Posted by: worshipguitarguy | October 17, 2008

Worship Guitar Chords Exposed!: The Key of A

Next in our journey through the CAGED Chord forms are the chord positions in the key of A.

I’ve always seen A position chords as the moody or emo chords of worship music.  You can use them in songs that are darker and more contemplative where you don’t want that “happy clappy” feel.  In fact, Matt Redman’s made good use of these chords in some darker songs, like “You Never Let Go” and “Blessed Be Your Name.”  Two more non-worship examples of A position chords in “darker” songs include U2’s “Bad” and “All I Want Is You.” 


A major:
A always seems to be a tough chord for beginning guitarists to get, since it involves cramming so many fingers into one space. The traditional way to fret an A chord is to place your index, middle and ring fingers at the third fret on the D, G, and B strings respectively. However, this often turns into an exercise in torture as there’s so little space for so many fingers. Some guitarists fret this chord by just putting their index finger over all three strings and barring, or clamping down on them, and muting the high E string. I actually use both of these methods quite often, it just depends on the song I’m playing and the chord transitions around the A chord.  A major MP3
D major:
D major is your index finger on the G string second fret, your middle finger on the high E string second fret, and your ring finger on the B string third fret. Playing the chord this way is important because it gives your fingers room to move around quite a bit to create variations extremely easily. D-major.mp3
E Major:
The E chord is a standard root position E-major.  When you strum it, feel free to let all six strings ring out, since they’re all notes within the chord scale.  I’ll usually hold down this chord with my ring finger on the D string, second fret, my middle finger on the A string second fret, and my index finger on the G string, first fret.  E major chord mp3
F# minor
Again, I’m not totally sure what the correct technical name for this chord is, but it’s core is an F#m.  (I believe it’s an F# minor 7 variation)  This one can be a trick to play, I usually approach it by placing my ring and pinky fingers on the A and D strings at the fourth fret, and my index finger on the G string at the second fret.  Then I wrap my thumb over the top and hold down the low E string on the second fret.  As a cheat, I’ve seen guitarists mute the low E string to make the chord easier to play.  This technically works because it’s what’s called an “inversion” of an F#.  Fsharp minor chord mp3
B minor:
For a 2 minor, or B minor with A position chords, I rarely cheat.  Yup, that means learning and playing a barred B minor.  It can be tough to pull it off cleanly, especially when you’re first learning, but I haven’t really found any of the variations to have quite the right “voicing” or feel for many worship songs in A.  To play the B minor, bar your index finger across the second fret, A through high E strings, place your middle finger on the B string at the third fret, and your ring and pinky fingers on the D and G strings at the fourth fret. 
The A/C# is the one difficult chord for many guitar players to play. The way many people I know play it is to place their index finger over the D, G, and B strings (barring it) and using your pinky to hold down the A string at the fourth fret. It’s a bit tough to make transitions to and from this chord so you will want to practice it.  A/C# MP3
The second slash or polytonal chord is the E2 over G#.  When playing this, I put my ring finger on the D string, fourth fret, my pinky on the G string, fourth fret, and my index finger on the low E string, fourth fret.  I mute the A string.  E2/G# MP3

There are many of the same chords in the key of A that there are in the key of E.  Since the scales of the two keys are closely related, the “overlap” means if you learn one key, you’ll already know many of the chords in the other.  (The same holds true for D and G chord forms.)

A-E-F#m-D MP3
Another example of the 1-5-6m-4 chord progression, this time in the key of A.



  1. D/A

    1st finger 3rd string on 2nd fret. Also used to deaden 1st string
    2nd finger 2nd string on 3rd fret
    3rd finger 4th string on 4th fret

    if you use your first finger to bar 2,3,4 strings on the 2nd fret, you can hammer on the D/A chord for a unique sound.

    You can also slide the whole thing up 2 frets and you’ll have an E/A.

  2. Great stuff. I think the key of A is under-used. It’s too easy to capo 2 G. Thanks for the post.

    I’ve got a music blog I’d like you to check out. It’s been more album review oriented but it’s from a guitarist’s perspective and I’ve got some gear stuff on there too:


  3. I often prefer to play A with my middle, ring and pinky fingers. The smaller pinky makes it easier to cram all those fingers in. For Asus, I just slide the pinky up. This also transitions nicely from an E because you just move the middle and ring fingers up(pitch) a string and put down the pinky.

  4. Gotta jump in on the F#m portion. This is not an “inversion” but a “substitution”. Where you typically place a regular F#m chord, you have substituted an F#m7add4, AKA F#m7sus.

    To put it another way, the chord F#m has the 1, 3, and 5 of the minor scale. You are adding the “B” (or the 4, sometimes sus or sus4) and the “E” (or the minor 7).

    Knowing the name, now when you see it on a chart, you know that they want this chord, and not a typical F#m. Conversely, if you want someone to play this chord specifically, you can write it on your chart. This can also help the keyboard guy to play a complimentary chord if you want…

    Not trying to be snarky, just adding to the conversation.

  5. Why not play the F#m7 instead of the substitution for the F#m. 1st string open
    2nd string muted
    3rd string 2nd fret index finger
    4th string 4th fret ring finger
    5th string 4th fret pinky
    6th string muted.

  6. Thanks for the post and to Austin for the comment on the F#m chord. They both prompted me to investigate this a bit and I learned some things along the way. I am not an expert on chord construction but I am working hard at increasing my understanding of chord theory. Here is my take on this based on a review of some chord theory references I have available:

    I understand where Gerry is coming from when he says that the variation of the F#m that mutes the 6th sting results in an ‘inversion’. The result is the 5th (C#) is in the bass rather than the root (F#). The root and b3rd are on the 4th and 3rd strings. This defines the F#m triad that is the basis of this chord voicing, a second inversion of the F#m triad in this case.

    The E is the b7th, making this an F#m7 of some sort. Since this voicing includes the b3rd I don’t think it is correct to refer to this as a suspended chord. My understaninding is that suspended chords REPLACE either the major or minor 3rd with the 2nd or 4th. This is why Sus chords are ambiguous sounding having neither a clearly major or minor quality. It is not an add4 chord either. ‘Add’ chords DO include the major or minor 3rd, but they DO NOT include the 7th (minor 7th, E in this case).

    I think this is best described as an extended chord, which is a seventh chord (minor 7th in this case) with an added ‘extension’ such as a 9th, 11th (the B in this voicing), 13th, etc.

    Since extended chords are a 7th chords with an extension the inclusion of the b7th can be assumed. Based on this the chord can aptly be named a F#m11 chord since the B is the 11th (1-b3-5-b7-11). It could also be named F#m7/11 if you wanted to leave no doubt about the b7.

    If the bass line requires the C# I think a slash chord notation might be used (F#m11/C#).

    Finally, Austin is correct that this is a chord substitution. Substituting a F#m11 for F#m is an example of chord embelishment or direct substitution, which is another way of saying that a more interesting extended chord is used in place of the base chord. But I am not sure that this contradicts Gerry’s observation that the triad at the core of this extended chord is an inverted triad.

    Well, enough of that.

  7. Thank you Ken and Austin, I’m glad you theory guys can sort this all out for me…

  8. You had it all sorted out. I just ‘extended’ it some.

    BTW, by not muting the 6th string and playing the open E you get a great chord for the key of E. I think it is an E6/9sus4. I had no idea what this chord was in my youth when I first learned it but it is the second chord in the Allman Bros. ‘Melissa’ intro. Sliding it up two frets gets an Emaj7. So E (in first position) -E6/9sus4 – Emaj7 – E6/9sus4 is the intro for that song. Very nice sounding open chord in the key of E.

    The F#m11 makes a good funk sounding chord too. If you barre the C#, F# and B at the 4th fret with the index finger and pick up the E and A on the 2nd and 1st strings at the 5th fret with the middle finger you have another voicing of this F#m7 chord that might be good for a second guitar part. Playing this form further up the neck (say 12th fret Dm11) results in a nice jangly funk thing.


  9. Two quick things here:
    The F#m discussion, I use that chord ANYTIME I see an F#m in a chart when I want a really open sound. I wont work ALL the time, or at least it dosent always sound right to me. I almost never use it for a F#m7, when it written that way, because it does not, usually anyway, sound “minor” or “seventh-ey” enough for me. If you ever play “I Could Sing of Your Love Forever” in the key of E, that chord works great.
    For rick about the D/A chord: Your fingering as you stated is also a great foundation for an open sounding D/F#, just play your open D chord and stick your pinky up on the 4th string as you stated. When you do that, take a hard look at where you are actually fretting. Its the same shape as a Bm7. All you do is mute the 5th (A) string and you have a moveable shape for any major with the third in the bass, (an inversion). Works great further up the neck when you are trying to find something to substiute for an open G chord.

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