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Bluegrass Guitar Lesson: The 3 Shape Method


When first learning how to play the guitar, most of us begin by studying a few fundamental major and minor chords. These chords are typically the common open-position chords, sometimes referred to as “cowboy chords,” in the lowest register on the guitar neck. However, as we progress as players, we quickly discover that each chord quality within any key offers a plethora of different chord shapes and fingerings that can be played in various octaves and inversions up and down the fingerboard.


At first, this can feel a bit daunting and overwhelming. With so many different chord qualities, keys, inversions, and octaves up and down the guitar neck, how can we as players keep track of all our different chordal options as we navigate the fretboard?


In this online guitar lesson, Grammy Award-winning guitarist, ten-time IBMA “Guitar Player of the Year,” and ArtistWorks bluegrass guitar instructor, Bryan Sutton, outlines his 3 shape method that will help you better understand how to invert and spell different chords up and down the fretboard. The three simple chord shapes that Bryan outlines in this lesson can be transposed into any key, and utilized in any register. This simple, yet elegant, method will help you unlock the fretboard, better understand the mechanics of the guitar, and ultimately grow as a player.


LEARN MORE: Want to learn how to play acoustic guitar from a bluegrass master like Bryan Sutton? Try some free online guitar lessons now!


“Notes exist all up and down the fretboard of this guitar,” Bryan explains. “The 3 shape method is a system to help us notice, understand, and organize these notes in a way that provides us with a roadmap to better navigate the fretboard.”


While the 3 shape method can be applied directly to bluegrass and flatpick guitar playing, the concepts that Bryan outlines in this lesson can be employed within just about any guitar style and genre. So, whether you’re a rock, blues, jazz, country, folk, or classical guitarist (or a guitar player of any other genre, for that matter) dive into Bryan’s lesson to unlock this critical guide to the fretboard.


“I often equate playing my instrument with verbal communication,” explains Bryan. “Our goal as musicians is to have the musical vocabulary that we need to communicate what we want and intend to on our instruments. For me, this method helps me do that.”


To learn more about Bryan’s 3 primary chord shapes, how they can be transposed across the guitar neck, and how you can utilize these chords in your rhythm guitar playing, dive into this online guitar lesson from Bryan Sutton:


The 3 Shape Method with Bryan Sutton:




Have you always wanted to learn how to play acoustic guitar? Through our comprehensive guitar lessons online and Video Exchange Learning platform here at ArtistWorks, you can learn from internationally renowned players, like Bryan Sutton, and get personal feedback on your playing.


Bryan’s course starts with the basics and teaches everything from beginner guitar to advanced flatpicking techniques, classic bluegrass tunes, music theory, and beyond. So, whether you’re a beginner, intermediate, or advanced player, all levels are welcome and all students will grow and improve their skills as flatpick guitar players and musicians.


Sample some free music lessons here and see what makes ArtistWorks courses some of the best online music lessons around!



Bluegrass Guitar Lesson: Relating Chords & Scales with Bryan Sutton

Flatpick Guitar Lesson: Pentatonic Patterns Across the Fretboard with Tyler Grant

Bluegrass Guitar Lesson: Playing in Open D with Chris Eldridge




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