Using 11th Chords

The following shows how to play 11th chords and shows examples of their use.

The 11th chord is an extended chord that is actually pretty useful. You may have even been using this chord without realizing its name. The following is only going to discuss the basic 11th chord, but realize there are other variations by altering the 3rd, 9th, etc.

To construct an 11th chord, you start with the basic dominant 7th chord (1st, 3rd, 5th, b7th) and add the remaining odd intervals (9th, 11th). While it's possible to play all of these notes on the six strings of a guitar, it's not necessary and probably not even common. In extended chords, the 5th is usually the first note to skip. In some more formal settings, someone might describe an 11th chord and note that it's missing the 9th, but we're guitar players and can dispense with that detail.

Another way to consider an 11th chord is as a "slash chord." For example, a G11 can also be written as an F/G - that is, an F-chord with a G-bass. Let's look at this example in more detail. A common fingering (with the root on the E-string) is:

G11 or F/A

The A-string is muted by the ring finger stretching up to the E-string. This voicing skips some of the harshness associated with some extended chords. It also acts as a nice strong dominant chord that is just begging to resolve in a C-chord. So you would often use this type of transition to go between an F-chord and a C-chord.

Example chord sequence using an 11th:

C F G11 C

As you can hear, the G11 is sort-of like the preceding F-chord and sort-of like a G7-chord in this context. You'll find this sequence in old Motown songs and a lot of other pop songs. If you're trying to add some spice to an acoustic song, you can make use of this type of chord substitution. If you're into distorted electric guitar, you still use this type of chord (you might need to alternate between a muted bass note and the remaining major triad)

In the fingering above, the notes are from the E-string: root, mute, b7th, 9th, 11th, 7th. Note that the 11th is same as what would have been a suspended 4th note and it's more than one octave from the root note. This fingering is pretty easy to use by finding the root note on the E-string and playing this form.

Another common fingering (with the root on the A-string) is:

C11 or Bb/C


Some examples using open strings:

A11 or G/A D11 or C/D

Lastly, some people treat the following fingerings as 11th chords and some don't. Strictly speaking, the note below the root is a 4th since it's not over an octave away from the root. However, I've seen this in fingering used in books for 11ths and I often use this style myself - use at your own risk!

C11 F11


The functions of the notes in the C11 above are: root, 11th, b7th, 9th, 5th, and for the F11 are: root, 11th, b7th, and 9th.

Try experimenting with 11th chords in your own music. Try following your 11th chord with the next chord in the circle-of-fifths (C11->F, A11->D, etc).

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    On that last C11(or C9sus4), move the 3 on the b string to the 5 and you'll have a complete Cdom11(no 9th) chord. It is common to omit the 3rd on maj11 or dom11 chords to avoid the dissonance between the chord's 3rd and 4th. So that voicing would be correct, but you need to make sure not to omit the information as to why the 3rd is... omitted. Move the same 3 to the 4 and you'll have a simple 2 finger voicing for a Cmin11.
    Even though you stated that the G11 can be referred to as a F/G in the third paragraph, you wrote F/A instead as a name alternative right above the tab example. Just mentioning it so you can sort it out and avoid confusion for some readers .Nice article nonetheless!
    If you cut the third out, surely it just becomes an open-voiced sus4 chord? I understand the dissonance issue, but how could you differentiate between playing a true major/minor 11th chord without including the third?