Basic Guitar Chords

Every Beginner Should Know

Introduction

In this page, I will lay down all the basic guitar chords that I believe every beginner should learn and know how to play on the guitar. As the name implies, these are very basic chords, and thus are easy to learn and memorize, but are very important and essential because all the other chords, no matter how advanced, are actually based upon these chords and the scales and modes behind them.

I won't dive into all the theory behind the chords and how they got constucted, as this is a very big and broad subject and will take several guitar lessons to cover, and I won't be talking about scales and modes neither because that would deviate very much from the topic of this guide.

This is a simple and very basic guide to introduce the guitar beginner to the basic chords, how to play them properly, their names, what you can do with this knowledge, and where to go from here.

So, without further ado, let's start!

The First Five Basic Guitar Chords You Must Know

The C, A, G, E, D Chords

Also pronounced the CAGED chords so you can remember them easily.

The CAGED chords consist of the following chords:

  • The A Major Chord
  • The C Major Chord
  • The D Major Chord
  • The E Major Chord
  • The G Major Chord

Every time you refer to a Major chord, you don't need to say “Major”. By simply referring to a chord by its root key's name, like the C chord, for example, it's automatically understood and accepted that you are targeting a Major chord.

So from now on, when we are talking about a specific chord and we didn't mention whether it's Major or Minor, be informed that we mean the Major one. For example, The D chord is the D Major chord. The E chord is the E Major chord, and so on.

If we want to refer to minor chords then we will clearly announce “Minor” in the chord's name. For example, if we want to refer to the Minor D chord, we will say: The D Minor Chord. Or, The Dm Chord (m = Minor), etc.

It's widely accepted and even preferred to refer to the above 5 major chords as CAGED, rather than ACDEG, because it's much easier to remember and mention.

Here are some definitions before we go into the technical stuff:
  • The Index Finger – Finger No. 1
  • The Middle Finger – Finger No. 2
  • The Ring Finger – Finger No. 3
  • The Pinky Finger – Finger No. 4
  • The 1st String = The Lowest String = The string with the lowest, deepest tone.
  • The 6th String = The Highest String = The string with the highest sounding tone.
  • Barre – Or “bar”, is when you place your index finger on a single fret and press all the strings in line with that fret. This is used for playing the F chord, or B chord, for example.

Below you will find the fingering of the basic 5 chords we mentioned above and the way they look on the fretboard:

The C Chord

The C chord is derived from the key of C, and is one of the most common chords used in all western music.

You want to skip the lowest string and make sure not to hit it while strumming the chord. For beginners, that might present a challenge, if you hit it by mistake, it won't sound that aweful! Worry not, Just keep on practicing and you'll be able to play it perfectly in no time. 🙂

Common fingering: 2nd String – 3rd Finger | 3rd String – 2nd Finger | 5th String – 1st Finger

Make sure that the open position strings (4th and 6th) are played and sounded cleanly, not muted or disturbed by the other fingers, and try to sound the 6th highest tone string as sharp and clean as possible. If you can't get it perfectly as a beginner, don't worry, just keep on practicing and try to play it better every time you try. Always focus on improving and perfecting your sound, train your ear to the tone of the chord, learn to identify your mistakes, play in front of the mirror and check your posture and fingering, and without realizing over time you will start playing it very cleanly! Remember, dedication and practice.

The A Chord

The A chord is derived from the key of A, and can be played either by the fingering shown to the right, or by placing a barre on the 3rd, 4th, and 5th string

The barre technique with the A chord is used in more advanced techniques and compositions to allow for faster playing, especially when soloing when you need to press the A chord quickly and continue playing single notes. Tommy Emmanuel, among others, is a great example of a fantastic Blues and Country guitarist who uses this technique sometimes during his performances!

Common fingering: 3nd String – 2nd Finger | 4th String – 3rd Finger | 5th String – 4th Finger

Just like with the C chord, make sure your highest 6th string is sounded sharp and clean. In the beginning it might look too difficult not to mistakenly touch the 6th string with your pinky when using this fingering, when you find yourself doing that mistake a lot, just raise your hand a little bit, make sure your pinky is not too flat or stretched hard on the string, relax, adjust your posture, and try again. Remember, your fretting hand's fingers should come down on the strings from above, rather than reaching for the strings from below. Requires lots of practicing and calluses at the beginning to get it right! Don't give up 🙂

The G Chord

The G chord is derived from the G key and can be played in both open position and as barre, depends on the context of the song.

The G chord might look intimidating at start, but it really isn't. You do need to have fingers on the 1st and 6th strings simultaneously but it requires no special stretching to assume the right fingering. Try it yourself!

Common fingering: 1st String – 3rd Finger | 2nd String – 2nd Finger | 6th String – 4th Finger

There are many ways to play the G chord, however, the most common way is shown above. Make sure that the 6th string is sharp and clean, and that your 3rd finger on the 1st string does not bother the string below. As always, aim for a clean flow and sound of the chord.

The E Chord

The G chord is derived from the E key and is another very popular chord used in both western pop and rock music, and flamenco.

Moving the E chord one semi-tone higher and placing a barre finger on the first fret will give you the F chord, but we'll discuss that later.

Common fingering: 2nd String – 2nd Finger | 3rd String – 3rd Finger | 4th String – 1st Finger

The D Chord

The D chord is derived from the key of D

The D chord is one of the easiest basic chords out there, and is one of the most popular and common chords in all western music.

Common fingering: 4th String – 1st Finger | 5th String – 3rd Finger | 6th String – 2nd Finger

CAGED – The CAGED System?

What is the CAGED system? If this is the first time that you hear of the CAGED system, or not the first time but you still don't understand what it is or how it works, it basically says the following:

These 5 major chords – C, A, G, E and D, can actually be played on different locations along the neck of the guitar, by first identifying the root key of one chord, then making a barre finger on that fret and playing the next chord's shape in rotation to have the same initial chord.

It's hard to explain in words, so let me give you an example:

Say you have the C chord with the fingering we've shown above. The root key is C, which is played with your 3rd finger on the second string. The CAGED system basically says that if you make a barre on that fret where the root C key is located (on the 3rd fret), and then you play the chord which is next in rotation according to CAGED, which is the A chord (C -> A -> G -> …), then you will have the same C chord again. Don't believe me? Try it yourself on your guitar!

Using the same method, if you continue from that C chord which is transposed upon the A chord, the next shape would be the G shape. Find the root key of the A chord, and again, barre on it and play the G chord, you will also be playing the C chord only transposed in a different shape and position.

There are some benefits AND disadvantages for using and relying on the CAGED system, if you ask for my advice, I'd say don't spend too much time trying to perfect and understand the CAGED system, and definitely DO NOT rely on it for your fretboard awareness and knowledge because it is a bit limited when you try to move on into the more advanced stuff where the CAGED isn't applicable.

It's a nice little system to know about and have in your arsenal, but don't pour too much attention and energy into it.

Four More Basic Chords for Beginners

Now that you have learned about the first five basic most important chords, these four additional chords are also among the most basic and essential chords that a beginner must know:

  • The Am Chord, or A minor
  • The Em Chord
  • The Dm Chord
  • The B7 Chord

I didn't want to mention them along with the CAGED chords because these are all minor chords (except for B7) while the CAGED are all Major, and I wanted to make a mention to the CAGED system right after laying down the actual CAGED chords so it makes a better chronological order.

With that said, these four chords are just as basic and simple, and maybe even simpler! And they too must be the focus of your beginner chords training along with the five CAGED chords mentioned above.

The Am Chord:

Fingering the Am chord is a bit different than the Major A chord, despite the very small difference between the two in notation, as shown above. Using the 2nd, 3rd and 1st finger for the 3rd, 4th and 5th strings is the common way of playing it.

The Em Chord

The Em chord is probably the easiest chord to play on the guitar. All it takes is placing your 2nd and 3rd fingers on the 2nd and 3rd strings and strum the whole strings simultaneously. You don't have to worry about muting strings or not pressing hard enough as it's very comfortable and natural to finger this chord. It's easy, simple, popular, and widely used in a variety of genres.

The Dm Chord

The most common way of playing the Dm chord is as shown above, with the 2nd, 3rd and 1st fingers pressing on the 4th, 5th and 6th strings respectively.

The B7 Chord

The B7 Chord is a unique chord, a chord that I personally use a lot because I love playing flamenco arpeggios casually, and the B7 fits perfectly in the flamenco genre, especially when combined with the E, Em, and Am chords. It might be the hardest chord to play among all the basic chords we talked about here, but getting this chord right can be very rewarding and opens up more diverse options of songs that you can play as a beginner to intermediate.

The Open Chords and Barre Chords

All of the chords you learned above, are called “Open” chords. An “Open Chord” simply means or implies that at least one string is not fingered. Most of the open chords are beginner-friendly and thus every guitar teacher or instructor would normally start off introducing you to the chords using the open chords, and especially the open chords that we have shown you above.

Barre chords, on the other hand, includes fingering of ALL the strings, such as with chords like the F, B, Gm, and Cm. Barre chords are for intermediate players and above, as they require a certain amount of strength and flexibility to be able to press down hard enough on the strings with the index finger to generate a full, clean sound strumming the barre chord. This skill, comes with time and practice, and thus beginners should avoid playing barre chords, but once in the intermediate level, they should start inserting barre chords into their training schedule.

When first dealing with barre chords, your hand and wrist will get stiff and tired quickly because you still haven't developed enough stamina to sustain this position with your fingers. Don't quit! I too had my fair share of pain practicing the barre chords, but I persevered and I can play barre chords now anywhere on the fretboard without much of a hassle.

Being able to play barre chords opens up a much bigger world of music and songs that you can play and enjoy on the guitar, without them, you will be very limited in terms of what you can do on your guitar. So it's really worth the trouble and I urge you not to quit trying even when it gets too painful.

Major and Minor Chords

You have learned six Major chords (including the B7 chord) and three minor chords from this guide here. You've probably noticed the difference between Major and minor by the way they sound, Major chords tend to sound “happy”, and minor chords sound rather “darker”. That's just the nature of human's perception of sound!

In basic theory of minor and major chords, a Major chord contains a major third above the root, while a minor chord contains a minor third above the root. I won't go into too many details and explain the whole theory behind it, as it's beyond the scope of this guide, but what you need to know for now is that minor chords are semi-tone under Major chords, and that small difference is enough to give them the rather “dark” feel that they have.

Here are all the basic chords that we have so far, plus additional more few basic chords that are super easy and you can add to your chords dictionary:

Notice how we laid down the F Major chord, normally the F chord is played as a barre chord, but to make it easier for beginners, it's acceptable to just “bar” with your index finger on the 6th and 5th strings and press the 3rd and 4th strings with your 3rd and 2nd fingers. No need to barre the whole frets line for now.

So, in total, we've got 15 basic chords. With these basic chords only, you can play hundreds of songs until you are ready to move to the barre chords and the more advanced chords progression and positioning.

Strumming Techniques and Patterns

Knowing the basic fingering and notation of each chord is essential, but only half of the formula. Knowing how to actually strum the chords and produce real rhythm and music, is the other half of the formula.

Strumming techniques vary from one guitarist to another. Basically, you can strum using a pick (Or also called plectrum), using your thumb, or all your fingers. Experiment with different techniques to see what suits you best, and try to control the rhythm and the force of each strum so that your chords doesn't sound too loud or too soft, and feels nice listening to. It requires training to both your technique and your ear to finally reach hat sweet spot where your rhythm play is super awesome and enjoyable to listen to, so don't stop practicing!

As for patterns, there are many strumming patterns you can use, most notably the All-Down strumming pattern, Down-Up, and the Calypso strumming pattern. There are actually five basic strumming patterns that I've talked about on my blog and explained beautifully which you can take a look at and start practicing them yourself. Learn what they are and more details into how to strum your guitar below:

Where to Go From Here?

So you've learned 15 basic guitar chords for beginners so far, including both minor and Major, you learned the difference between open chords and barre chords, and you've learned how to strum these chords and using basic patterns to strum them beautifully and easily. What now? Where to go from here?

Well, we've just scratched the surface of the big, more complex world of music theory. There are a LOT left to be learned that can make you a 10x better musician and guitarist. Many guitarists tend to take music theory for granted, but little do they know how much beneficial music theory is to your musical vocabulary, understanding the structure of chords and scales, and the overall quality of your music production and creativity that you can get out of simply playing your guitar. Think you can create another Steve Vai simply by playing extreme alternate picking exercises all day and night? You're wrong. Steve Vai is a great result of both relentless technical training AND heavy learning and understanding of the music theory in general.

As for chords and music theory, you can expand upon your knowledge with learning about common chord progressions used in your favorite genre of music, how chords are actually constructed and the root of its naming and variations, you can learn what chords are best played together so you can use that information in your improvisations later on, or to create an awesome backing melody for your band to jam and practice together, and a lot more.

If you are intrigued by this stuff and you want to take your guitar and rhythm playing to the next level, I know just the right place to do so that I highly recommend for all beginners seeking my advice. This place got an amazing beginner-friendly training system with lessons that cover everything you can imagine on the guitar, including music theory, chords, and proper rhythm play. Click below to continue your journey from here:

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