The Ultimate Guide To Guitar. Chapter I: 2 Chords - The Basics

In this second chapter, we will learn all the basics of chords: what they are, how to use them, how to memorize them, ... Chords are perfect for any beginning guitarist! After reading this article, you will be able to play your very first songs using only chords...

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Part I - Chapter 2.

Chords: The Basics

Hi all, and welcome back to the Ultimate Guide to Guitar! In this article, we continue where we left off last time: our guitar is completely ready to be put to work, now the work is up to us! So, I'll start off with the thing that every beginning guitar player should start learning: chords!

Why chords? Well, for a couple of reasons, and I'm speaking from personal experience. First of all, chords are nice and easy to learn, at least the basic things like the chord shapes. Second of all, using chords you can play about ANY song. Not the melody, but if you play the rhythm guitar (only chords) you can sing along and make yourself popular at campfires! Being able to play any song you like is the most important reason why I chose to learn chords first, and why I choose now to teach them to you first: it makes playing guitar enjoyable! If you play an hour a day, for example, you can dedicate half an hour to pure practice (exercises, ...) and the other half hour to real playing with chords!

So, what will we learn in this lesson? We start off with some theory, but the most important thing will be practice, because you're all waiting to finally be playing your guitar!

01. What is a chord? A very basic definition...
02. Major and minor chords: some very basic music theory on chords
03. Chord shapes: play these all over and over again until you can play them in your sleep!
04. Chord exercises: to learn to switch chords fluently
05. Some easy songs with chords

Well, I don't want to keep you waiting, let's get it started...

What Is A Chord?

Chords. If you want to learn them, you must first learn what exactly a chord is. I'll be honest, to fully understand what exactly a chord is, you must wait a couple of weeks, when we're doing the more advanced stuff and the whole story is clear to you. Until then, I can't begin explaining fully what a chord exactly is. However, this brief but correct definition will do for now:

A chord is a combination of 2 or more notes (mostly 3) that sound good together. This combination consists of a root note and one or two notes that sound well with that root note.

This definition is, however incomplete, a correct definition of a chord. It is incomplete however, because it doesn't say why certain notes sound good together and form a chord. But this is theory for later...

I will give an example to clarify it. The chord C major (or just C) is made up of the note C, which is the root note and gives the chord its name; if you add the notes E and G to the root, you will have a C Major chord.

Note: for those who can't wait until next week for some music theory.. why exactly E and G? Well, if you take the scale of C Major, and you take the root note and add the 3rd and 5th note of the scale, which are E and G, you have a C Major chord. Any other combination of notes with the root will create another C chord... But that's for later.

Just keep in mind this definition. Another very important thing to keep in mind is this:

Some chords sound good together with other chords. Chords that sound good together can be combined to form a chord progression on which every song is based.

Yes, literally every song is based on a certain chord progression. That's why every song can be played with chords on guitar (although not every song will sound good that way!). Of course, this definition is as incomplete as the previous one: it doesn't include why some chords sound good together and some don't. But don't worry, this will all be explained in future articles...

So with these definitions, we can almost move on to playing. Just remember that combinations of notes make chords, and combinations of chords make chord progressions and songs, just like words make sentences and sentences make an Ultimate Guide to Guitar! But as I said, we can almost move on to playing... There is only 1 little bit of theory I would like to explain to you before we start practicing chord shapes.

Major And Minor Chords

I just explained briefly how a chord consists of a root note, which define the chord's name, and 2 (or sometimes more) notes that go well with the root. Those other notes define not only the name of the chord, they also define how it sounds, the color of the chord. I'll use the example that I just used, to clarify this.

If you take C as the root note, you can add E and G to make a C Major chord. This is a fairly happy, jolly sounding chord. But you can also do something else: if you add Eb (E flat, that's an E lowered with a semitone) and G to the same root, you also get a C chord, but this one's more dark, dramatic, sad sounding. This one is called C Minor. You can do this with every chord, with every root, so that for every root you can create two different chords: one Major and one Minor. Get it?

Depending on the notes we choose to go with the root note, we can create (amongst others) a Major and a Minor chord for each root. The Major chord sounds more happy, the minor chord sounds more sad.

Amongst others indicates that this definition is again not complete. Of course a root note can be combined with more notes than just the 2 combinations that make up Major and Minor chords... But this knowledge is enough to finally start learning chord shapes!

Chord Shapes

OK! We're done with the theory! Now it's finally time to grab your guitar and start practicing chords! In this section, I will provide the shapes of chords based on every possible root note. For every root, there will be a Major chord and a Minor chord. So, the chords that you will learn are: A, A minor, A#, A#minor, B, B minor, C, ... Then, we will look into a special genre of chords called power chords. These are used a lot in rock and metal genres and are very important, because they are so universal.

A. Major And Minor Chords

Below is a (huge!) image of all the chord shapes (diagrams) that I just mentioned: every root, major and minor.



That's quite a lot of chords, isn't it? Here's some tips to help you learn them all:

  • There's more than one possibility for each chord, e.g. C Major has three... Study the first one for each chord, they are the most used shapes, the other shapes are optional. You will learn them as you go.
  • Study the Major chords of each root first. Then take a look at the Minor chords: they are very similar to the Major versions, only one or 2 differences. It's easier to remember them if you already know the Major chords, just remember the small differences.
Here are some practical tips for making it easier for your hands to play the chord correctly:
  • Some of the chords have a muted low E string, e.g. the C Major chord. You can either just not play the string, or mute it with your thumb so that you don't accidentally play it anyway while strumming. To do this, just bring your thumb, which is normally resting at the back of the neck, over the top edge of the neck and slightly touch the string.
  • You may also have noticed that some of the chords have similar shapes, only in different positions at the neck. E.g. the F chord has the same shape as the F# chord, only the F# chord is one fret higher. Notice that there is a vertical bracket over the diagram of these chord. These chords are called barre chords.

A barre chord is a chord shape where you use your index finger to fret down all strings (or the first 5 strings) at the same time by laying your finger down flat onto the fretboard and pressing all strings down behind the same fret. For example, in the F chord the index finger is used to fret down all strings behind the 1st fret. This is called a barre, hence barre chords. Barre chords can be moved up and down the neck to play different chords with the same shape! For example, if you move the F shape up 2 frets, you are playing a G chord (because G is 2 semitones higher than F).

Playing barre chords will be difficult at first, because doing the index finger barre requires a lot of strength. Just practice, practice, practice until this becomes natural!

Now that you have all the chord shapes you need, and you know how to play them and memorize them, I suggest you start practicing! It takes a lot of work trying to memorize them all and being able to play them all easily and being able to change chords fluently... I have some exercises to help you do that, but first I'm going to explain briefly what power chords are.

B. Power Chords

Power chords basically are the easiest chords there are. You only have to remember one shape, and you can move it around the neck to play every possible chord. First, I will explain what power chords are, in theory.

Remember that every chord is a combination of a root note with 2 (or more) other notes? Well, a power chord is a combination of a root note with just one more note (the 5th note of the root scale, for those who know what that means... Those who don't, you will soon!).

I will give you a couple examples to demonstrate what power chords exactly are, and what the difference with normal chords are. Below is an image of a regular F Major chord (left), with 2 power chord versions of the F chord next to it (right). One uses 3 strings, the other uses only 2, but they are the same chord.



The power chord (F5, for the 5th note) consists only of F and C (the 5th note in the F Major scale). The 3rd note, A, which is in the regular F Major chord, is not there in the F5 chord. This is why power chords are not Major nor Minor: it's the 3rd note that decides whether a chord is Major or Minor. The power chord can be used as a substitute for both! Handy, isn't it?

Another thing that makes power chords very interesting, is that they always have the same shape if you move them around the neck. You can play any chord with the same shape, just by moving a couple of frets down or up. An example:



This time, we are using the 5th string as the lowest string to play a B5 chord in the 2nd position. If you moved that same shape up one fret, to the 3rd position, you would be playing a C5 power chord. And so on... Very easy!

Ok, so now you have all the chord shapes you need and you know what power chords are, we can go on to some chord exercises!

Chord Exercises



The goal of these exercises is to learn to switch chords fluently, without pause. This may be difficult at first, but if you keep practicing, you will get the hang of it eventually. To do this, I will provide you with some basic chord progressions. What I want you to do is strum each chord 4 times and then switch to the next chord. Here are some chord progressions:

C Dm Em F G Am


Note that I am using C instead of CM or C Major... This is the easiest and most common way of denoting a C Major chord.

Some other progressions:

D Em F#m G A Bm

E F#m G#m A B C#m

F Gm Am Bb C Dm


Bb stands for B flat, which is B lowered with a semitone... This is the same as A# or A raised with a semitone. You can replace Bb with A#.

G Am Bm C D Em

A Bm C#m D E F#m

B C#m D#m E F# G#m


Practice! Play these chords progressions over and over again, forward and backward, until you can switch between chords fluently and without pause... This will take time! But be patient... As soon as you get the hang of this, you can start playing your first songs!

Note: these chord progressions are designed to sound good because the chords used are chords that normally go well together. Why they go well together is knowledge for the future, as I already said... You can, if you want, practice chord switching by just picking random chords out of the list and switching between them. It won't sound good, but it will help you increase your fluency.

Easy Songs With Chords



Perfect! You got the hang of playing and switching chords? Now you can start playing your first song using these chords! Exciting, isn't it?

Like I said in the beginning of this lesson, chords can be used to play just about ANY song in the world. Just look up a tablature on UG for any song you like, and open a tab that has chords in the description on the right (and preferably a good user rating!). I will give some suggestions:

Coldplay - Yellow and here's the tab: Yellow tab. (skip the tabbed part for the electric guitar intro, just go to the chords)

Bob Dylan - Knocking on Heaven's Door and the tab: Knocking on Heaven's Door tab.

Bob Marley - No Woman No Cry and the tab: No Woman No Cry tab. (there's a weird G/B chord in this one, just replace it with G for simplicity!)

Listen to the songs, practice the chord progressions, take some time playing them all over and over again, play along with the songs, ... Anything that can help you learn to play chords better! Just have fun playing! After all, that's what playing guitar is all about!

Conclusion

Basically, once you got everything in this article down, you can play any song you want! But we're still a thousand miles away from the level that we are trying to achieve... So stay tuned for the next article in the Ultimate Guide to Guitar series!

Cheers!
ZeG

81 comments sorted by best / new / date

comments policy
    thfc
    Great article for beginners, but the Bob Dylan chords are totally wrong with the version posted. They are supposed to be a perfect 4th higher i.e. G, D, Am, G, D, C.
    libertineste808
    gizmodious wrote: Kudos on an eloquent lesson. I love how people who have a great grasp on theory come and try correct people that area giving lessons to beginners who clearly don't need the whole definition. Why are you even reading this article? Shouldn't you be at Guitar Center sweep picking for attention? lolz
    +1
    SixStringMurder
    It's refreshing to see chords again. Thank you so much for writing this article. When I first started playing, I absolutely hated chords and just wanted to jam with some hard hitting hammer ons and sweeps. But then, I got connected with the REAL musician in me and picked up an acoustic guitar and started writing songs. Ever since then I have really loved working with chords. Excellent article. Thanks again.
    JAMSRS
    Even with what I said earlier, this is still probably the best beginner's guide I have seen on this site and maybe even elsewhere. But try not to be so factual as there was some opinion mixed in there too.
    sketchpimp
    so far the best tutorials i've ever come across. after having searched stores and the internet for 'well-explained' lessons, finally a source like this puts everything into understanding, keep them coming.... thanks mate!
    suppashredda
    great lesson... but i know most of it... my stuff must be in the novice or intermediate section... i ll hang on.. but great article, and well explained.... well done!
    obijr
    ZeGuitarist wrote: yaaarp wrote: I'm sorry but I have no idea how to read chords. What do those diagrams mean and how do I read them? If some one can redirect me to a lesson where it shows how to read and shows what note C is in the first place it would be greatly appreciated. Oh & What can I not learn as long as I don't know how to read chords and know what notes to do when people say C or other letters. Sorry for the long wall but I know UG has great community I'll PM you to explain this in short.. Cheers! ZeG
    i have same problem, so if you have time could you pm me2 ? ty very good guide btw (:
    Akilles
    Seriously....thanks for puttin all this together..all this information would normally be compiled through 10,000 different sites..
    ZeGuitarist
    Yup, just wait for the chapters on chord construction, where I will explain how chords are formed using notes of a scale. Cheers! ZeG
    dahelunover
    ZeGuitarist wrote: That's what I meant, when I said that adjacent notes in a scale don't "sound good together" per definition, but they CAN be used together in a chord because they're in the same scale. Cheers! ZeG
    the can be used together part refers to suspended, added & altered chords, right?
    ZeGuitarist
    Lol, sry for my weird question but I misread your comment, I thought you were telling that girl what we are going to learn in the next articles, like you were the author or something... Now, about your question: try and play: - - - 5 8 - That's only the 4th and 5th in that D chord. That sounds a little "weird" isn't it? That's what I meant, when I said that adjacent notes in a scale don't "sound good together" per definition, but they CAN be used together in a chord because they're in the same scale. Your example was a good demonstration! Cheers! ZeG
    Regression
    ZeGuitarist wrote: First of all, are you trying to pretend that you wrote these articles? Now, about your question: always remember that the definition I gave is very basic and incomplete. The full definition would be, the notes in the chord have to be in the same scale together... But, as I didn't explain scales yet, I can't give this definition yet of course! I know what you mean, for example a Cadd4 chord has an E, F and G in it, which are 3 adjacent notes that don't "sound good together" per definition, but they form a chord because they are in the C Major scale... Clear? Cheers! ZeG
    To your question, huh? =\ And ahh, I see. However I disagree with the idea that they don't sound good together. :p - 5 5 5 8 - Quite a nice voicing imo, although I have the 4th as the root, so I'm not sure that counts.
    aig91
    Another wonderful article, ZeGuitarist! You've explained things in a way that is very easy to grasp. I look forward to your next one. Checked!
    ZeGuitarist
    pempey wrote: Really good article, can't wait to read the rest in the series. I already do understand the theory, but thought I'd go through it to see what you say [I'm actually supposed to be studying, so I'm just procrastinating]. Will definitely recommend to friends who are thinking about starting guitar. Keep up the good work.
    Thanks! And don't forget to rate and comment my articles, and to subscribe to my blogs if you want to be informed whenever a new article comes out! Cheers! ZeG
    Eistoeter
    I think the chord progressions are too hard for beginners. You could have written a bit more about how to play the chords. That it is important that all strings ring out clear and that its best to practice them by fretting a chord down and then lessen the fingers but stay on the strings. Then fret again and lessen. Then when you can do it get the fingers a little bit in the air but stay in the chord shape then fret again. Then as you get better move the fingers farther away from the strings but always stay in the shape of the chord with the fingers. This helped me so much in the beginning just to know how to practice the chords. Only if you practice them so you will be able to switch easily because for that the fingers need to change shape in the air.
    Loldemonwar
    this is very helpful but can somebody help me out a bit. why are their 2 AM, Am, A#M, etc? also, are you suppose to play these cords on a certain fret or are they played anywhere? somebody help . thanks!
    ZeGuitarist
    Regression wrote: I didn't know the notes have to sound good together for it to be a chord..? Clarify?
    First of all, are you trying to pretend that you wrote these articles? Now, about your question: always remember that the definition I gave is very basic and incomplete . The full definition would be, the notes in the chord have to be in the same scale together... But, as I didn't explain scales yet, I can't give this definition yet of course! I know what you mean, for example a Cadd4 chord has an E, F and G in it, which are 3 adjacent notes that don't "sound good together" per definition, but they form a chord because they are in the C Major scale... Clear? Cheers! ZeG
    ZeGuitarist
    Trecion wrote: are these chords used with any specifik fret positions or dosnt it matter wher i play the chords?
    The fret position is indicated in the diagrams, at the left hand side... Cheers!
    concho_valen
    wooow great! but i dont have any idea about strumming...can anyone explain to me? tnks
    AMITOODUMB?
    I've always wanted to learn to play the guitar. I came here because my son recommended your lessons. I was wondering, though, if you could direct me to lessons for BEGINNERS. I've read through your first two lessons and still have no idea where to even begin. In the exercises, you say, practice these chords, but no where do you give any clue as to how to play those chords. You make me feel like I'm too stupid to learn to play the guitar. Thanks a lot pal. I think I hate the guitar now.
    ian_howarth
    Brilliant stuff. This guide is fantastic, especially for a total noob like me. I'm now practising, and as soon as can turn my left index finger into a solid stick for those frickin' barre chords I'll be away! Thanks for all the solid work, buddy - much appreciated.
    Trecion
    are these chords used with any specifik fret positions or dosnt it matter wher i play the chords?
    ZeGuitarist
    Loldemonwar wrote: this is very helpful but can somebody help me out a bit. why are their 2 AM, Am, A#M, etc? also, are you suppose to play these cords on a certain fret or are they played anywhere? somebody help . thanks!
    There's a difference between AM and Am.. AM (with capital M) stands for A Major, while Am (with lowercase m) stands for A Minor.. And yes, you're supposed to play them on a certain fret, the fret is indicated in the diagrams on the left! Cheers!
    ZeGuitarist
    satyananda wrote: hey i'm very new to guitar (just a week or so) and found your page and it seems you know what you're talking about but the chord progressions have chords in them that you have to barre? eg F (which i am assuming is FM) and F#M i can't get the barring to sound right i am playing acoustic guitar and wondering if i should be able to play these properly yet
    After only a week, it's only normal that these barre chords are hard for you. Just keep practicing, you will get them down eventually! When? I can't say, you should do things at your own pace... Take it easy and enjoy, that's what it's all about! Cheers!
    satyananda
    hey i'm very new to guitar (just a week or so) and found your page and it seems you know what you're talking about but the chord progressions have chords in them that you have to barre? eg F (which i am assuming is FM) and F#M i can't get the barring to sound right i am playing acoustic guitar and wondering if i should be able to play these properly yet
    Loldemonwar
    ah thanks a lot bro. damn im getting the hang of these ahaha yaaa. i like how the chord progressions sound
    ZeGuitarist
    Under the diagram, in the text: Theres more than one possibility for each chord, e.g. C Major has three... Study the first one for each chord, they are the most used shapes, the other shapes are optional. You will learn them as you go. It's there Cheers!
    Loldemonwar
    aah thanks man. just one more question lol, sorry if im getting annoying. on the chord progression it says play C Dm Em F G Am. which c major is that, which d minor, which e minor etc, because theirs sometimes 2 or more of them on the chart. whats the deal with that?? thanks man.
    pempey
    Really good article, can't wait to read the rest in the series. I already do understand the theory, but thought I'd go through it to see what you say [I'm actually supposed to be studying, so I'm just procrastinating]. Will definitely recommend to friends who are thinking about starting guitar. Keep up the good work.
    Regression
    A chord is a combination of 2 or more notes (mostly 3) that sound good together.
    Ahh, sorry mods, I forgot about my question.. I didn't know the notes have to sound good together for it to be a chord..? Clarify? By the way, I'm not trying to be a show off when it comes to theory, I know very little.. Just wondering about this.
    Td_Nights
    Good diagram for showing the chords you're talking about. Looking forward to more columns for this.
    Phe4rTheGod
    Great stuff man...def. let me know that I need to practice my chords more often...keep em coming...
    CrossBack7
    This is good stuff. I've been playing for a while, but I'm sort of stuck at that intermediate level. I have the skill, I just. . .Sort of don't know where to go from here. I could use a better grasp of theory, and this certainly explains everything very clearly. I'll be keeping a close watch on these. I hope you get into how to construct songs out of a simple chord progression later. I have trouble connecting riffs I make up. . .
    ZeGuitarist
    gizmodious wrote: Kudos on an eloquent lesson. I love how people who have a great grasp on theory come and try correct people that area giving lessons to beginners who clearly don't need the whole definition. Why are you even reading this article? Shouldn't you be at Guitar Center sweep picking for attention? lolz
    Lol tyvm for defending me... Tbh, and I said this before, I don't like giving "half" definitions either. That's just me though, I like knowing the whole story... But it's just impossible to try to make beginners swallow all the theory at once! For those who don't like these incomplete definitions because you know the whole story already: just wait for Part II-III, I will explain EVERYTHING properly in those chapters! Cheers! ZeG
    gizmodious
    Kudos on an eloquent lesson. I love how people who have a great grasp on theory come and try correct people that area giving lessons to beginners who clearly don't need the whole definition. Why are you even reading this article? Shouldn't you be at Guitar Center sweep picking for attention? lolz
    thedarkblues06
    SylvaShredder wrote: "Chords that sound good together can be combined to form a chord progression on which every song is based. Free Jazz anyone?
    I lol'd.
    SylvaShredder
    "Chords that sound good together can be combined to form a chord progression on which every song is based. Free Jazz anyone?