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
In this first section let's look at some of the basics that you need to know before you even learn your first chord!
- Why learning chords should be your first priority
- What are the basic chords
- What is an 'open chord'?
- Finger positions
- The 3 Major Chords Every Beginner Should Learn
- The 5 Major Chords Every Beginner Should Learn
- The 3 Minor Chords Every Beginner Should Learn
Why learning chords should be your first priority
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)
Ok let's learn some Chords!
First of all. How many chords are there?
Many, many. Don't trouble yourself trying to learn them all.
Just focus on the learning the following basic chords and they will serve as your foundation for everything else you learn.
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 5 Major Chords Every Beginner Should Learn
Once you are comfortable with the 3 chords above, it's time to learn a couple more.
The new chords are E and A. To help you remember these five chords we often call them the C-A-G-E-D system.
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 3 Minor Chords Every Beginner Should Learn
3 Minor Chords (Am, Em, Dm)
So we have our five major chords. Now let's add three minor chords.
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.
Let's look at some songs that use this progression...
How To Play And Practice These Chords Correctly
Practice is the ONLY way you're going to learn to play these chords (and the songs that use them) with ease.
You need a lot of patience in the beginning. Everything will be hard - you're fingers will even hurt, your strumming will suck - many people before and since you have tried and given up because it all feels too much like hard work.
The good news is this: with a bit of sustained effort over a few weeks you'll find you progress a lot. In the early days you can make huge advancements from week to week.
In this section you'll find a ton of advice for how to play the chords and practice correctly.
Bookmark this page and come back to this section every time you need a bit of inspiration or you're finding you aren't getting the sound you need.
In this section let's look at three elements of playing and practicing correctly:
- Getting a clean sound
- Making your practice time count
- Maintaining the correct posture
Getting a clean sound
The most common issue with beginner guitarists is not getting a clean sound when you play the chord. This is usually due to a number of issues below.
- Positioning your fingers. Quite often your fingers aren't in the right position on the fretboard.
- Press the strings hard enough
- Your fingers will hurt at first - apply some oil to harden them
Making your practice time count
- Practice what you can't do, not what you can
- Never practice making a mistake. Get it right.
- Start slowly and get it right before you speed up.
- Using a timer saves time.
- Focus on one element of practice at a time.
- Try and practice a little every day, rather than practising a lot all on one day - remember practice shouldn't be all about repetition, you should learn some easy guitar songs too.
- Keep track of your practice: use a practice schedule..
- If it sounds good, it is good!
- Playing and Practicing are very different, don't confuse them
- The more you think, the more you stink! Practice until it becomes instinctive.
Thanks to http://www.justinguitar.com for these tips!
If you're reading this and have absorbed all the information, well done! You're well on your way to learning the guitar. Be sure to check out my article about the best guitars for beginners if you're looking to buy a cheap but terrific sounding 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.