Guide To Guitar. Part 1. Basics And Open Chords

First in a series of lessons. Shows basic of pick holding strumming and the basic open chords.

Ultimate Guitar
Hey it's JP here and this is my first in a series of guitar lessons. Now before any of you advanced guitarists start lashing into me for this lesson not showing anything new, keep in mind that this lesson is directed at the beginners on this site. Basically in these lessons I am going to be passing on the information that I learned from my guitar teacher when I was a beginner while also adding in some tips and techniques I learned by myself through discovery and through watching other guitarists. I am a firm believer that playing guitar should be an overall enjoyable experience. While the practicing of some of the techniques and methods may prove to be less enjoyable, in hindsight you will realise that those hours of practice were all worth it when you're fingers are blazing along the fret board, and you never know you could become famous as a solo artist or for your band. It's all down to you and how much you want to kick ass at guitar.

Psyched yet? Alright let's get started

Holding the Guitar and the Pick

Alright I'm not going to force you to hold your guitar a certain way or even the way I hold my guitar for the following reason I was never told how to completely hold my guitar. The way I hold it is an invention of my own and has been tailored to provide comfort and ease to my guitar playing. It corresponds to me and my body shape. As we know everyone is different. People with longer arms could hold the guitar different to people with shorter arms. People with a bit of a stomach (like myself) may hold their guitar different to thinner people. Is this wrong? Of course not. You should just hold the guitar in a position that is comfortable to you and doesn't restrict your guitar playing. While the above is true I am going to recommend a position that I used as a beginner for practicing and getting used to playing before, eventually, developing my own style.
  • Sit up, preferably straight to avoid any back pain.
  • Rest the area of your arm just below your elbow on the top corner, I guess you can call it that, of the guitar.
Even if you just follow that roughly, you'll still do fine. Same facts apply to holding the pick. You develop your own style over time. All I will say is this. Do not, I repeat, do not hold the pick with more than 2 fingers and a thumb. The pick does not have enough room for anymore and it hinders your playing. Ready? Let's move on.


Alright a quick talk on strumming before moving on to open chords. Strumming, in my opinion, is the most important aspect of guitar playing. Without learning to strum rhythmically, your dreams of becoming a legendary lead guitarist, pulling off massive solos, will be quickly destroyed. Alright, without holding down any of the strings strum all 6 open strings - up, down, up, down etc. You should be using the area of your arm - from elbow to fingers - to create a smooth flowing rhythm pattern. It should be a smooth sound and shouldn't sound like multiple picks of each string. Try not to use too much effort, just enough to move your arm. It shouldn't feel forced. If you start to feel your arm go stiff, stop and pretend you're a dish cloth i.e. floppy. Try to keep the same timing with the strums, so strum them at the same pace. Keep practicing and you'll soon get the hang of it.

Open Chords

Alright, open chords are the easier to play chords. They are called open chords because at least one of the strings are played open i.e. not fretted by a finger. They are usually the first chords that guitar students learn and it is seriously important that you learn them all and that you can switch between with ease. Now before you can play chords, you need to know how to read chord diagrams. Chord diagrams show you where to place your fingers, what strings to play and what fingers to use. I'm going to show you an example of a chord diagram and how it works, then I'll give you a list of the 10 basic open chords and their diagrams for you to practice off of. There are more than just 10 open chords but I am just going to show the major and minor open chords to begin with. In a couple of lessons I will give you all the open chords and their diagrams. I just want you to get these few down first. Practice the basics over and over again until you get them right, know them off by heart and can switch between them easily. Thanks to Grant for his brilliant chord diagram design. It makes it a lot easier to show the chords. So here we go.

0 1 2 3 4 5

Alright this is an example of a chord diagram. The letter on top tells you what chord it is. It is an A. There is nothing beside the A which means that it is a major chord. The chord is A Major. The horizontal line of numbers below the A tell you what frets are being shown. 0 is another name for the open strings. 1 is the first fret and so on. The horizontal lines are your strings. The letters to the left of these tell you the name of the string. The capital E is the thickest string on your guitar. A is the one below that and so on.. The vertical lines show your frets and the space between them is where you put your fingers. The numbers in these spaces tell you what fingers to use. 1 = index finger (beside your thumb), 2 = middle finger, 3 = ring finger, 4 = pinkie.

Alright so how do you play this chord? First look at the 0 column. The 'o's at the e and the A mean that you play these strings open. The 'x' at the E means that you don't play this string. Now look at the 2 column. The 4 on the B string means you put your 4th finger on the B string at the 2nd fret. The 3 on the G string means you put your 3rd finger on the G string at the 2nd fret. The 2 on the D string means that you put your 2nd finger on the D string at the 2nd fret. When you have your fingers in place, strum all the strings except for the E string which we're not meant to play. You've just played an A major chord. Here are the other basic open chords.

            A                                         Am
0 1 2 3 4 5 0 1 2 3 4 5

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

           B7                                          C
0 1 2 3 4 5 0 1 2 3 4 5

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

           Cm                                          D
0 1 2 3 4 5 0 1 2 3 4 5

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

           Dm                                          E
0 1 2 3 4 5 0 1 2 3 4 5

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

0 1 2 3 4 5 0 1 2 3 4 5

e|o|---|---|---|---|---| e|-|---|---|-3-|---|---|
B|o|---|---|---|---|---| B|o|---|---|---|---|---|
G|o|---|---|---|---|---| G|o|---|---|---|---|---|
D|-|---|-4-|---|---|---| D|o|---|---|---|---|---|
A|-|---|-3-|---|---|---| A|-|---|-1-|---|---|---|
E|o|---|---|---|---|---| E|-|---|---|-2-|---|---|
So these are the 10 basic open chords. Some people might not agree that the B7 major chord should be here but I've put it in for a reason as it is important in the next lesson. Okay so that's it for my first lesson. Lesson 2 will be coming soon and will deal with basic rhythm and I'll be teaching you a song, to make it more fun and to start off your song repertoire.

9 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Thanks a lot for this post. I have just started playing and was a bit daunted until i saw and read this.
    i just started playing and this is helping alots thanks for the good work will defo be using this page a lot more in the future
    i really like this. thanks alot. i've been playing for a little while, but this helped clarify some things...
    Thanks dude..for the post...i learn two new open chords in B7 and Cm.....thanx.....its really gr8
    would you suggest learning these chords "from heart" before going to part two?