#1
Hi there

I'm a guitar teacher and new to the forum and wanted to gather other teacher's views on how they approach teaching the open position chords - in particular what fingerings they get their students to use.

I thought i'd start with the first letter of the alphabet and get your thoughts on the A major chord.

Now in an ideal world I would always teach my students to play A major with their 2nd, 3rd and 4th fingers. The reason why i choose this fingering is for the following reasons:

(1) i'm a strong believer in using the 4th finger as often as possible and not shying away from using it. When people shy away from using their 4th finger they will eventually come up against a song where you HAVE to use your little finger and if you haven't used it an awful lot your little finger tends to be pretty redundant.
(2) I also think this fingering is good as it helps you learn the A major type barre chord shape (i.e. when you play Bb say on the 1st position).
(3) A similar related reason to (2) above is that I also think this shape is more useful if you then need to move the A chord shape up the fretboard as it is harder to fit your fingers into one fret higher up the neck when using your 1st, 2nd and 3rd.

However, the downsides to using this fingering are as follows:

(1) I would say most people appear to "get" playing an A major chord quicker if they use their 1st, 2nd and 3rd fingers.
(2) Playing an A sus4 is quite hard as you have to use your pinky to make the sus4 and most students find that quite hard

Nonetheless, as a teacher I would still ideally choose fingering an A chord with your 2nd, 3rd and 4th in an ideal situation with an ideal student. However, things aren't always ideal. Sometimes (especially with guys who have bigger fingers) using 1st, 2nd and 3rd is simply not an option as their fingers are too big to fit into one fret to make the A chord. So here they probably have to use some other fingering like using 2nd, 3rd and 4th.

If i have a good student who practises regularly and could choose either fingering then i'll steer them towards using their 2nd, 3rd and 4th fingers. Although i don't like this fingering so much I know some great guitar players who play A major using this fingering. However, if i'm teaching another student who say is struggling a bit more, and maybe doesn't practise as much i might allow them to use the 1st, 2nd and 3rd if they find this easier. Sometimes i think as teachers you have to accept with some students you may on some occasions have to let some points of preferred technique slip in the interests of not disheartening them so much they give up entirely.

SO ! What i'd love to hear back from you teachers out there are your thoughts on ideal fingerings for A Major chords and your different approaches to teaching this chord.

I am a strong believer also in getting people to master 2 fingered chords first as a stepping stone to learning 3 fingered chords. So, i would teach an Asus2 chord first before teaching an A major chord. I always used to be a teacher who would teach chords first but now i'm leaning towards doing more single finger work first before teaching chords so that the student's fingers are as dextrous as possible before we start doing chord work.

I will soon post a similar thread on other fingerings for other troublesome chords like G major / D minor etc where there are important choices that we as teachers have to make when teaching our students.

I look forward to hearing from you all !
#2
Well, i can only support the points you have made about using the 2nd,3rd and 4th finger. I've seen students playing the A-major chord with their index, pushing down all three strings, what is a terrible way to do this. Students do then often the following thing : When they have to deal with playing a Bb chord (in A shape) they use their ring finger (!) to push down the D,G and B string and use their index to make it be a bar chord. Nevertheless they still cannot push down the high e-string properly --> causing lots of problems.
These students often believe, that their fingers are to thick or something, but that is in most cases totally wrong. It's all about technique when it comes down to playing certain chords, and it is not about finger length and a high amount of energy to put in.
So your idea of fretting in this case the A major chord is in my opinion the best one. I would never teach another approach.
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#3
Nowhereblue,
Great question!

I teach *both* methods. I teach them the 2/3/4 finger on the 2nd fret and the barred index finger over the bottom 4 strings... mostly because I want them to know the correct way, but I play it barred and I want them to know it by sight when I play it. Also, it makes them more dynamic guitar players -- For instance I teach The Outfield's Say It Isn't So once they reach level of skill and John Spinks plays an A during the bridge (I think if I recall correctly) and it is nearly impossible to throw those three fingers up there in the midst of all those rock bar chords Spinks is throwing out.

As far as what they should actually play, I tell them whatever is most comfortable to play. Now, I play it barred because that's the way I learned it and didn't learn the correct method until much later so I fall into the barred chord by habit -- also, my fingers are on the fat side so I find it hard to play it properly.

By and large I teach children (8-15) so their fingers are usually skinny enough to play it properly.

There are other chords that I teach like that, too -- but I'll leave those explanations until you post them .
#4
Or: The playing is situational depending on what is before and after the chord (or during); which is why finger independance is important, adaptability.
#5
hey guys

thanks for your quick replies !

Blacklizzy - i agree its probably nearly impossible to get the high E string to ring out using that fingering of barring the 3rd finger across. that fingering does work provided you don't need the top E string but on some things you do (like the C section of road trippin' by the chilli peppers) - here you have to use a proper A shape barre chord to get the top E to ring out.

Bsarte - yep i sometimes use the first finger barre version of A (where you barre the first finger over the 2nd frets of the D, G and B strings and kink your finger back up so that top E string can ring out - is that the version you play too? i wasn't sure) i would do this when barring on certain songs where i have to jump around quite a lot between other chords. I get the feeling that it would probably be hard to teach beginners a barre version of A to start with (ANYTHING with a barre is a nightmare to teach to beginners). I guess the only problem with that version of A might be if you have to flip between A to say an Asus2? not got a guitar to hand but that change might be harder?

GrStMyGn - i totally agree that that is ultimately but as a teacher you have to start somewhere with one version of the chord and not hit them with 3 different fingerings of A major that they might need depending on the song / context they are playing. The question then as a teacher is "which version of A major should i teach first and why?"

keep em' coming folks !
#6
Good luck trying to play an Asus4 with your pinky tied up on the 4th fret.

I don't believe in forcing issues, there's plenty of situations where it's appropriate to use the pinky, and as long as you don't shy away from using it when you should then it'll develop just fine.

Using 2, 3, 4 makes no sense to me - experience dictates that there's far more occasions where you're going to want your index ready to drop into a barre and your pinky free to do other stuff. Leaving the index free in that situation just seems inefficient.

I've been playing 20 years and I have never played an A chord with 2,3,4...but more to the point I've never encountered a situation where I needed to. It just sounds like you're being different for the sake of being different.
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#7
Quote by steven seagull
Good luck trying to play an Asus4 with your pinky tied up on the 4th fret.

I don't believe in forcing issues, there's plenty of situations where it's appropriate to use the pinky, and as long as you don't shy away from using it when you should then it'll develop just fine.

Using 2, 3, 4 makes no sense to me - experience dictates that there's far more occasions where you're going to want your index ready to drop into a barre and your pinky free to do other stuff. Leaving the index free in that situation just seems inefficient.

I've been playing 20 years and I have never played an A chord with 2,3,4...but more to the point I've never encountered a situation where I needed to. It just sounds like you're being different for the sake of being different.

I agree with this 100%.
It's not good to neglect the pinky but it's also not good to force yourself to use it when other fingerings are more efficient. Good technique is about making things easier for yourself, not harder.
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#8
Hi Steven seagull - yes I agree with you saying that you don't necessarily have to use the 4th finger unnaturally on all chords for the purposes of helping develop your little finger. You could just choose the easiest fingering and then continue working on your little finger separately and where appropriate provided of course people do actually do this (lots of self taught folk avoid using the little finger as much as possible - this is one of the main things I need to fix with self taught guys when they eventually come
For a lesson).

Though just to clarify I have been playing guitar for nearly 30 years and was initially trained on the classical guitar up to concert level and was taught to use that fingering for A major - I think thats the fingering most classical guitar folk get taught - I certainly don't use that fingering to be deliberately different :-)

I do take the point though that using 1st 2nd and 3rd fingers offers you more expansion possibilities as your little finger is free to move around and add notes. I guess when I need to do that I flip to the single finger barre version.
#9
Well, I would generally teach 123 unless the student's hands are too large. Usually I'm teaching A really early on, so the pupil can learn a few easy tunes without much delay, and I don't want to have to train hand strength before we do something "fun".

I'd also add that I often end up teaching Bm7 as an "easy" Bm, so the A major 123 fingering works better with that.
#10
Quote by steven seagull
Good luck trying to play an Asus4 with your pinky tied up on the 4th fret.

I don't believe in forcing issues, there's plenty of situations where it's appropriate to use the pinky, and as long as you don't shy away from using it when you should then it'll develop just fine.

Using 2, 3, 4 makes no sense to me - experience dictates that there's far more occasions where you're going to want your index ready to drop into a barre and your pinky free to do other stuff. Leaving the index free in that situation just seems inefficient.

I've been playing 20 years and I have never played an A chord with 2,3,4...but more to the point I've never encountered a situation where I needed to. It just sounds like you're being different for the sake of being different.
how do you play it?

Im new... maybe not a 'noob' but I'm certainly a new player as I have only been playing 2 years. The most important thing I have learned so far is not to get too married to playing a common chord a certain way. Like Seagull said...
Here's a great starter tune:
http://tabs.ultimate-guitar.com/b/blind_melon/change_crd.htm

No way your playing that simple A Asus2 Asus4 pattern with a 234 handle on your A chord.

If I took lessons I would have wanted a teacher that pounded home slowness and accuracy. I was in such a rush to play that I had to go back and unlearn a lot of bad habits.

Just a thought....
he of tranquil mind
#11
I either use 1, 2, 3 or I'll barre across all 3 and mute the top E.
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#12
Justin Sandercoe teachers the open A chord in a weird way http://www.justinguitar.com/en/BC-112-A-chord.php

Personally I wouldnt teach using the 2nd 3rd and 4th fingers as when playing A barre shapes I barre my first and third fingers so dont need the squashed finger version. I play open A with my 1st 2nd and 3rd fingers. I think using the pinky would be to hard for most beginners anyway, Id teach em most open chords the easiest way possible to get them started and playing songs.


Edit btw I do play the the high E when I play barre A shape
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Last edited by Hydra150 at Aug 19, 2011,
#13
Quote by Hydra150
Justin Sandercoe teachers the open A chord in a weird way http://www.justinguitar.com/en/BC-112-A-chord.php

Personally I wouldnt teach using the 2nd 3rd and 4th fingers as when playing A barre shapes I barre my first and third fingers so dont need the squashed finger version. I play open A with my 1st 2nd and 3rd fingers. I think using the pinky would be to hard for most beginners anyway, Id teach em most open chords the easiest way possible to get them started and playing songs.


Edit btw I do play the the high E when I play barre A shape


Yeah, I like the way he teaches it. It doesn't really have any problems if you play it that either from what I can tell. I personally like playing it that way.
#14
I usually play this
----0----
----X----
----6---- second finger
----7---- fourth finger
----7---- third finger
----5---- first finger

because I'm self taught and that's how I learned how to make that sound
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Last edited by CJ Noble at Aug 20, 2011,
#15
Quote by Blacklizzy
When they have to deal with playing a Bb chord (in A shape) they use their ring finger (!) to push down the D,G and B string and use their index to make it be a bar chord. Nevertheless they still cannot push down the high e-string properly --> causing lots of problems.

That's a completely valid way to do it. I don't do it for the open A major chord, I use my middle, index and ring for the D, G and B strings (that's right the order is inverted) and for A shape chords I always do the two bars, with my index and my ring finger, because otherwise the fingers won't fit. And it sounds cleanly, no problem worth mentioning. Yes, the high E string too.
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#16
Quote by nowhereblue
hey guys

Bsarte - yep i sometimes use the first finger barre version of A (where you barre the first finger over the 2nd frets of the D, G and B strings and kink your finger back up so that top E string can ring out - is that the version you play too? i wasn't sure) i would do this when barring on certain songs where i have to jump around quite a lot between other chords. I get the feeling that it would probably be hard to teach beginners a barre version of A to start with (ANYTHING with a barre is a nightmare to teach to beginners). I guess the only problem with that version of A might be if you have to flip between A to say an Asus2? not got a guitar to hand but that change might be harder?

keep em' coming folks !



Yup, exactly on all accounts. Because I'm lazy, that's what I do... and I *thought* that it would be easier to teach but as you pointed out -- ANYTHING barred is very hard to teach beginners. Yes, I fund Asus2 hard to transition to but I've been doing it for so long (25 years) that it's just second nature... but I really do make an effort to show this to students and point out that preference and comfort come into play.
#17
Thanks for all the comments and the discussion. Some more thoughts below

1. Like i said above i got the impression that classical guitarists seem to be taught to play A major with a 2,3,4 fingering - is that other people's experiences and if so has anyone heard a justification as to why its taught that way to classical guitarists?
2. One thing i've found fascinating is just how wedded i am to my way of playing A major (2,3,4) even in the fact of good suggestions the other way. I am leaning towards teaching students 1,2,3 although my preference would be to play it 2,3,4.
3. Tiago Sa - i just tried it and yes it can be done to get top E to ring out on a Bb type chord where you use two barres. i don't find it that easy or natural but that's certainly in part cos' its not familiar to me to do it that way.
4. steven seagull - i assume you meant "good luck trying to play an Asus4 with your pinky tied up on the 3rd fret" rather than "tied up on the 4th fret" which is what you put in your post. Playing the Asus4 with my pinky is fine - as i'm classically trained so forming hard chord shapes isn't difficult for me BUT one of the things that caused me to questions whether 2,3,4 version of A major was the right one for beginners was for the exact point you made steven - that when i tried to teach (even quite good beginner students) to play Asus4 from a 2,3,4 fingering for A major they encountered difficulties - quite a few did get it (eventually) but it was hard work and some other students just couldn't get it. hence me questioning my approach and posting on the subject to get other teachers' views on it.
5. Something i forgot to mention in my initial post is that I find it hard to put my thumb over to mute out the bottom E string (does everyone do this ?). My hands are a touch on the small side so if i don't find it comfortable i know certainly many of my female students will find it impossible. I'm a strong believer in using the thumb to mute out unwanted bass notes (like on D major, C major and A major etc) rather than relying solely on "skipping" the string you want to avoid... i think that technique of trying to miss a string with your pick leads to a more cautious and defensive rhythm style. any thoughts on adding a thumb to mute the bass note on an A chord?
6. i agree with freepower in the importance of trying to get students playing songs and having fun quite early on - as teachers i guess we try to do this whilst balancing out avoiding teaching them something that is plain "wrong". i know justin sandercoe is an internet sensation but i've never liked his fingering for A major (i.e. 2nd finger on D string, 1st finger on G string and 3rd finger on B string). I know quite a lot of teachers use this cheat and yes it does make life easier for the students in the short term but you would never see a professional musician playing that fingering... i would rather teach them the 1,2,3 A major or the 2,3,4 version and if necessary bridge the gap by teaching them Asus2 first and teaching Dsus2 etc alongside this before going to 3 fingered versions of these chords.
7. Freepower - tell me about your Bm7 you teach as an easy Bm? - i think i do something similar by playing this (Bm7add4?):


--0--
--3--
--2--
--0--
--2--
--X--

thanks guys !
#18
As an additional note to point 5 above using the thumb i should have added that as a teacher i try to teach using the thumb to mute out unwanted bass strings as early on as possible. I find that if a student learns a chord with the the thumb on from the beginning then they don't know that chord any other way other than with a thumb on and so the thumb becomes automatic. If i even leave it a few weeks to get a student to use the thumb to mute out strings then it sometimes is too late and they struggle to make the thumb automatic. Any other thoughts from you teachers regarding WHEN you introduce the thumb in to mute a note?
#19
Quote by nowhereblue
3. Tiago Sa - i just tried it and yes it can be done to get top E to ring out on a Bb type chord where you use two barres. i don't find it that easy or natural but that's certainly in part cos' its not familiar to me to do it that way.

Having fat fingers makes things more difficult all around, but more in some aspects. The traditional way of doing A is harder, for me, and so are the A shaped chords. The big big advantage of the traditional way, and the sole reason I still practice it, is that it's very VERY easy to go from a Amaj to an Am to an Asus2 to an Asus4 and loads of other A chords. The advantage of my way of doing it (it's not mine, I read about it somewhere, it's done in country, I think) is that it allows the least amount of movement when transiting from one chord to another. Ds, Cs, Es...

Quote by nowhereblue
7. Freepower - tell me about your Bm7 you teach as an easy Bm? - i think i do something similar by playing this (Bm7add4?):


--0--
--3--
--2--
--0--
--2--
--X--

thanks guys !

That chord LOOKS to me like a B/Dsus2 but it does sound like a Bm7add4
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Last edited by Tiago Sa at Aug 20, 2011,
#20
i play with a with 1 finger,mainly because iwas never really into the basic chords when i started playing,my teacher had me doing more melody lines in songs or power chords,wasnt till later in my playing where i got into acoustic and started with the common chords,i would say from a technical outlook it would be better if using 2 3 4 just because it puts u in good place to learn the harder chords that require more precision,each to there own i guess.
#21
Well, I'm not a guitar teacher, but if I were I would teach my students the 123-way of fingering the A chord first. As I would get to teach them different fingerings I would mention the 234-way of fingering the A chord.

It's just my personal preference of keeping my pinky free to use on any other string when I'm fingerpicking.
#22
6. i agree with freepower in the importance of trying to get students playing songs and having fun quite early on - as teachers i guess we try to do this whilst balancing out avoiding teaching them something that is plain "wrong". i know justin sandercoe is an internet sensation but i've never liked his fingering for A major (i.e. 2nd finger on D string, 1st finger on G string and 3rd finger on B string). I know quite a lot of teachers use this cheat and yes it does make life easier for the students in the short term but you would never see a professional musician playing that fingering... i would rather teach them the 1,2,3 A major or the 2,3,4 version and if necessary bridge the gap by teaching them Asus2 first and teaching Dsus2 etc alongside this before going to 3 fingered versions of these chords.


Yeah, I've never seen the point in that fingering either, easier to change to Cadd9 or G perhaps?


7. Freepower - tell me about your Bm7 you teach as an easy Bm? - i think i do something similar by playing this (Bm7add4?):


I do

2
0
2
0
2
x

Which is super handy because it's easy to get to from A and you can teach a I V iv IV going

D, A, Bm, G

Where each chord follows on neatly to the next.

ED:

That chord LOOKS to me like a B/Dsus2 but it does sound like a Bm7add4


If you have a slash chord, the bass note goes after, so it "looks" like a Dsus2/B.

Also, if you have a 7th and "4th" then you have a 11 chord, so in this case, Bm11.
#23
Quote by Freepower
If you have a slash chord, the bass note goes after, so it "looks" like a Dsus2/B.

Also, if you have a 7th and "4th" then you have a 11 chord, so in this case, Bm11.

Good to know, thanks a lot!
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#24
I don't teach, but for what it's worth, I was taught years ago by a teacher to use my first finger only for the A Major chord, pressing all three strings down in a small barre. That leaves my middle, ring and little finger free for other stuff.

I was also taught to barre A Major shapes using my first finger for the full barre and thrid finger to press down the 2,3,and 4 string to make the shape. It took some practice but it does make life easier now as I have the little finger free for whatever takes my fancy, such as plonking it down on the 1st string to make the Dom7 or Maj7
#25
i play my A chord by barring the D G and B string with my first finger. This also mutes the high E, so i can strum it easier while muting the E.
I am no teacher, though. But if i were, i would teach my students this way, because it would also help in the long run to lead into bar chords.
#26
Went to a jazz player, was told to use my middle,ring and pinky. Why ? Because i need my pointer finger just in case i have to bar.
#27
I use my barred index, I've never had any issues switching chords. It's all a matter of preference to me. That's how my teacher taught me it.
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#28
When barring your index are you muting the high E?
But boys will be boys and girls have those eyes
that'll cut you to ribbons, sometimes
and all you can do is just wait by the moon
and bleed if it's what she says you ought to do
#29
Quote by Hydra150
When barring your index are you muting the high E?

depends if I want the sound of the high E or not (I usually don't). If I do want it, I don't barre. I use 234.
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Adam S3A monitors
Quote by Anonden
You CAN play anything with anything....but some guitars sound right for some things, and not for others. Single coils sound retarded for metal, though those who are apeshit about harpsichord probably beg to differ.
#30
If i were a teacher, i'f teach it the standard 123 fingering way. However as my students start learning barre chords, i'd introduce them to the one finger barre as it's just much more efficient and frees up the other fingers for embellishments and such.
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#31
Quote by Hydra150
When barring your index are you muting the high E?

Yeah I bar with my index i find this the easiest way as it is the simplest, if the situation comes up were I want to hear the high E such as wanting to hear the open strings while playing acoustic, its pretty easy to change the method to the 234 or 123. You dont need to be locked into one way of playing each of the methods are pretty easy so simply use the one that fits the situation you are in
#32
Quote by Hydra150
When barring your index are you muting the high E?


I barre an A-chord with my first finger all the time and still have the high-E ringing out just as in a normal open-A chord. It's just a case of barring the D,G, and B strings and not barring the high-E.

I also use 1,2,3 and 2,3,4 depending on the context (as has been noted, they each have their advantages so which is the best choice really does depend on the musical passage).

When teaching, I teach the 1,2,3 fingering and then show the 1st finger barre shape after the student learns barre chords. It's good for them to learn how to barre the middle strings without needing to barre the high-E as well.

Steve
Last edited by StevePigott at Aug 23, 2011,