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Easy 12-string Guitar Chords to Learn

12-string Guitar Chords

I’ll try to explain the fundamentals of 12-string guitar chords as much as possible. Know that learning chord shapes, fingerings, and popular progressions is a very practical task and you need to practice what you learn. We’ll explore techniques to create beautiful melodies and harmonies. Throughout the guide, you’ll find practical tips and tricks to enhance your playing and make the learning process enjoyable.

Do you know well about 12-string guitar strings? Check out our all-in-all guide to strings!

Let me tell you George Harrison’s story about the 12-string guitar because it might inspire you to practice. When the youngest Beatle was gifted a 12-string Rickenbacker by its maker, he loved its sound so much that the guitar found a place in many of The Beatle’s famous songs like “You Can’t Do That,” “A Hard Day’s Night” album, “I Call Your Name,” “What You’re Doing” etc. And according to popular belief, a new instrument often gifts you new tunes.

So let’s see how much we can learn about 12-string guitar chords to explore new horizons in our music.

12-String Gitar Chords Are Just Chords

The best thing is, though, that you can just stick to the chord shapes you’ve been using all along in your 6-string. 12-string guitars usually follow the standard tuning with the bottom 4 strings tuned an octave apart and the top 2 strings tuned in unison. And the strings tuned to the same note are paired closely together, so no, you don’t have to learn a ton of new shapes to finger.

But if you notice closely, you will hear that the regular chords sound different because of the strings. So you can try to add or reduce certain notes to 12-string guitar chords where it fits and see how it works for you.

However, now that I have provided some experimentation ideas, let’s get into some concrete information about 12-string guitar chords.

Open Triad Chords

Neck position chords such as C, Am, E, G, Em, D, etc benefit greatly from the tonality of a 12-string guitar. The bass note remains the same for each chord, but other notes increase in number.

For example, an open position C major chord (X 3 2 0 1 0) contains the following notes: C3, E3, G3, C4, and E4 when played on a 6-string guitar. When the same shape is used for a 12-string guitar, the notes are C3, C4, E3, E4, G3, G4, C4, C4, E4, E4.

Image by Wikipedia

That’s a ton of flavor notes, right? And well, it is what makes the sound of a 12-string guitar so sweet. Genres such as Folk and Country benefit greatly from open 12-string guitar chords. Actually, it was these two genres that gave exposure and raised 12-string guitars to popularity.

Barring 12-String Guitar Chords

Barring gives more control over note durations than playing chords in an open position. Strumming patterns that require a lot of muted strums, like funk rhythms, benefit a lot from barre chords.

Now, typically, movable barre 7th or 9th chords only have one flavor note. Thanks to the tuning system of a 12-string guitar, the number is doubled. This is quite helpful in bringing a jazzy sound out of the chords.

Take a D7 (X 5 7 5 7 5) chord for instance. It has the notes D3, A3, C4, F#4 and A5. When you play the same chord on a 12-string guitar, the notes are D3, D4, A3, A4, C4, C5, F#4, F#4, A5, and A5. The seventh tone C has repeated an octave apart, enhancing the characteristic sound of the 7th chord.

The same phenomenon occurs for other barre chords and extended chords like Major 7th, Minor 7th, Major 9th, Minor 9th, sus2, sus4, etc. chords. For genres that use these chords generously like funk, jazz, and soul, usage of 12-string guitar chords can be a really nice touch.

Open Extended Chords

Extended chords are loved in rock, pop, grunge, and heavy metal – usually in arpeggio form. Open-position extended chords are easy to play and sound novel. Paired with the sparkling chorus effect of a 12-string guitar, these chords can sound otherworldly when arpeggiated.

Some common ones would be as follows: 

  1. Amadd9:      (X 0 7 5 0 0) [Notes are A, C, E, B]
  2. CM7: (X 3 2 0 0 0) [Notes are C, E, G, B]
  3. C#m9: (X 4 2 4 4 0) [Notes are C#, E, B, D#]
  4. DMadd4add6add9: (X 5 4 0 0 0) [Notes are D, F#, G, B, E]
  5. FM7: (X X 3 2 1 0) [Notes are F, A, C, E]
  6. GMadd6: (X X 5 4 3 0) [Notes are G, B, D, E]
  7. Emadd9: (0 2 4 0 0 0) [Notes are E, B, F#, G]
  8. Badd4(no5): (X 2 2 4 4 0) [Notes are B, E, D#]
  9. Dmadd9 (X 5 4 4 3 0) [Notes are D, F, A, E]
  10. Aadd6add9 (X 0 4 6 0 0) [Notes are A, C#, E, B]

The common guitar chord notation system has been used above – each number inside the bracket denotes which fret to finger, in the order of (6th string, 5th string, 4th string, 3rd string, 2nd string, 1st string). X means muted, and 0 means open. 

While the names might break a few teeth to pronounce, the fingering of these chords is quite easy to learn. Used in the right 12-string guitar chord progression, they’re gifts from heaven.

The possibilities are endless

Aside from the common and easy chords, there exists a multitude of others. Learning the basic and simple chords is great as the first step, but gradually, any aspiring musician should grow to explore the many available options. There’s a whole fretboard full of 12-string guitar chords to learn!

Sabih Safwat

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