These minimalist chord shapes form the basis of almost all moveable chords. They can be played as-is or embellished into other chord shapes.
Three fundamental shapes with roots on three different strings are applied to the three most common chord types (major, minor, and 7). Originally derived on ukulele, but useful on guitar as well.
Download diagram: Moveable triads on ukulele
These core shapes use the minimum possible number of notes. They are are named based on which string has the root note. (In GCEA tuning, the first string is A, the second is E, etc.)
Compare these simple shapes with the more complex CAGFD system, which attempts to be a comprehensive collection of all moveable chord shapes.
The “shape 1” chords have the root note on the first string.
Major (shape 1)
When playing this shape as-is, I mute the fourth string with the finger fretting the string next to it. For a fuller sound I expand it into a CAGFD A major shape.
Minor (shape 1)
Notice how similar this is to the shape 1 major chord – identical except for the ♭3.
I often play this shape as-is, barring it with whatever finger is convenient, and muting the fourth string with the tip of the barre finger.
This is the core triad shape that makes up the C minor and A minor CAGFD shapes.
Dominant 7th (shape 1)
Notice how this is the same as the shape 1 major chord, with an added ♭7.
This is the same as the CAGFD A7 shape.
The “shape 2” chords have the root note on the second string.
Major (shape 2)
This is the core triad shape that makes up the G major and F major CAGFD shapes.
Minor (shape 2)
This shape seemed a little unusual at first. I was more accustomed to the G minor and F minor CAGFD shapes that are built around this. But quite often I find that this shape is easier to get to quickly than the related CAGFD shapes, and it’s easy to embellish with a note on the first string when appropriate.
Dominant 7th (shape 2)
This is the same as the CAGFD G7 shape, except I often play it as just three notes, without the root. That doesn’t work as well for the other dominant 7 shapes, but it sounds great for this one.
The “shape 3” chords have the root note on the third string.
Major (shape 3)
I love this shape. It’s easy to play quickly. I fret it with one finger in a barre, which naturally mutes the first string without effort.
This is the core triad shape that makes up the D major and C major CAGFD shapes.
Minor (shape 3)
I almost always play this shape as-is, muting the fourth string with the finger fretting the third string.
This is the core triad that makes up the CAGFD D minor shape.
Dominant 7th (shape 3)
This is the same as the CAGFD C7 shape.
All shapes on the fretboard
The three shapes appear in order on the fretboard (1,2,3,1,…). So if I’m playing a 1 shape, I know I can play the same chord in a 2 shape just above it, and a 3 shape just below it.
Interesting things to notice
When practicing these shapes, I make a point of noticing which note is the root, third, fifth, and ♭7 interval. Gradually this helps me learn the third and fifth intervals all over the fretboard.
One thing I’ve noticed is that regardless of the string or fret, the third of a chord (whether major or minor) tends to be on the string to the right of the root note, and the fifth tends to be on the string to the left of the root note.
There’s an interesting relationship between the two barre chord shapes: shape 3 major and shape 1 minor.
These two shapes always go hand-in-hand on the same fret. (It’s either the I major and vi minor chord, the IV major and ii minor, or the V major and iii minor.)
This also means it’s possible to play the the chords C and Am with only open strings.
Download this diagram, for reference: Moveable triads on ukulele
For lots more moveable chord shapes, see CAGFD: CAGED for ukulele.