Em Chord on the Guitar (E Minor) – 10 Ways to Play (and Some Tips/Theory)

The E minor chord is one of the most popular chords across many different genres. The open Em chord is one of the first chords most guitarists learn. Unlike other basic open chords, the Em chord uses all of the open strings, which makes it a good test chord for practising stunning patterns.  

The open Em chord also contains 4 open strings, so it is arguably the most ‘open’ chord of all of the basic guitar chords. As well as this, the lowest possible note on the guitar (with standard tuning) is the low E, played as the open 6th string. This can give the impression of Em (or E) being a sort of ‘home’ chord.

The open Em chord also fits well with other open chords, such as G, Am, C and F. Many songs have been written using these few chords.  

The most common bar chord version of e minor is the root 5 version on the 7th fret.  

Some Quick Em Chord Theory

  • The E minor chord contains the notes E, G and B.
  • The E minor chord is produced by playing the 1st (root), flat 3rd and 5th notes of the E Major scale.
  • The E minor chord (just like all minor chords) contains the following intervals (from the root note): minor 3rd, Major 3rd, Perfect 4th (back to the root note).
  • E minor is the relative minor of G Major.
  • E minor is the first chord in the key of E minor. The seven chords in the key of E minor are: Em, F# diminished, G+, Am, B, C, D# diminished

10 Ways To Play The E Minor Chord

If you’ve come to this page just to view some chord diagrams for Em, here they are.

E Minor Chord - 10 Shapes

Standard Em Chord Shape

The standard way to play the E minor chord is in the open position, as shown below. This shape itself is probably in the top five most commonly played guitar chords. The chord diagram below uses the second and third fingers to play the two fingered notes. Some guitarists prefer to use the first two fingers instead. Both ways are correct, and usually comes down to personal preference and the context in which it is being used.

Em Chord Guitar

Easy Em Chord Shape

The ‘easy’ or ‘mini’ version of the E minor chord is perhaps the easiest guitar chord of all time? Why? Because it is literally the first three strings, played open, without any fingered notes.

Easy Em Chord Guitar

How to Play the Em Chord (Step by Step)

  • Place your second finger on the second fret of the fifth string.
  • Place your third finger on the second fret of the fourth string.
  • Strum all six strings.

The instructions above are step by step instructions for playing the common E minor chord shape. Forming the chord through step by step instructions is a great way of ensuring that you are interpreting the chord diagram correctly.

E Minor Barre Chord Shapes

The Em chord can be played as a barre chord by playing a root 6 barre chord shape and starting on the 12th fret or by playing a root 5 barre chord Major shape and starting on the 7th fret:

Em Barre Chord

E Minor Triads

Playing triads is a great way of exploring the minor chord and the guitar fretboard more generally. By arranging the notes of the chord systematically using permutations (root position, first inversion, second inversion), interesting and unique shapes and voicings are created. The three different voicings for the E minor triad are:

  • E minor Triad (Root Position) – E, G, B
  • E minor Triad (1st Inversion) – G, B, E
  • E minor Triad (2nd Inversion) – B, E, G

By playing these triads on two different groups of three strings, we can produce six different shapes.

E Minor Triad

Which Keys Have The Em chord in Them?

The Em chord can be found in the following keys:

  • The key of E minor (Em, F#dim, G, Am, Bm, C, D)
  • The key of A minor (Am, Bdim, C, Dm, Em, F, G)
  • The key of B minor (Bm, Cdim, D, Em, F#m, G, A)
  • The key of G Major (G, Am, Bm, C, D, Em, F#dim)
  • The key of C Major (C, Dm, Em, F, G, Am, Bdim)
  • The key of D Major (D, Em, F#m, G, A, Bm, C#dim)

Alternative But Useful Em Chord Shapes

The following shapes are alternative ways of playing the E minor chord shape. They’re not the most common Em shapes, but used enough to include here as interesting alternatives.

Alterative E Minor Chords Guitar

Em Chord Substitutions

Most E minor chords with extensions can be used as a substitute for the E minor chord. For example, Em9, Em11 and Em6 can often be used to add colour and emotion to the E minor chord.

The Em7 chord is quite often used interchangeably with the Em chord.

For more interesting substitutions, playing variations of the G chord (which is the relative Major of E minor), such as G6, G69, Gmaj9 etc. can be used effectively as a substitute for the E minor chord.

Which Scales Can Be Played Over the E Minor Chord?

The most common and effective scales that can be used to solo/improvise over the E minor chord, or to create melodies for the purposes of song writing are:

  • E natural minor scale – This scale (also called E aeolian) is the most commonly used scale for this chord.
  • E minor pentatonic scale – This is probably the easiest scale to learn and get started on when improvising over the E minor chord..
  • E minor blues scale – This scale can be used over the Em chord to add a Blues flavour.     
  • E dorian mode – This scale can be used to add a slightly brighter sound to the E minor chord.
  • E phrygian mode – This scale can be used to add a darker sound to the E minor chord.

Further Reading

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