s emotive vocal performance; the iconic electric guitar (wah wah wah wahhhhh); soaring horns; warm backup vocals; restrained but oh-so-satisfying drums (including the fill at 3:48 into the song —pure fire).

The Em7 chord formation above is a quick win, and it will help you get into playing classic songs like this 1973 hit.

A Higher Version of Em7 on 'Say Yes'

Here’s another version of Em7 in an open position. In this version you’ll omit the low E and A strings.

Place your pinky and ring fingers on the 3rd fret of the high E and B strings, respectively. Your middle finger stretches over to the 2nd fret on the 4th string (A in standard tuning).

  • - Middle finger: 2nd fret of the D (4th) string
  • - Ring finger: 3rd fret of the B (2nd) string
  • - Pinky finger: 3rd fret of the E (1st) string


Em7-guitar-chord-insert-02

Strum four strings down from the D string.

This version of the chord gives you a higher, more delicate sound. It’s also the perfect formation for instances like the bridge in “Say Yes” by Elliott Smith. This track appears on the 1997 album Either/Or and is one of three of Smith’s songs to grace the soundtrack for Good Will Hunting.

The bridge of “Say Yes” brings Smith’s myriad strengths sharply into focus and also illustrates the magic of this particular Em7. The bridge starts with the line, “Crooked spin can't come to rest. I’m damaged bad, at best.” Behind the lyrics and hauntingly beautiful vocal harmonies, the guitar transitions quickly among several expanded chords. It’s impressive for sure—but it’s made possible partially by smart decisions like using this version of the Em7.

The pinky and ring finger can stay in the exact same place for several chord changes as the index finger handles the moving bass notes. The bridge culminates in the overarching thesis of the song: “They want you or they don’t. Say yes.” This song alone is incentive enough to learn how to play the guitar. What are you waiting for?

All Together Now: A 6-String Version of Em7

Let’s go over one more common version of Em7 in an open position. This formation combines the first two versions we looked at.

  • - Index finger: 2nd fret of the A (5th) string
  • - Middle finger: 2nd fret of the D (4th) string
  • - Ring finger: 3rd fret of the B (2nd) string
  • - Pinky finger: 3rd fret of the E (1st) string


Em7-guitar-chord-insert-03


Strum all six strings for this version. It requires more stretching for your fingers, but it results in a much more rich, complex sound.

The more you play, the more you’ll pick up on the nuances of these different chord formations. When you listen to this particular version of the Em7 chord, it’s clear why Oasis chose it for “Live Forever” (it kicks in at the beginning of the chorus with the line “Maybe I just wanna fly”). The fullness of this Em7 has the same feel as the other expanded chords the band tends to use. As you keep learning guitar, you’ll notice patterns like this. Each musician develops their own signature sound made up of puzzle pieces like chord selections.

To learn more chords browse Fender Play's chord library, learn about chord types, and find tips on how to master them.

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