How to Own the Key of E

Go beyond the basic ("EZ") chord shapes

The wonderful key of E, sometimes referred to as the key of "EZ", that has the magical secret chord shape that can be moved up and down the neck with ease. The way the B and E strings ring out into the atmosphere really sounds like music, especially when compared to that finger-breaking F chord.

While there's nothing wrong with those droning chords, especially in the right context (see Jeremy Camp's We Must Remember), there are so many other ways to take advantage of the key the guitar was meant for. In this post we will explore why this key of E works so well and pass on some of our favorite chord shapes you may be missing from your repertoire. 

As we know from our Language of Music lesson, any note that is in a particular key can be added to a chord played in that same key. The guitar only has 2 open strings (D and G) that are not members of the E major scale. Our ears naturally pick out the lowest and highest note in every chord we play. Since the highest string of the guitar is the root note of the scale, we can let it ring while changing the bass notes and it will always match the chord perfectly. For this reason, beginning guitarists often find these chords to be a Godsend.

Sure, these basic E chords can be great. They're helpful for beginners trying to sound good and these shapes can allow you to play the songs you want to play. Too often though, we get stuck in ruts with basic chords. At Worship Artistry, we are all about learning and growing in our music. We're going to give you these E chord shapes in families, meaning each member of the family fits well with the others. It doesn’t mean you can’t mix them. In fact, you absolutely should.

One quick note before we get started:  Don't get hung up on the chord names.  Essentially the key of E has 7 notes to work: E, F#, G#, A, B, C# and D#.  Each note has its corresponding chord.  Some of those chords have some really odd names.  The general rule is that whatever the bass note is, that's the chord I'm assigning to that particular note.  For example B11/F# is the chord for F#.  Make sense?  Let's get started.

The First Family

Now we may have just made fun of these chords but they are definitely the place to start if you don't know them already.  Play them alot.  Get familiar with how they sound and then know there are cooler sounding ones just around the corner.

The Second Family

While the first family finds you sliding all over the fret board with similar positions, the second family goes beyond EZ chords and locks you down.  Your pinky never leaves that 4th fret of the 'G' string.  Dave Matthews' song "Crash" popularized this sound in the 90's.  Regardless of how you feel about the song, the chords are very pretty and easier than the last group to learn and play.

The Third Family

This group is like Crash chords on steroids.  The droning G# adds a lot of color.  Our lead guitar instructor, Jason, once wrote a song with these shapes and was immediately approached afterwards by people saying it was their new favorite song.  Try plucking the bass note and then strumming through the higher strings.  That, my friends, is music.

The Fourth Family

This Is another lockdown position but having the bass notes in the higher register give these chords a different feel.

The Fifth Family

Okay, this is going to get weird.  Be careful with these chords as sometimes they fit a song really well while other times they sound too dissonant.  Your middle finger stays glued to the 'D' string and pinky to the 'G'.  Have fun and enjoy stretching your fingers to oblivion to play these chords!

Step Up Your E Chords

This is by no means an all-inclusive list of chords.  It is simply something to help spark your creativity.  A great way to incorportate new chords into your guitar playing is to substitute them into songs you already know.  Try swapping these shapes into the lessons below that we've suggested.  then use the comments section to ask questions and tell me some of your favorite shapes.  

If you need further ideas, Jason's short video below gives some more ideas for improvising through the different shapes.  Watch to get a taste of how each unique E chord is supposed to sound.


Jason Houtsma is the co-founder and guitar teacher at Worship Artistry, where he is helping musicians of every level answer the call to worship with passion and confidence. Jason has been leading worship and writing music since he was 15 years old and currently serves as Worship Pastor for Mosaic Church in Bellingham, WA. He is husband to Alli and father to Bjorn and Asher.

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Is that Bsus/D# shown correctly?


Right shape but wrong fret! It's fixed. Thanks for the head's up. I need an editor...

Say no to the capo

Great tips - thanks. As lead guitar players, we are more likely to learn the different chord shapes all over the neck in two or three note versions. But so many rhythm players get stuck with the same basic shapes with a capo and then it always sounds the same.

These are great ideas for using the whole neck for open chords and different voicings. Love this website.

Capo's serve their purpose

But they can easily become a crutch and lead to stagnation. We're all about growing so we have a lot more of these posts on the way.

Great Stuff

For some reason I learned how to play E and A shaped barre chords all over the neck well before I ever learned how to use a capo. I suppose it's because most people are "too cool" to use a capo on an electric :-)

I like how you emphasize both, and it's opening up a lot of new possibilities.

Yeah, it's funny...

As a lead player, I used to say capo's are for beginners but I've learned that like anything, if you use it as a tool to get creative it opens more doors than it shuts.

Brillliant! Lets own more keys!

Fantastic set of shapes that are great to play around with. Could we be expecting to own anymore keys in the future?

You know it!

Just posted "Dominating the D Chord". Check it out!

Key of E

If any key... The Key of E is my absolute fav by far because of its versatility and creativity you can achieve with it.

Family 1 reminds me of a few

Family 1 reminds me of a few women we know, all born in 1972 or 1973. One of my favorite tunes that probably won't show up here.

Great stuff Jason. I can't rave enough