Beginner Guitar Chords Made Easy

One of the first skills you’ll need to master as a guitar player is playing chords.  While there are literally thousands of different chord forms possible on the guitar, we’ll focus on a few basic beginner guitar chords that can then be moved and altered to obtain many more chords later on.  These can also be used right away to learn easy guitar songs.

Different Flavors: You’ll learn guitar chords of all kinds, but ultimately there are two basic kinds of chords in music:  major and minor.  Every possible chord can be lumped into one of these two types.  Major chords are built from major scales and have a ‘happy’ sound, while minor chords come from minor scales and tend have a ‘sad’ sound.  While some songs use only one kind of chord, most songs and chord progressions mix major and minor chords.  Let’s start with major chords.

Major Chords: Major chords are based on major scales and use the first, third, and fifth notes of the scale.  We’ll start by focusing on five major chords: C, A, G, E, and D.  Learning guitar chords like these will open up a whole world of music for you.  Each chord diagram below shows you where each string should be fretted, and with what finger.  We’ll start with open chords, which means that one or more open (as in not fretted) strings are included.  Open strings are shown with a ‘0’ in front of the first fret.  Let’s take a look at G major, which contains the notes G, B, and D:

G Major

0  1   2   3   4   5

E|-|—|—|-4-|—|—|

B|-|—|—|-3-|—|—|

G|0|—|—|—|—|—|

D|0|—|—|—|—|—|

A|-|—|-1-|—|—|—|

E|-|—|—|-2-|—|—|

Notice that you need to get your middle finger all the way to the third fret of the bottom string, with the first finger on the second fret of the A string.  Be sure to roll your wrist forward and curl your fingers so all the strings can ring clearly.  Try picking just the A string: if you can’t hear that B note clearly, curl the middle finger a bit more so it avoids the A string.  This will be a constant focus as you learn how to play beginner guitar chords: all the notes need to ring clearly for it to sound good.  Strum downwards with your pick, then upwards: you want all the notes to sound as closely together as possible, so strum quickly.

You can also play G major with an open B string:

G Major

0  1   2   3   4   5

E|-|—|—|-3-|—|—|

B|0|—|—|—|—|—|

G|0|—|—|—|—|—|

D|0|—|—|—|—|—|

A|-|—|-1-|—|—|—|

E|-|—|—|-2-|—|—|

This form is more commonly used in folk and country, while the first form is more common in rock music.  This has to do with the B, which is the major third: with a distorted tone the third can cause some ugly overtones when played on the higher strings.  As you learn guitar chords, be sure to try playing them with a variety of tones and pay attention to what sounds best to you.  Also practice getting your fingers to the right places as quickly as possible.  Be patient: learning guitar chords takes time and practice.  Focus on getting a clean sound from all the notes and you will improve quickly.

Let’s take a look at another very common chord, E major (E, G#, B):

E Major

0  1   2   3   4   5

E |-0-|—|—|—|—|—|

B |-0-|—|—|—|—|—|

G |—|-1-|—|—|—|—|

D |—|—|-3-|—|—|—|

A |—|—|-2-|—|—|—|

E |-0-|—|—|—|—|—|

The guitar e chord is pretty easy to fret, and again you’ll notice that all the strings are strummed.  Pay attention to the fingerings:  learn the wrong fingerings now and you’ll have bad habits that will hold you back later on.  Now let’s look at A major:

A Major

0  1   2   3   4   5

E |-0-|—|—|—|—|—|

B |—|—|-3-|—|—|—|

G |—|—|-1-|—|—|—|

D |—|—|-2-|—|—|—|

A |-0-|—|—|—|—|—|

E |-x-|—|—|—|—|—|

Notice that ‘x’ on the low E string?  That means that string isn’t supposed to be strummed.  Even though E is part of the A major chord (A, C#, E), the low E makes the chord sound too muddy and hides the A root note.  So, after you’ve twisted your left hand fingers around the chord, pay careful attention to only picking the top five strings.  Also, make sure you can hear the high E string.  This is actually one of the more difficult beginner guitar chords you’ll learn, simply because your fingers are in such a small area.  Stick with it, though, and follow the suggested fingerings.

Once you can play A major, try switching between E major and A major.  Take your time: a very slow, clean transition with all the notes sounding clearly will sound much better than a bunch of missed notes and muted strings.  Once you can move back and forth, try a simple beginner guitar rhythm:  Strum E twice, then A twice, and so on.  Start very, very slowly, then try to pick up the speed a bit.  You’ll quickly see why the suggested fingerings should be followed: notice that the first finger stays on the same string and just moves one fret up, while the other fingers sort of jump around the first finger.

Now let’s add another chord, and then we’ll try a tricker transition.  Here’s C major (C, E, G):

C major

0  1   2   3   4   5

E |-0-|—|—|—|—|—|

B |—|-1-|—|—|—|—|

G |-0-|—|—|—|—|—|

D |—|—|-2-|—|—|—|

A |—|—|—|-3-|—|—|

E |-x-|—|—|—|—|—|

Notice that once again the low E string is not sounded.  On this chord you can let the third finger touch the E string a bit; this can help mute any unwanted noise from the string.  Be sure to keep a strong pressure on the A string, though.

Now, here’s another beginner guitar rhythm:  try strumming G twice, then C twice, and so on.  This is a trickier transition because all your fingers have to jump around pretty quickly.  Take it slow: as you’re learning guitar chords the focus needs to be on a clean, ringing tone.  Keep practicing this rhythm until you can move back and forth between G and C quickly and cleanly.

There’s one more open major chord to learn.  Here’s D major (D, F#, A):

D Major

0  1   2   3   4   5

E |—|—|-2-|—|—|—|

B |—|—|—|-3-|—|—|

G |—|—|-1-|—|—|—|

D |-0-|—|—|—|—|—|

A |-x-|—|—|—|—|—|

E |-x-|—|—|—|—|—|

There are a couple of variations of this chord worth learning.  You can add the open A string for a bit more depth, and you can also add an F# on the low E string:

D Major with low F#

0  1   2   3   4   5

E |—|—|-2-|—|—|—|

B |—|—|—|-3-|—|—|

G |—|—|-1-|—|—|—|

D |-0-|—|—|—|—|—|

A |-0-|—|—|—|—|—|

E |—|—|-T-|—|—|—|

The ‘T’ means that you need to curl your thumb around the neck and fret the F#.  It’s almost impossible on a lot of acoustics, but if you’re playing an electric, and especially if you want to play any sort of hard rock genre, it’s a valuable  form to know.  If you can’t get it now, don’t worry: it’s not usually taught when you’re learning how to play beginner guitar chords; think of it as an optional extra challenge.

Get Those Fingers Dancing: Now that you know a few major chords, try moving back and forth between them.  You might notice that some of the chords sound better together than others: for example, G, C, and D sound great in a pattern together, as do E, A, and D, whereas G and E might sound a bit awkward played one after the other.  Experiment and listen carefully; you now know enough cords to start creating your own songs, so practice, practice, practice! Here’s an easy beginner guitar rhythm to make practicing more interesting:  start on any chord and strum it four times.  Switch to another chord and strum four more times.  Now switch to a third chord, strum it two times, move back to the second chord two times, and then go back to the original chord and strum it four times as well.  Using G, C, and D, it would look like this:  G, G, G, G, C, C, C, C, D, D, C, C, G, G, G, G.  See?  Even if you don’t know how to read guitar notes yet, you can still make music!

Minor Chords: The difference between major and minor chords lies in the second note of the chords (the third scale tone).  In minor chords the third is a half-step lower than in major chords.  So, for example, E major contains the notes E, G#, and B, while E minor contains E, G, and B.  Here’s the fingering for E minor:

E minor

0  1   2   3   4   5

E |-0-|—|—|—|—|—|

B |-0-|—|—|—|—|—|

G |-0-|—|—|—|—|—|

D |—|—|-3-|—|—|—|

A |—|—|-2-|—|—|—|

E |-0-|—|—|—|—|—|

Notice what a huge difference changing that one note makes to the sound of the chord!  As you learn guitar chords, be sure to always compare the major and minor forms, paying attention to the sound of the chords and the fingerings.  Here’s A minor:

A minor

0  1   2   3   4   5

E |-0-|—|—|—|—|—|

B |—|-1-|—|—|—|—|

G |—|—|-3-|—|—|—|

D |—|—|-2-|—|—|—|

A |-0-|—|—|—|—|—|

E |-x-|—|—|—|—|—|

Notice that your second and third fingers ‘jump’ up one string from E minor.  Try strumming back and forth between those two chords: it’s an easier transition that sounds great.  Now let’s look at D minor:

D minor

0  1   2   3   4   5

E |—|-1-|—|—|—|—|

B |—|—|—|-3-|—|—|

G |—|—|-2-|—|—|—|

D |-0-|—|—|—|—|—|

A |-x-|—|—|—|—|—|

E |-x-|—|—|—|—|—|

Notice that the fingering is quite a bit different from D major.  That’s fine, because it’s pretty unlikely that you’ll move between those two chords in a song.  As always when practicing how to play beginner guitar chords, focus on clean sound and avoiding strings that shouldn’t sound.

The Barre Chord: You’ve learned all the basic open chords, and practiced until you can move between them smoothly and even begin to learn easy guitar songs.  Now it’s time to take on one of the more challenging beginner guitar chords: the barre chord.

This is a chord form that can be played on any fret of the guitar because it doesn’t use any open strings.  Instead, your index finger forms a bar across the fretboard, playing three notes at once.  To make this work you need to rotate your wrist way forward, get that finger as flat as possible, and really dig into the fretboard.  Here’s what it looks like on the first fret, which gives you the F major chord:

F major barre

0  1   2   3   4   5

E |—|-1-|—|—|—|—|

B |—|-1-|—|—|—|—|

G |—|—|-2-|—|—|—|

D |—|—|—|-4-|—|—|

A |—|—|—|-3-|—|—|

E |—|-1-|—|—|—|—|

In terms of learning guitar chords, this is the rite of passage: master the barre chord and you’ve officially learned how to play beginner guitar chords.  It isn’t easy, but don’t give up!  Pick each string one at a time and make sure you can hear each note ring clearly.  If the notes on the first finger aren’t clear, make sure the finger is flat and pressed tigh against the strings.  This is not a natural position, so don’t be discourage if it’s not perfect at first.  This will strengthen your fingers, improve your coordination, and make it easier to learn guitar chords that are more advanced and require larger stretches.

Once you’ve mastered the major barre chord, it’s easy to play the minor chord form: just lift up your middle finger, like so:

F minor barre

0   1   2   3   4   5

E |—|-1-|—|—|—|—|

B |—|-1-|—|—|—|—|

G |—|-1-|—|—|—|—|

D |—|—|—|-4-|—|—|

A |—|—|—|-3-|—|—|

E |—|-1-|—|—|—|—|

Now you can move either of these forms up the neck to play any chord you need; the name of the chord is simply the note your index finger is playing on the two E strings.

That’s it for this lesson: you’re a master of beginner guitar chords, have learned a beginner guitar rhythm, and know the barre chord, which opens up lots of possibilities.  The next lesson will continue with more chords, more rhythms, and a song to liven things up.  See you there!

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