We've all been there - soon after we get hold of our first guitar we know that to play anything people are actually going to listen to we need to "learn a few chords". These first few chords for most beginners end up being the open position chords, down at the first few frets.
Soon, we begin to associate these basic chords with shapes - E, A, D, C and G shapes. These 5 shapes are way more fundamental than we initially think, because once it comes to mastering the dreaded F chord, or more accurately, the "E-shape barre", we immediately feel liberated - we can now create major and minor chord variations up and down the neck.
Some stop there. Some may even go on to realize the "A shape barre" (based on the A string) can widen our scope of tone and voicing that little bit more. True, these two movable shapes are indeed enough for most of today's middle-of-the-road rock music. You can write great songs with a mix of the 5 open position shapes, and these two barre shapes, even epics!
But why stop there? Why limit yourself at all? There's so much more to discover on the fretboard. Different voicings - voicings that can make a chord on its own sound 10 times more intricately lush. The truth is, as guitarists get into their 2nd year of playing, these fixed form chords begin to sound, well...a little dull.
Too many guitarists are missing out on producing music that will astound themselves, let alone others, because of their love affair with the quick-reference chord chart, learning parrot fashion, shrugging off any understanding of "what that chord would sound like voiced...here" and knowing your several options.
You may be thinking "this sounds complicated, where do I go from here? What do I need to learn to be able to think outside the box when it comes to constructing interesting chords?"
Two words that will make some jump into their guitar case - chord theory
Chord theory is a subject area of guitar that doesn't necessarily have to be pretentious, elitist or just for jazz/classical guitarists. Explained and learned the right way, knowing some basic guitar chord theory can open up a songwriting factory in your head, producing its goods right on your guitar.
There are 5 steps you need to go through to reach your guitar chord nirvana (and I DON'T mean the band!), the first 3 you probably already have...
1) Learn the 5 barre chord shapes (E, A, C, D and G)
2) Learn the major scale in 8 (yes, eight) different positions based around these barre shapes
3) Use your knowledge of the major scale to create triads, 7ths and extended chords in several positions on the fretboard. This is the foundation for building unique and interesting chord voicings.
4) Use your knowledge of chord construction to create unique chord voicings with inversions all over the fretboard.
5) Don't forget to "float" chords occasionally with open strings.
Once you invest a little of your practice time learning chord theory basics (it doesn't take long to pick up), you'll start to investigate the fretboard as second nature. You'll come up with chord progressions and really use your ears to identify the "right" chord for the change. Your playing will open up to a diverse range of styles.
Most of all though, creating unique original music that is truly "you" won't be limited by the size of a chord chart - it will only be limited by the 6 strings on your guitar.