Chords: Everything You Need To Know

author: fenderguy09 date: 05/16/2007 category: chords
rating: 9.1 / votes: 111 
Table of Contents
1. Introduction
2. How to read chord charts
3. Basic open chords
4. Basic barre chords
5. Other ways to view chords
6. Power chords
7. Octaves
8. Slash chords
9. Outroduction

1. Introduction

Hey Matt, are you ready for the next installment of Grant's Craptastic Guitar Learning E-Mail Newsletter? Well, ready or not, here it is. And darn it, you better learn this crap! You need to learn your chords if you ever want to be a rhythm guitarist in a band (rhythm = chords, barre chords, power chords, octaves, slash chords, etc). Well, I think I'm going to add the power chord and octave stuff from my other lesson in this one. Heck, why not. If you haven't already noticed, I'm not too sure of what I'm going to do in this lesson. Instead of making a rough draft on paper for this lesson like the other one I sent you, I'm just doing this one on the fly and hoping it goes nicely. Anywho! Here's all the crap you need to know for all your chord needs. Basically all a chord is is 3 or more notes played at the same time through strumming (as I'm sure you know, strumming is just when you brush your pick over the strings of a stringed instrument to make a sound). Dictionary.com calls a chord a combination of three or more pitches sounded simultaneously. Now that you know what chords are, it's time to learn the chords, but first, you must learn how to read chord charts.

2. How to read chord charts

In this lesson, I'm gonna make my own chord charts so I can tell you exactly how you should play them (at least how I feel you should play them). The chord charts will look like this:
  0  1   2   3   4   5

e|-|---|---|---|---|---|
B|-|---|---|---|---|---|
G|-|---|---|---|---|---|
D|-|---|---|---|---|---|
A|-|---|---|---|---|---|
E|-|---|---|---|---|---|
In case your not aware, the letters to the left of the chart are the note names of the strings. The little e is the highest string (skinniest) and the big E is the lowest string (the thickest). And then all the letters in between are the strings in between. Just think of it as reading tabs just slightly altered. Here is what everything symbolizes:
  0  1   2   3   4   5 <-fret #'s (the 0 is an open string)

e|-|---|---|---|---|---|
B|-|---|---|---|---|---|
G|-|---|---|---|---|---|
D|-|---|---|---|---|---|
A|-|---|---|---|---|---|
E|-|---|---|---|---|---|
   ^---^-frets   ^---^-space in between frets
^ strings
Here's an example of a chord:
           C7

  0  1   2   3   4   5

e|o|---|---|---|---|---|
B|-|-1-|---|---|---|---|
G|-|---|---|-4-|---|---|
D|-|---|-2-|---|---|---|
A|-|---|---|-3-|---|---|
E|x|---|---|---|---|---|
The C7 above the chart is the name of the chord. The 1, 2, 3, and 4 on the chord chart tells you what finger to put on the certain string. The number 1 is your index finger, 2 is your middle finger, 3 is your ring finger, and 4 is your pinky. The o in the 0 fret column means the string is played open, or you don't put a finger on the string but you play it anyway. The x in the 0 fret column means you don't put a finger down on that string but you don't play that string either. You can either just not pick it or mute it by partially laying a finger down on the string. You can either lightly place a finger on the muted string with a finger that is already pushing down another string (in this case it would be the 3rd finger on the A string) or place your thumb barely on the muted string by bringing it over the neck and lightly touching the string.

3. Basic open chords

There are 8 basic open chords. I'm sure you know, but there are more than 8, but 8 of them are the major and minor chords, and we'll call the major and minor chords the basic ones. Alrighty then, it's time to learn the basic open chords (note: not all of these chords are how I play them, but it's how you should play them in the most economical way). We'll start with the major ones:
           A

  0  1   2   3   4   5

e|o|---|---|---|---|---|
B|-|---|-4-|---|---|---|
G|-|---|-3-|---|---|---|
D|-|---|-2-|---|---|---|
A|o|---|---|---|---|---|
E|x|---|---|---|---|---|

           C    

  0  1   2   3   4   5

e|o|---|---|---|---|---|
B|-|-1-|---|---|---|---|
G|o|---|---|---|---|---|
D|-|---|-2-|---|---|---|
A|-|---|---|-3-|---|---|
E|x|---|---|---|---|---|

           D

  0  1   2   3   4   5

e|-|---|-2-|---|---|---|
B|-|---|---|-3-|---|---|
G|-|---|-1-|---|---|---|
D|o|---|---|---|---|---|
A|x|---|---|---|---|---|
E|x|---|---|---|---|---|

 E

  0  1   2   3   4   5

e|o|---|---|---|---|---|
B|o|---|---|---|---|---|
G|-|-2-|---|---|---|---|
D|-|---|-4-|---|---|---|
A|-|---|-3-|---|---|---|
E|o|---|---|---|---|---|

           G

  0  1   2   3   4   5

e|-|---|---|-4-|---|---|
B|-|---|---|-3-|---|---|
G|o|---|---|---|---|---|
D|o|---|---|---|---|---|
A|-|---|-1-|---|---|---|
E|-|---|---|-2-|---|---|
Ok, these are the major open chords. If a chord doesn't have anything after it's main letter (like in the C chord, it is just C, not Cm or Cm7 or Cadd9 or something like that) then it's a major chord. Ok, time to learn the minor open chords. They are:
          Am

  0  1   2   3   4   5

e|o|---|---|---|---|---|
B|-|-2-|---|---|---|---|
G|-|---|-4-|---|---|---|
D|-|---|-3-|---|---|---|
A|o|---|---|---|---|---|
E|x|---|---|---|---|---|

          Dm

  0  1   2   3   4   5

e|-|-1-|---|---|---|---|
B|-|---|---|-3-|---|---|
G|-|---|-2-|---|---|---|
D|o|---|---|---|---|---|
A|x|---|---|---|---|---|
E|x|---|---|---|---|---|

          Em

  0  1   2   3   4   5

e|o|---|---|---|---|---|
B|o|---|---|---|---|---|
G|o|---|---|---|---|---|
D|-|---|-2-|---|---|---|
A|-|---|-3-|---|---|---|
E|o|---|---|---|---|---|
Hey! Why is there an m after every chord name? Well, that signifies that the chord is a minor chord. So if you see a chord that is an A but has an m after it, making it Am, then, you know that the chord is an Am chord. Got it?

4. Basic barre chords

Well, this segment is probably going to be a challenge to write so you can understand it. A barre chord (pronounced bar) is just a chord that uses your whole index finger to press down, or barre down, 5 or 6 strings so that your other 3 fingers can play other notes (told you this was hard to explain!) The beauty of barre chords is that they have a few basic shapes, and you can move those shapes up and down the fretboard to get different chords and different sounds, opposed to open chords which can only can played in one position. Just a note, but try using the bony inside part of your index finger to barre the chord down and give you a better sound. Ok, first, you're going to learn your 5 string barre chords. There are 4 main shapes to 5 string barre chords: the major, minor, seventh, and minor seventh positions. You're only going to learn the major and minor positions in this lesson though, seeing to which the 7 and m7 (seventh and minor seventh) positions aren't used very often, and especially aren't used very often in the type of music we might play together. Here are the 2 shapes:
5 string major barre chord shape

  0  1   2   3   4   5

e|-|---|-1-|---|---|---|
B|-|---|---|---|-4-|---|
G|-|---|---|---|-3-|---|
D|-|---|---|---|-2-|---|
A|-|---|-1-|---|---|---|
E|x|---|---|---|---|---|

5 string minor barre chord shape

  0  1   2   3   4   5

e|-|---|-1-|---|---|---|
B|-|---|---|-2-|---|---|
G|-|---|---|---|-4-|---|
D|-|---|---|---|-3-|---|
A|-|---|-1-|---|---|---|
E|x|---|---|---|---|---|
Wait a second, darn it! That looks just like the A and Am chords, just moved down the fretboard! What the poo is happening here? Yes, you are right. The 5 string major and minor barre chord positions are just the A and Am chords moved down the fretboard. In this case, they are just moved down 2 positions to make a B and Bm chord. But, how did I figure that out? Look closely at the fretboard:
  0  1   2   3   4   5

e|-|---|---|---|---|---|
B|-|---|---|---|---|---|
G|-|---|---|---|---|---|
D|-|---|---|---|---|---|
A|-|---|---|---|---|---|
E|-|---|---|---|---|---|
It has 6 strings, all which have their own note names and sound different from other strings. So, that must mean that each fret has its own note name, too. If you take a string (in this case, let's take the A string since it is the beginning of the music alphabet, A-G#) and move 1 fret down the fretboard, then you have another note. So, from the open A string to the first fret, you have a difference of one note, from A to A#. Then, from the 1st fret to the 2nd fret, you have from A# to B. Then from B to C (in the musical alphabet, there is no B#/Cb or E#/Fb. Don't know why, don't ask why). Anywho, borrowing that knowledge, here's is what the fretboard looks like through 5 frets:
  0  1    2    3    4    5

e|-|-F--|-F#-|-G--|-G#-|-A-|
B|-|-C--|-C#-|-D--|-D#-|-E-|
G|-|-G#-|-A--|-A#-|-B--|-C-|
D|-|-D#-|-E--|-F--|-F#-|-G-|
A|-|-A#-|-B--|-C--|-C#-|-D-|
E|-|-F--|-F#-|-G--|-G#-|-A-|
Now, as I'm pretty sure you haven't noticed, every chords root note (like in G the root note would be G, and in Am the root note name would be A) is also the lowest note in the chord. Like in the G chord:
  0  1   2   3   4   5

 |-|---|---|-G-|---|---|
 |-|---|---|-D-|---|---|
G|-|---|---|---|---|---|
D|-|---|---|---|---|---|
 |-|---|-B-|---|---|---|
 |-|---|---|-G-|---|---|

Or in the Am chord:

  0  1   2   3   4   5

e|o|---|---|---|---|---|
 |-|-C-|---|---|---|---|
 |-|---|-A-|---|---|---|
 |-|---|-E-|---|---|---|
A|-|---|---|---|---|---|
E|x|---|---|---|---|---|
The bolded notes are the root notes of the chords. Almost every chord's root note is also the same as it's name (except in slash chords, and we'll get to those later). The same goes for barre chords. Let's look at the 5 string barre chord examples I used earlier:
  0  1   2   3   4   5

e|-|---|-1-|---|---|---|
B|-|---|---|---|-4-|---|
G|-|---|---|---|-3-|---|
D|-|---|---|---|-2-|---|
A|-|---|-1-|---|---|---|
E|x|---|---|---|---|---|

  0  1   2   3   4   5

e|-|---|-1-|---|---|---|
B|-|---|---|-2-|---|---|
G|-|---|---|---|-4-|---|
D|-|---|---|---|-3-|---|
A|-|---|-1-|---|---|---|
E|x|---|---|---|---|---|
Now, let's also look at their notes:
  0  1   2   3   4   5

 |-|---|-F#|---|---|---|
 |-|---|---|---|-D#|---|
 |-|---|---|---|-B-|---|
 |-|---|---|---|-F#|---|
 |-|---|-B-|---|---|---|
 |x|---|---|---|---|---|

  0  1   2   3   4   5

 |-|---|-F#|---|---|---|
 |-|---|---|-D-|---|---|
 |-|---|---|---|-B-|---|
 |-|---|---|---|-F#|---|
 |-|---|-B-|---|---|---|
 |x|---|---|---|---|---|
The first chord (due to its root being a B and it being in a major barre chord shape) is a B chord. And the second chord (due to its root being a B and it being in a minor barre chord shape) is a Bm chord. You can also make these chords into C and Cm chords (although you should play the C in the open chord way) by simply moving the chords down the fretboard. Here is what they would look like:
    C (barre chord style)

  0  1   2   3   4   5

e|-|---|---|-1-|---|---|
B|-|---|---|---|---|-4-|
G|-|---|---|---|---|-3-|
D|-|---|---|---|---|-2-|
A|-|---|---|-1-|---|---|
E|x|---|---|---|---|---|

          Cm

  0  1   2   3   4   5

e|-|---|---|-1-|---|---|
B|-|---|---|---|-2-|---|
G|-|---|---|---|---|-4-|
D|-|---|---|---|---|-3-|
A|-|---|---|-1-|---|---|
E|x|---|---|---|---|---|
And, these are C and Cm chords for 2 reasons: 1. They are in either a major barre chord shape or a minor barre chord shape 2. They have a C root note Ok, now on to 6 string barre chords! Here are the 2 basic 6 string barre chord shapes, major and minor. Like 5 string barre chords, 6 string ones also use a certain open chord shape but just move it down the fretboard. In this case, it is the E and Em chords. Here's what they look like:
6 string major barre chords

  0  1   2   3   4   5

e|-|-1-|---|---|---|---|
B|-|-1-|---|---|---|---|
G|-|---|-2-|---|---|---|
D|-|---|---|-4-|---|---|
A|-|---|---|-3-|---|---|
E|-|-1-|---|---|---|---|

6 string minor barre chords

  0  1   2   3   4   5

e|-|-1-|---|---|---|---|
B|-|-1-|---|---|---|---|
G|-|-1-|---|---|---|---|
D|-|---|---|-4-|---|---|
A|-|---|---|-3-|---|---|
E|-|-1-|---|---|---|---|
If you look at the notes again, you will see that the root notes of both of those chords is F. So, that means that the chords are F and Fm. Here's another example:
           G

  0  1   2   3   4   5

e|-|---|---|-1-|---|---|
B|-|---|---|-1-|---|---|
G|-|---|---|---|-2-|---|
D|-|---|---|---|---|-4-|
A|-|---|---|---|---|-3-|
E|-|---|---|-1-|---|---|

          Gm

  0  1   2   3   4   5

e|-|---|---|-1-|---|---|
B|-|---|---|-1-|---|---|
G|-|---|---|-1-|---|---|
D|-|---|---|---|---|-4-|
A|-|---|---|---|---|-3-|
E|-|---|---|-1-|---|---|
The root notes of these chords is a G. So, these are G and Gm chords. Once again, play the G like I said above, not like it is in this barre chord example. Here are all of the basic major and minor barre chords:
           B        

  0  1   2   3   4   5

e|-|---|-1-|---|---|---|
B|-|---|---|---|-4-|---|
G|-|---|---|---|-3-|---|
D|-|---|---|---|-2-|---|
A|-|---|-1-|---|---|---|
E|x|---|---|---|---|---|

           F

  0  1   2   3   4   5

e|-|-1-|---|---|---|---|
B|-|-1-|---|---|---|---|
G|-|---|-2-|---|---|---|
D|-|---|---|-4-|---|---|
A|-|---|---|-3-|---|---|
E|-|-1-|---|---|---|---|

          Bm

  0  1   2   3   4   5

e|-|---|-1-|---|---|---|
B|-|---|---|-2-|---|---|
G|-|---|---|---|-4-|---|
D|-|---|---|---|-3-|---|
A|-|---|-1-|---|---|---|
E|x|---|---|---|---|---|

          Cm

  0  1   2   3   4   5

e|-|---|---|-1-|---|---|
B|-|---|---|---|-2-|---|
G|-|---|---|---|---|-4-|
D|-|---|---|---|---|-3-|
A|-|---|---|-1-|---|---|
E|-|---|---|---|---|---|

          Fm

  0  1   2   3   4   5

e|-|-1-|---|---|---|---|
B|-|-1-|---|---|---|---|
G|-|-1-|---|---|---|---|
D|-|---|---|-4-|---|---|
A|-|---|---|-3-|---|---|
E|-|-1-|---|---|---|---|

          Gm

  0  1   2   3   4   5

e|-|---|---|-1-|---|---|
B|-|---|---|-1-|---|---|
G|-|---|---|-1-|---|---|
D|-|---|---|---|-4-|---|
A|-|---|---|---|-3-|---|
E|-|---|---|-1-|---|---|
Remember! Try to barre these chords with the bony inside of your left hand index finger. It will be very hard at first, but you get used to clamping it down after a while and it will become easier, just keep practicing. Also remember that you can make any chord by simply taking one chord shape and moving the chord farther down the next. You can make a Gm by just taking the Em shape and moving it 3 positions down the fretboard and making the Gm.

5. Other ways to view chords

If you know all the ways to view chords then just skip to section 6. Now, these chord charts are not the only way to view chords. There are a few other ways. You can read them through what I call the straight line chord chart which looks like this:
0
1
0
2
3
x
This chord would be a C chord. Look closer. The numbers represent which fret to press down. Here's a guide to realizing what they mean:
e 0 <- play this string open (highest sounding string)
B 1 <- put your finger on the 1st fret
G 0
D 2 <- put your finger on the 2nd fret
A 3 <- put your finger on the 3rd fret
E x <- mute or don't play this strong (lowest sounding)
This guide will not tell you which finger to press down each fret with, but it really doesn't matter which finger you put on each fret as long as you have the chord sounding right. Ok, another way is just through tabs. It will look basically the same as the way represented above but with all the lines that tab has:
|-0-|
|-1-|
|-0-|
|-2-|
|-3-|
|---|
The only difference between this way to view chords and the way shown above is that tab normally doesn't show an x if your not supposed to play something.

6. Power chords

Power chords are the basis of rock music. It's hard to find a rock song that doesn't have at least one power chord in it. Power chords are made to sound big with little or no distortion. Power chords have 1 basic shape. The shape looks like this:
|---------------|
|---------------|
|---------------|
|-2--3--4--5--6-| and so on down the fretboard
|-2--3--4--5--6-|
|-0--1--2--3--4-|
There are also power chords that use the ADG strings. They look like this:
|---------------|
|---------------|
|-2--3--4--5--6-|
|-2--3--4--5--6-| and so on down the fretboard
|-0--1--2--3--4-|
|---------------|
To play power chords (the Kurt Cobain way), you put your 1st finger (index) by the fret that is the lowest sounding and your 3rd finger (ring) on the two frets that are the same. Like this:
I = Index
M = Middle
R = Ring
P = Pinky

  0  1   2   3   4   5 
e|-|---|---|---|---|---|
B|-|---|---|---|---|---|
G|-|---|---|---|---|---|
D|-|---|---|-R-|---|---|
A|-|---|---|-R-|---|---|
E|-|-I-|---|---|---|---|
Another very common (probably the most common) way to play power chords is with your 1st (index), 3rd (ring), and 4th (pinky) fingers like this:
  0  1   2   3   4   5
e|-|---|---|---|---|---|
B|-|---|---|---|---|---|
G|-|---|---|---|---|---|
D|-|---|---|-P-|---|---|
A|-|---|---|-R-|---|---|
E|-|-I-|---|---|---|---|
Pretty simple, huh?

7. Octaves

Octaves are a lot like power chords, but you just mute the string between the top and bottom strings your playing. Octaves are just two of the same notes, only one note is higher than the other. Octaves look like this. Played on the EAD strings (rarely played on these strings):
|---------------|
|---------------|
|---------------|
|-2--3--4--5--6-|
|-x--x--x--x--x-|
|-0--1--2--3--4-|
They also are played on the ADG strings like this (mostly played on these strings):
|---------------|
|---------------|
|-2--3--4--5--6-|
|-x--x--x--x--x-|
|-0--1--2--3--4-|
|---------------|
The "x" you see means that you mute that string so you can barely hear it. You mute this string with your 1st finger by laying it over the string that needs to be muted. You then play the highest string with your 3 finger. If you look at what the notes on the frets your playing are, then you'll find that they are the same notes, only one note is higher than the other. This example should show you:
|---|      |---|              |---|      |---|
|---|      |---|              |---|      |---|
|-2-|  or  |-A-|    also...   |-9-|  or  |-E-|
|-x-|      |-x-|              |-x-|      |-x-|
|-0-|      |-A-|              |-7-|      |-E-|
|---|      |---|              |---|      |---|
Here's a better way to look at them. A C octave would use these chords then mute the string in between:
  0  1    2    3    4    5

e|-|-F--|-F#-|-G--|-G#-|-A-|
B|-|-C--|-C#-|-D--|-D#-|-E-|
G|-|-G#-|-A--|-A#-|-B--|-C-|
D|-|-D#-|-E--|-F--|-F#-|-G-|
A|-|-A#-|-B--|-C--|-C#-|-D-|
E|-|-F--|-F#-|-G--|-G#-|-A-|
And an F octave would look like this:
  0  1    2    3    4    5

e|-|-F--|-F#-|-G--|-G#-|-A-|
B|-|-C--|-C#-|-D--|-D#-|-E-|
G|-|-G#-|-A--|-A#-|-B--|-C-|
D|-|-D#-|-E--|-F--|-F#-|-G-|
A|-|-A#-|-B--|-C--|-C#-|-D-|
E|-|-F--|-F#-|-G--|-G#-|-A-|

8. Slash chords

The most common chords that don't have a root note that is the same as the rest of the note. In fact, that's what makes them slash chords. They are called slash chords because they have a / in them basically. Yeah, don't really know why that happened, but oh well. Ok, now I will better explain them. Slash chords are just normal chords that have a different bass note in them, or root note. The letter to the left of the slash is the chord shape your supposed to play and the letter to the right of the slash is the bass note of the chord. An example of a slash chord would be a D/F#, one of the most common slash chords. You would call this a D over F#. Let's break it down, break it down now! D/F#- The letter to the left of the slash is the name of the chord, so this is a D chord. D/F#- Slash D/F#- The letter you see to the right of the slash is the bass note, or lowest sounding note of the chord. Normally in a D chord the lowest sounding note is D. But in a D/F# chord, the lowest sounding note is an F#. Allright, so how do you play this chord? Well, let's look at the basic D chord shape:
           D

  0  1   2   3   4   5

e|-|---|-2-|---|---|---|
B|-|---|---|-3-|---|---|
G|-|---|-1-|---|---|---|
D|o|---|---|---|---|---|
A|x|---|---|---|---|---|
E|x|---|---|---|---|---|
Now let's look at the F# note (there are 2 of them low enough to work):
  0  1    2    3    4    5

e|-|-F--|-F#-|-G--|-G#-|-A-|
B|-|-C--|-C#-|-D--|-D#-|-E-|
G|-|-G#-|-A--|-A#-|-B--|-C-|
D|-|-D#-|-E--|-F--|-F#-|-G-|
A|-|-A#-|-B--|-C--|-C#-|-D-|
E|-|-F--|-F#-|-G--|-G#-|-A-|
The way I feel you should play a D/F# is using the lower of the 2 F#'s. So, the new D/F# chord would look like this:
          D/F#

  0  1   2   3   4   5

e|-|---|---|---|---|---|
B|-|---|---|---|---|---|
G|-|---|---|---|---|---|
D|-|---|---|---|---|---|
A|-|---|---|---|---|---|
E|-|---|---|---|---|---|
Note: I put a T there because I just bring my thumb over the neck to play this chord. You could play it differently, but this way is easy and pretty cool too, so do it like this. Here are some of the basic slash chords, but there are many others too. But, now that you know your chords, you can easily play them anyway. Here they are:
          A/C#

  0  1   2   3   4   5

e|o|---|---|---|---|---|
B|-|---|-3-|---|---|---|
G|-|---|-2-|---|---|---|
D|-|---|-1-|---|---|---|
A|-|---|---|---|-4-|---|
E|x|---|---|---|---|---|

          C/E

  0  1   2   3   4   5

e|o|---|---|---|---|---|
B|-|-1-|---|---|---|---|
G|o|---|---|---|---|---|
D|-|---|-2-|---|---|---|
A|-|---|---|-3-|---|---|
E|o|---|---|---|---|---|

          C/G

  0  1   2   3   4   5

e|o|---|---|---|---|---|
B|-|-1-|---|---|---|---|
G|-|---|-2-|---|---|---|
D|o|---|---|---|---|---|
A|-|---|---|-4-|---|---|
E|-|---|---|-3-|---|---|

          D/F#

  0  1   2   3   4   5

e|-|---|---|---|---|---|
B|-|---|---|---|---|---|
G|-|---|---|---|---|---|
D|-|---|---|---|---|---|
A|-|---|---|---|---|---|
E|-|---|---|---|---|---|

          G/B

  0  1   2   3   4   5

e|-|---|---|-4-|---|---|
B|-|---|---|-3-|---|---|
G|o|---|---|---|---|---|
D|o|---|---|---|---|---|
A|-|---|-1-|---|---|---|
E|x|---|---|---|---|---|

9. Outroduction

If you have any questions just PM me. Happy playing!
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