Successfully Move a “C”-Shape Up the Neck!

Posted on Posted in Free tabs, Stories, Tips from Mark

By Mark Hanson

May, 2020

For fingerstyle guitar one of my favorite chord shapes in standard tuning is “C”. (Actually, I appreciate ALL the shapes!) The reason I like “C”: In the lower voices I sustain the root note and third (the two notes that largely define a major or minor chord) with my ring and middle fingers, leaving my “outside” fingers, the little and index, free to fret moving melody notes anywhere in the treble range. 

I first learned about moving the C shape long ago in Paul Simon’s “Kathy’s Song” and Peter, Paul & Mary’s “Great Mandela.” In the key of G, Simon moved the C shape up two frets to create a lovely, complex D chord, with the open G and high-E strings ringing in conjunction with the fretted strings. PP&M added the little finger to the  shape (C7) and moved it to the 5th/6th/7th frets to produce an E7 chord. (Move this shape to the four treble strings at 5/6/7 and you have the song’s opening A6 chord.)

You can use this C shape all the way up the neck. Here are fret positions of the bass note on the fifth string of a C shape, and the chords that result:

C—3rd; C#7—4th; D—5th; E-flat—6th; E—7th; F—8th; G—10th; A (A7)— 12th.

Just slide your C shape up the neck to each of these positions, pick the strings individually, and see what happens!

Be careful when strumming these chords: the open strings may sound great picked individually amongst the regular fretted chord tones, but may sound dense and dissonant when strummed simultaneously. Also, adding a finger to the shape may alleviate some dissonance: For example, add the little finger on the first string/6th fret for E-flat (and avoid the bass string); and add the little finger on the third string for E (E7). You may include all six strings on E7.

Ragtime players long have used the C shape up two frets, adding the little finger on the third string to make it a D7. I use a C#7 in both my “You Don’t Know Me” and “In the Summertime” arrangements—the C7 shape raised just one fret.

I also use the C-shape very effectively as an F chord in my tune “Key to the Kingdom.” The accompanying notation/tablature shows a simple descending scale on top of an F-G chord progression. First I play it the mundane way in the first position — nice, but boring. Then I play the same melody over an F chord played as a C-shape at the 6/7/8 frets. With the open strings ringing it creates a wonderful cascade of notes. Very effective! 

You can watch “Key to the Kingdom” here, and buy the notation/TAB/explanation here

“You Don’t Know Me” is here to hear, and here for the notation/TAB. My arrangement of Mungo Jerry’s “In The Summertime” is included here.

3 thoughts on “Successfully Move a “C”-Shape Up the Neck!

    1. Thanks, N. Yes, it would be an Fmaj9/C, with the 9th — the G note — included in the middle of the voicing.
      The only time I would fret this chord as you describe would be for strumming. If I were fingerpicking this chord I would fret the fifth snd sixth strings one at a time with the ring finger as I pick them. That leaves my little finger available to fret treble notes that I might want to include.

  1. Thanks for this great article. I very often play the C shape in 5th fret as a variation to the normal D chord – it is so simple to just move from C to D in that way. I have tried to find the right way to put it on paper when I share sheet music with others, but have not found the actual right name for the chord, so I just put D and then a note that it should be played as a C chord in 5th fret. Any suggestions on that?
    I will definitely experiment moving my C shape further down the neck.

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