In progressing as guitarists and expanding our repertoire, we ought to seek to fill our minds and fingers with as many chords as possible, even those that might not be so prevalent in our music of choice. We never know when it might turn up, and when we least expect it and have time to prepare for it! Learning the chords in this way prepares us for every eventuality, enabling us to perform and improvise in as many settings as possible, with as many different kinds of musicians or in as many different scenarios.
The Eb chord is one such chord which, though it doesn’t appear quite as much as certain other chords, offers a vital shortcut through which to explore other, related keys and chords.
What is the Eb Chord?
At its most simple, the Eb chord is a simple triad, comprised of three notes: the root of Eb, its major 3rd G, and the perfect 5th Bb. We are led to believe, correctly, that this is a major triad, owing to the presence of the major 3rd, and lack of an ‘m’ after the Eb chord on a chart.
Like others that aren’t naturals, the Eb chord is another way of describing the D# chord. There is nothing that separates them, aside from their classification in the circle of fifths and such. It’s more often referred to as Eb in Jazz circles, where the chord is far more frequent owing to the fact that saxophones are transposing instruments that are oft tuned to Bb as a reference. Therefore, those seeking to make waves in these circles, or those simply looking to learn some Jazz standards, would do well to learn this particular chord as soon as possible.
What makes the Eb chord rather contentious on the guitar is that it is comprised of notes that, at odds with the guitar’s standard tuning, can’t be played quite as easily as other, more simple open chords, like C, or A, or E. They are most frequently constructed using barre shapes which, for all their seeming complexity, are actually just transposed forms of these very same simple chord shapes. They work in much the same way as a capo, which itself adjusts the overall tuning of the guitar, spiritually raising the nut of the headstock however many frets so that you can play these open chords more freely.
Below, you will find five ways to play the Eb chord, ranging through the C – A – G – E – D system of chords, beginning with those that might be simpler to those requiring a little more effort on the part of the beginner. The CAGED system is simply a way of mapping out more basic open chord shapes across the fretboard, much in the same way of a capo.
However, no matter your level, I would encourage all to start from the beginning. No matter how adept you might feel you are, and no matter how easy it might feel to play the simpler chord shapes, their placement on the fretboard is rather interesting and has much to say about harmony if you lend it your ears and due diligence.
Translating the Eb Chord to the Guitar
This first shape relies on that of the open D chord, so placed first in order of difficulty for simply having to shift this open chord shape up one fret to find the Eb chord:
The root being played by the index finger on the first fret of the D string can be a bit of a stretch for those unused to using their other fingers to play the D shape itself, so eliding the root can be a good way of grappling with the Eb chord at first. In this instance, simply play the open D shape up one fret while muting the open D string.
This A barre shape is likely the most common way to play the Eb chord, being placed so centrally on the fretboard, and the shape in which I most often find myself playing this chord:
If you’re having trouble with the barre shape as a whole, try working on the barring itself first, placing your index finger along the length of the sixth fret, eliminating any anomalous fret buzz before attempting to fret the rest of the A shape.
For all the E shape’s ubiquity, this version of the Eb chord finds less use, being so far up the fretboard, though can be very useful if accompanying in a higher register or pitch:
This shape is, in fact, so far up the fretboard that it can be repeated at the very bottom, though having elided the root note. We would call this an inversion, for the lowest, bass note is not representative of the root note of the chord. In this instance, the lowest note is Bb and not Eb, though the root Eb is fretted in an octave by the ring finger on the D string; so, too, the open G string sounds, making this a perfect, if inverted, Eb major chord triad:
This particular version of the Eb chord, though increasingly uncommon, is still useful if only to round out the CAGED cycle of it harmonically. With diligent and measured study of these shapes, improvising through chord changes featuring this Eb chord will be no bother, the C shape here offering an alternative route through which to navigate should this chord arise in the field:
As with the C shape detailed above, this form of the Eb chord on the guitar finds even less usage, but is nonetheless a valuable tool with which to navigate chord changes and progressions which feature the Eb chord paired with other chords that, sat beside each other harmonically and in shape, might communicate with each other best through configurations such as this:
Once you have become familiar and comfortable with these permutations of the Eb chord, the best thing to do is to get out in the field and find songs that use the Eb chord, alone or beside others, working on your ability to change shapes between these permutations and between this chord and others.
This song might be an opportune place to start, itself droning for its entire length on the Eb chord. The lyrics are written in nonsense English, a wry poke at the trend of the time in Italy, where any and all English-language singles were hungrily devoured by teenage audiences, so won’t be too distracting, I hope. To begin with, simply switch between the versions of the Eb chord that you are most comfortable with, along to the beat and harmony of the song.
FAQs Eb Guitar Chord
On the guitar, the Eb chord is an example of a chord that needs barring or inversion in order to be played, at odds with the standard tuning of the guitar which favours a certain series of natural chords in open positions over others.
How you play the Eb Major chord will depend on what style of music you are playing and where on the fretboard you are approaching it from, not to mention where you will be heading afterwards. If in a funk or jazz band, an inverted version of the chord without a root would be a more apposite choice so as not to muddy the mix of instruments. In a smaller band, a more full chord, such as the A or E barre versions, which double up some of the notes, would make more sense.
As with basically every chord, the Eb chord can look like anything, able as it is to be played by other open chord shapes transposed to fit the circumstances. Thus, the chord will look like different things to different people and different contexts, with many guitarists favouring a certain position over others for the purposes of comfort.
To create an Eb chord on any Western instrument, or even theoretically, we take the root Eb, combining it with the major 3rd G and the perfect 5th Bb. This is what we could a major triad, for there are three notes and the chord is defined by a major 3rd interval from the root note.