When it comes to learning to play guitar, it can be difficult to know where to start. One of the first things you want to learn, however, is ‘open chords.’ Once you learn these chords (as well as a basic strumming pattern) you will be halfway to being able to play thousands of songs.
These chords will be the building blocks, as they will give you the harmony of a song, and the strumming will give you the rhythm.
The 7 most important chords that every guitar player should learn first are C, A, G, E, D, Am, Em. You can memorize the first 5 open major chords by thinking of the word CAGED.
In this guide, we’re going to tell you how to play each of these chords, and why they’re so important when it comes to learning the guitar.
Songs That Use Beginner Chords
With these chords you will be able to play an endless amount of “easy songs.” In fact, there are millions of songs that use the chord progression G – D – Em – C. This is otherwise referred to as the I – V – vi – IV progression.
Songs like Maroon 5’s “She Will be Loved”, and U2’s “With or Without You” use this same chord progression. Granted, not all of these songs are played in the key of G, but this can be easily fixed by using a capo to play the song in the right key.
These open chords are a great starting point as they make up the components of the more advanced chords. Have you heard of barre chords? Well, all barre chords are derived from the basic open chords.
How To Play Beginner Guitar Chords
In this section we’re going to take you step by step through each chord, so you know exactly where to put your fingers on the fretboard, and what strings they need to be on.
To clarify what we mean by which finger and string we’re talking about, we will use the following guide:
- Index finger = 1st finger
- Middle finger = 2nd finger
- Ring finger = 3rd finger
- High E string = 1st string
- B string = 2nd string
- G string = 3rd string
- D string = 4th string
- A string = 5th string
- Low E string = 6th string
The C Major Chord
- The C major chord is played by putting your index finger on the B string (2nd string) on the first fret.
- Your middle finger needs to be on the D string (4th string) on the second fret.
- And your ring finger needs to be on the A string (5th string) on the third fret.
- The sixth string is muted, which is why on guitar chord charts the string has an X. This means that you strum from the A string (5th string) down.
- The G and high E strings are open, so they have a little ‘O’ at the top. This means that you strum these strings as well as the strings used in the chord.
The notes used in the C major chord are C, E, and G. These are the first, third, and fifth notes on the C major scale.
The A Major Chord
- To play an A major chord, you need to put your index finger on the D string (4th string) on the second fret.
- Your middle finger must be placed on the G string (3rd string) also on the second fret.
- And your ring finger will be on the B string (2nd string) also on the second fret.
- For A major chords, the low E string (6th string) is muted, so you must only strum from the A string down.
- The A string (5th string) and high E string (1st string) are both open, so hit these as you play the chord.
The notes of an A major chord are A, C#, and D. These are the first, third, and fifth notes of the A major scale.
The G Major Chord
- This chord starts with your index finger on the A string (5th string) of the second fret.
- The middle finger sits on the low E string (6th string) of the third fret.
- And finally, your ring finger goes on the high E string (1st string) of the third fret also.
- The rest of the strings are all open, which means you strum from the top string down.
For the G major chord, the notes are G, B, and D. These are the first, third, and fifth notes of the G major scale.
The E Major Chord
- The E major chord begins with your index finger on the G string (3rd string) on the first fret.
- Next your middle finger will go on the A string (5th string) of the second fret.
- The ring finger goes on the D string (4th string) on the second fret also.
- Once again, all of the other strings are open, so you strum from the top down.
The notes in a E major chord are E, G#, and B. These are the first, third, and fifth notes of the E major scale.
The D Major Chord
- To play the D major chord, place your index finger on the G string (3rd string) on the second fret.
- Your middle finger needs to go on the high E string (1st string) on the second fret also.
- Your ring finger goes on the B string (2nd string) on the third fret.
- For the D major chord, both the low E (6th) and A (5th) string are muted, so you need to hit only the lower 4 strings.
- The D string (4th string) is open, which means you hit that string in the strum.
The notes of the D major chord are D, F#, and A. These are the first, third, and fifth notes of the D major scale.
Now we move on to the minor chords.
The E Minor Chord
The E minor chord is pretty similar to the E major chord.
- To start, place your middle finger on the A string (5th string) of the second fret.
- Then your ring finger goes on the D string (4th string) of the second fret also.
- For E minor, all of the other strings are open, which means you hit them all.
The notes that are in the E minor chord are E, G, and B. These are the first, flattened third, and fifth notes of the E minor scale.
The A Minor Chord
The A minor chord is pretty similar to the A major chord.
- Start by putting your index finger on the B string (2nd string) on the first fret.
- Next, place your middle finger on the D string (4th string) of the second fret.
- Your ring finger needs to go on the G string (3rd string) of the second fret also.
- For the A minor chord, the low E (6th) string is muted, which means you hit from the A (5th) string down. Both the A and low E strings are open.
The notes that are in the A minor chord are A, C, and E. These are the first, flattened third, and fifth notes of the A minor scale.
Tips For Playing Beginner Chords
Not that you’ve got the chords, here’s some tips on how to get them locked down and perfected.
Lightly Wrap Your Thumb Around The Neck Of The Guitar
If you find that your chord changes feel clumsy and slow, try repositioning your thumb. Placing your thumb lower down on the guitar neck can make it harder to grip when changing chords, so try keeping your thumb higher up.
By wrapping your thumb around the neck, you can also use your thumb to mute the low E string for chords that have the string muted. That way, even if you do hit the low E string by accident, it won’t make a noise.
Keep Your Thumb Near The 2nd Fret
Your thumb acts as a sort of anchor which helps control your chord changes, by helping to keep your fingers in place. However, it can take some time for you to build up muscle memory, and your thumb may move left or slip down at first.
Use The Tips Of Your Fingers To Press Down On Strings
If you want the chord notes to sound clear, you need to use the tips of your fingers to apply pressure to the strings. But word to the wise, this will absolutely destroy your fingertips at first, and you may be in a lot of discomfort. Luckily, it doesn’t take long for your skin to toughen up, especially if you practice daily.
Use The Right Amount Of Pressure
A lot of new guitar players will keep a light pressure, as it can hurt to press down too hard. If you want the notes to sound clear, you have to press down harder.
Don’t Place Your Fingers Too Close To The Metal Frets
If you place your finger too close to the metal frets, you run the risk of muting the note – which won’t sound good.
Curve Your Fingers
By curving your fingers, you should be able to avoid touching the strings below, and letting them ring out. Muted and buzzing strings can occur if your fingers are too flat, so make sure you angle them correctly.
Perfect notes and quick changes won’t happen overnight. To develop the quality and control, you need to practice chords every time you pick up your guitar.
Speaking of practice, it’s time to talk about some exercises that can help you master these chords.
- To build muscle memory and increase your finger strength, start by strumming individual chords up and down for around 30-60 seconds per rep. As your fingers become stronger, increase the time you strum for.
- To practice changing between chords, start by changing between pairs of chords. For example, practice changing between E major and E minor, or A major and A minor. As there are subtle differences between these chords, it shouldn’t be too challenging to switch between them and get your hands prepared for fast changes.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Do You Read Guitar Chord Charts?
Guitar chord charts are pretty straight forward once you understand what they’re showing you.
The vertical lines represent each of the guitar strings. On the far left is the low E string, and the far right is the high E string. The horizontal lines refer to the metal frets. If you get confused, most chord charts label the strings and frets.
On the strings, there are numbers in circles which represents a certain finger. These will show you which string and fret they need to be on.
1 = Index finger / 1st finger
2 = Middle finger / 2nd finger
3 = Ring finger / 3rd finger
4 = Pink/Little finger / 4th finger
At the top of the chart, there will be either an X or an O above the strings in which you don’t place your finger.
X = Don’t play the string
O = Open string
How Many Chords Does The Average Guitar Player Know?
A lot of guitar players will tell you that you only need to bother with 5 major chords. These are: C, A, G, E, and D major – otherwise known as CAGED. With these chords you will be able to play hundreds of thousands, if not millions of songs, as a lot of songs use some variation of these chords.
However, each chord is unique, and adds something to a song. Once you’ve mastered the basic chords don’t feel like you have to limit yourself. Push yourself to learn the more challenging (and impressive) stuff.
How Do Guitarists Memorize Chords?
The best way to memorize chords is to play and practice them over and over again. The longer your practice (meaning over a long period of time passing, not just one singular practice) your finger muscle will begin to memorize them, which is also known as muscle memory. At this stage, you won’t even have to look at the chords to be able to play them.