So probably one of the most popular word you have heard even before you started playing guitar, is the word “chords”. It is popular and related to guitars because it is used almost only and exclusively on the guitar. You don't hear about someone playing chords on the Piano, or Violin, for example, you might hear instead someone playing harmonics, or the scales, on those instruments. But when you hear the word “chords”, it is almost certainly meant to describe playing chords on the guitar.
Before we dig into the methods and tools to teach you how to play chords on the guitar, let us first define what is a chord.
What is a “chord”?
A chord is simply a set of different notes, played simultaneously. Unlike arpeggios, where you play each note individually. Click here to learn more about arpeggios.
However, the notes is not picked randomly, and the naming also, obviously is not random. So how did the chords get constructed and named? the answer is simple: simply by taking the root note of a scale and then followed by other notes in a specific pattern. To understand this let us take some examples below.
Examples to further understand the construction and naming of the chords
Let us take a look at the picture below:
If you don't know what these names are, it's okay don't worry, these are the original naming (I'm not sure the exact source of where it originated from) of the notes in the musical scales. The first one is the “Do”, which is the “C” key, followed by “Re” to the right, which relates to the “D” key, and so on like this:
- Do = “C” key
- Re = “D” key
- Mi = “E” key
- Fa = “F” key
- Sol = “G” key
- La = “A” key
- Si = “B” key
So if we take the “Do”, or the “C” chord above,the first note (the note on the lowest string) IS the “root” note in the scale, which is the C key, or the “Do” note. Stacking up to this note by other notes in an interval of 3rd, and you get the “C” chord. I don't want to complicate things more and start using phrases and expressions that you probably don't know the meaning of, for beginners I will try and keep things very simple so you can understand and start playing chords immediately.
However, I strongly recommend having a deeper look into the chords and it's construction and naming, which will require some knowledge in music theory, but once you have that foundation, playing chords, memorizing them, composing songs with chords, and even transposing any song to different keys and scales (for example if a specific song is too high pitched and you want to be able to play it in a lower scale) will be a piece of cake and very easy to do.
If I am to indulge deep into music theory and chords, this post will extend to at least 10 more pages, however, I can guide you to good sources where they have amazing material and video tutorials and lessons regarding the music theory and chords construction and progression, if you are interested (and I highly recommend it) you can check the Courses and Lessons section for online programs that I wrote reviews on and do have this kind of material included, and one that I myself checked and watched the whole lesson which was very informative and helpful is by JamPlay, if you decide to participate with them, login and search for “chords” in their website and go to lesson 7 by Orville Johnson, called “Practical Theory Part 3: Chords and Construction”, he does an amazing job explaining in a simple, yet comprehensive way all about chords and how they got constructed, what is triad chords, what is minor and major chords and how to identify them, intervals, and so on.
Playing chords for beginners
So now you know what “chords” is, and some basic knowledge to their construction and naming, let us now look at methods and ways to play and practice them.
So as a beginner, there are certain few chords that you must know and start your practice on. There are hundreds of chords out there, and you can check the page about chords here for a list of some popular and most used ones as reference, but for a beginner, focus on these chords below, and after you master them you can then go and extend the list by yourself and add new, more challenging chords to your practice:
Your first chord – the C:
- Filled black dots is the place on the fingerboard where your fingers should be positioned on
- Empty dots means play the string in the open (no fingers pressed on it)
- X means you should skip the string, do not press it or play it.
So the first string is muted, second string is played with your third finger on the third fingerboard, third string is played with your second finger on the second fingerboard, fourth string is played open, fifth is played on the first fingerboard with your first finger, and the last string, the sixth, the highest pitched note, is played open as the E key (in the standard guitar tuning).
This is a fairly easy chord, on the C scale, and you should play the chord's notes simultaneously, in other words, “strum” the chords, instead of picking or plucking. Just relax and strum the chord simultaneously, try pacing of your own, try strumming up and down, you know, be creative, and make a sound that you like, no rules here. The main things to look for here are:
- Be accurate with your fingers positioning, press the exact notes
- Be clean with your sound. Each finger must be placed on the exact designated string, and must not “intervene” with the other strings and keys, otherwise you will produce a noisy sound or simply the wrong chord.
- Fast switching between chords – this is a skill you will achieve the more you play and practice playing the chords.
The D Chord:
The E Chord:
The G Chord:
The A Chord:
The F Chord:
- To play the F chord, you have to make a “bridge” with your first finger on the first fingerboard. See the picture below:
- All the above chords, are considered “Major“. Which means, the C chord, for example, is actually the Cmaj chord, or C Major, but it is okay to refer to it as the “C” chord only. For more on this, please refer to Courses and Lessons section as this can be a huge topic, and it is hard to make a basic explanation on such a big subject as music theory and chords construction.
To make a chord minor, simply you go one interval down with your third note of a triad chord. For example, we presented above the A chord, in order to make an A minor chord (which is also another popular chord that you should know), simply go down one pitch with your third and last finger, see the positioning below:
The Am Chord:
Another popular minor beginner chord is the Em chord, check below.
The Em Chord:
You can also play it like this, and it will be Em doubled third on high E:
As you can see, you can take a simple chord and make variations to it to produce a slightly different sound on the same key or scale, and the name will have an addition to it to identify the variation done (Minor, Major, Dim – diminished, third high, etc)
Another popular chord that I want you to know and practice, and is used widely in Spanish compositions and flamenco guitar, is the B7 chord.
The B7 Chord:
Note: the B7 chord is widely used with chords such as the Em and the Am chords
Exercise and a Song
From the above last chord, the B7, I want to use it to create a simple yet fun chords progression exercise for you to enjoy. I want you to simply take these 3 chords: Em, B7, Am, and play them like this with any pacing and tempo that you like:
Em -> Em -> B7 -> B7 -> Em -> Em -> B7 -> B7 -> Em ->
Am -> Em -> B7 -> Em -> Am -> Em -> B7 -> Em
This is actually the list of chords and progression of a movie theme song from the movie Desperado by Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek, called Cancion Del Mariachi, and here's the link to it from Ultimate-Guitar:
Another great song to play and practice chords with, is a song by the Beatles, called Let it Be, and the link to it from Ultimate-Guitar:
Every guitar beginner should know the chords and how to play them, not all of them of course, but the most popular ones are mentioned above and you should definitely start with them, with time passing by as you progress, you will get introduced to more songs that include other chords, and by that time you will already have mastered the basic chords and are ready to learn new ones. So don't stress it, start with these basic chords and as you progress, you will learn more and more and will improve speed and accuracy.
As I mentioned above, there are some online guitar teaching programs that teach music and chords theory from scratch to the highest levels, and they are really inexpensive and recommended, check the Courses and Lessons for the available reviews, and more specifically check Jamplay review, because I personally checked the lessons on chords myself (Lesson 7 by Orville Johnson) and they have some really amazing and comprehensive material on this topic. Highly recommended if you want to take learning the chords to a whole new level.
I might add a video to this post, or series of videos, to illustrate some chords playing technique and showcase some of the songs with their chords, but for now, I hope you enjoyed this comprehensive simple beginner guide to guitar chords and wish you best of luck with your journey exploring the guitar.
If you have any sort of feedback or comment, please say it below and I'll happily reply to you whenever I can.