Learning guitar can be scary. Where on earth do you start?
This article is here to help you out. It covers all you need to grasp basic guitar chords for beginners.
Learning the guitar is like learning a foreign language. It takes time. You need to be constantly chipping away at it. No guitarist has ever learnt all there is to know about the guitar.
Playing guitar is an art form. You are never done learning. However good you are, you can never stop. The best guitarists know this and continually keep learning.
The trick to learning isn’t to try and learn everything one go. You are better dipping in on a constant basis. As you master one aspect, come back and the learn the next. That way you won’t get disheartened.
Feeling inspired? Cool. Let’s get started…
- The Basics of Guitar Chords
- What are the Basic Chords?
- The CAGED System (Major Chords)
- The AED System (Minor Chords)
- Basic Guitar Chord Progressions Using All 8 Chords
- How to memorize guitar chords
The Basics of Guitar Chords
In this first section let’s look at some of the basics that you need to know before you even learn your first chord!
There are a few ways to go about learning the guitar. You could focus on learning the notes on the fretboard to begin with for example. But we think the best way is to. Once you’ve learned those chords, learn songs that use those chords. And then practice the heck out of them!
Our approach is this….
- Focus on learning basic chords
- Learn some songs that use those chords
- Practice, practice, practice
This approach gives you some much needed early ‘success’ to keep you going.
Like learning a new language your main challenge is going to be frustration. You need ‘quick wins’ to keep you motivated. Learning basic guitar chords is the way to go.
What are the Basic Chords?
There are only a handful of basic guitar chords for beginners that you need to know.
There are basically 2 groups of chords you need to remember:
- Group 1: The 5 Basic Major Chords
- Group 2: The 3 Basic Minor Chords
Add them together and you have 8 chords. With these 8 chords you can work miracles!
What is an ‘open chord’?
Before we progress, let’s quickly understand the meaning of an ‘open chord’.
An open chord is a chord that contains one or more open strings. See the diagram below for the ‘D’ chord. Notice the ‘O’ stands for ‘open string’. This open string needs to sound to make up the chord. The two ‘X’s’ mean don’t play those strings.
Chord charts conveniently tell you which finger to place where when you finger the chord. Take a look at our ‘D’ chord again. Notice the numbers below the chord.
They mean: 1 = index finger, 2 = middle finger, 3 = ring finger, 4 = pinky (little finger)
The 3 Major Chords Every Beginner Should Learn
The first three chords you need to learn are G, C and D. They form a superb foundation for your playing and you’ll be amazed how many songs you can play with just these three chords.
Let’s break down each chord in a bit more details…
The G Chord
The G chord is a lovely, full sounding chord to play. The fingering can take a bit of getting used to, especially having to bridge your hand over the fretboard.
The C Chord
The C chord is another great sounding chord which is a nice and easy chord to finger. Take note of the ‘X’ symbol – don’t strum the 6th string.
The D Chord
The D chord is another classy chord. Take note of the two ‘X’ symbols on the fifth and sixth strings.
Basic Guitar Chord Progressions Using These 3 Chords
With just these three chords you can learn thousands of songs. Let’s take a look at a few of our favourites…
Songs Using G, C, and D Chords
- Knockin’ on Heavens Door by Bob Dylan
- Sweet Home Alabama by Lynyrd Skynyrd
- You Can’t Always Get What You Want by The Rolling Stones
- Wanted Dead or Alive by Bon Jovi
- She Sells Sanctuary by The Cult
- The Lazy Song by Bruno Mars
- Good Golly Miss Molly (Plus other 12 Bar Blues in G)
- Sweet Child O Mine by Guns n Roses
- I’m a Believer by The Monkees
- Ring of Fire by Johnny Cash
The CAGED System (Major Chords)
If we add two more chord – the A and E chords – we get what we call the CAGED system. CAGED stands for five of the most basic major chords that you need to learn. These are chords C, A, G, E, D.
Let’s break down the two additional chords in a bit more detail…
The A Chord
Slightly trickier to play for the beginner, the A chord is another powerhouse of a chord. Having the position your fingers next to each other on the same fret can be problematic for many players.
Take note of the ‘X’ for the first string on the left meaning don’t strum this string.
Another fingering option is to bar the three notes with one finger…
The E Chord
The E chord is a full sounding lovely chord to play. Note the three open strings that should also be played to get the full chord’s sound.
The AED System (Minor Chords)
So we have our five major chords. Now let’s add three minor chords. We have more chords to learn and they are called the AED system. Like with the CAGED system, they correspond to chords, but because they are ‘minor’ chords we write them slightly differently. So AED stands for Am, Em and Dm.
Minor chords are the same as a major chord with one main difference. The 3rd note in the chord is dropped by half a tone. Don’t worry about this for now if that doesn’t make sense, just learn the chords below and practice playing them.
The Am Chord
The A minor chord is easy to remember once you’ve learnt the E chord, as it’s the same structure as the E chord (see above) only shunted down one position.
The Em Chord
The E minor chord is easy too. Just finger the E chord (see above) and remove your first finger – the E Minor chord is just the E chord without that note.
The Dm Chord
The last of our eight notes is the D minor chord. Look at the D chord above, and drop the note on the first string down one fret.
So we’ve learnt 8 chords…
- 5 Major Chords (C-A-G-E-D)
- 3 Minor Chords (Am, Em, Dm)
Now let’s look at where we can use these chords…
Basic Guitar Chord Progressions Using All 8 Chords
If you were impressed how many songs we can play with just G, C and D, this is going to blow you away. With these 8 chords we have a ton more amazing songs at our fingertips!
These 8 chords allow us to play ‘I – V – VI – VI’ progressions, one of the most familiar progressions in modern music.
Sounds complicated, it isn’t really. Let’s take a look…
The ‘I – V – VI – IV’ Progression
It’s all very logical…
To work out the progression in the key of E for example, write down the seven notes…
E, F, G, A, B, C, D.
Above each note write the position in roman numerals (I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII)
Ok so far so good.
To work out the I, V, VI and IV in the key of E, I just need to pick play the first (I), the fifth (V), the sixth (VI) and the fourth (IV) in that order. See my red number blobs below…
Understand? Capice? Good.
Here are some songs that use this progression…
- U2 – With or Without You
- Black Eyed Peas – Where is the Love
- The Rolling Stones – Beast of Burden
- Red Hot Chilli Peppers – Under the Bridge (verse)
- Bob Marley – No Woman No Cry
- Men at Work – Down Under (chorus)
- Maroon 5 – She Will be Loved (chorus)
How to memorize guitar chords
1) Strum – Wave – Strum
2) Draw The Diagrams
3) Always Use The Correct Fingers
4) Sing The Chords
If you’re reading this and have absorbed all the information, well done! You’re well on your way to learning the guitar.
Once you’ve licked these 8 open chords you should considering learning ‘power chords’. Our friends over at musiciantuts.com have written a great guide about how to play power chords that’s worth a read.
Ged is Founder and Editor-in-chief at Zing Instruments. He’s a guitarist for London based gypsy jazz band ‘Django Mango’ and a lover of all things music. When he’s not ripping up and down the fretboard, he’s tinkering with his ’79 Campervan.