One of the first things a beginner needs to learn on the guitar is a few chords. These make it possible to start learning songs.
The good news is that most songs are made of the first guitar chords you will be learning in this lesson.
The 15 guitar chords you should learn first are selected on two criteria:
- Difficultly. All these chords can be played as open chords. This makes them easier to play since you don’t need your index finger to form a barre.
- Frequency of use: There are thousands of guitar chords one could learn. However some chord types are used much more frequently than others. In fact with these 15 chords and a couple of others that can only be played with a barre (such as F major and B minor) you have the chords used in the majority of guitar songs ever written.
The chord types used in this lesson are minor, major, seventh as well as the power chord.
Open minor chords
The first chord you should learn on the guitar is E minor.
The simple reason for this is that it’s very easy to learn and also very commonly used in music.
To play this chord press the second fret of the A string with your middle finger and the second fret of the D string with your ring finger. The other 4 strings should be played open.
The next chord is A minor. Your middle and ring finger form the same shape as that of E minor, but are played one string lower. You also need to press the first note of the B string with your index finger.
The low E string is marked with an X which means it should not be played.
The last minor chord we can play as an open chord is D minor. Put your index finger on the first fret of the high E string, your ring finger on the third fret of the B string and your middle finger in between, on the second fret of the G string.
The low E and A string should not be played.
Open major chords
There are 5 major chords that can be played open.
To play the C major chord you can finger the A minor chord first, then lift your ring finger and place it on the third fret of the A string.
A major can be a bit tricky at first since you need to put three fingers on the same fret.
When practicing these open chords, you should not just strum the chord but also play the strings one by one to make sure every note sounds right.
The next chord is G major. It requires quite a stretch between your middle and ring finger, but isn’t particularly hard to learn.
Note: When you find a problem with finger stretches to form a chord it’s good to practice stretching those fingers outside the context of learning chords. The exercises in this lesson give you an idea how to do this, but you can also create your own exercises based on the particular fingers that need to be stretched.
When doing this, always keep in mind that while it’s good to feel your fingers being stretched, you should immediately stop if you feel any pain. Pain is our body’s way of telling our mind that we’re doing something wrong.
E major is easy to learn since it’s like your first guitar chord, E minor, with the index finger also pressing the first fret of the D string. (In fact, the only difference between a major and a minor chord of the same name is one note. Learn how chords are constructed).
D major is the last major chord that can be played as an open chord on guitar. Some students struggle with this one. Make sure you’re looking at your left hand while adjusting your fingers to make it sound right.
The power chord
The power chord is not technically a chord but a double stop, that is, two notes played at the same time. (A chord requires three or more notes).
Musical technicalities aside, the power chord can function as a chord, is easy to learn and is commonly used in many guitar oriented genres of music such as Blues, Rock, Heavy Metal and Punk.
Unlike the other chords in this lesson the power chord is a moveable chord.
For instance the following chord is A5, the power chord of A, because the root note of the chord is A (on the 5th fret of the low E string). If I move the same pattern up two frets (to the 7th fret), I get the power chord of B5, so on and so forth.
Thus, you don’t need to learn new patterns to play the power chord for every different note. You do need to know where the notes on the E and A string are to find the power chords though!
Dominant 7th chords
There are different types of seventh chords and the dominant 7th is the type most commonly used in songs. This is notated by the root of the chord followed by the number 7 (such as A7, G7 etc).
There are six dominant 7th chords that can easily be played in open position.
C7 is like the C major chord with the pinkie on the third fret of the G string.
A7 is easy to play. Just make sure the middle finger doesn’t mute the open string below it.
G7 has one different note from G major, but this requires you to change the whole fingering.
E7 is also easy. It’s like E major without the ring finger pressing the note. There is a slightly more complex way of playing E7 as an open chord but since these are your first guitar chords, it makes more sense to use the simpler shape.
D7 should not be hard if you can play the chords given above.
The last chord to learn in this first group of guitar chords is B7.
Conclusion: Building a Guitar Chord Vocabulary
With these 15 chords you have just learned you can already play a lot of songs.
These same chords, along with new ones that you’ll learn as you go along can be played in more than one position on the guitar fretboard.
Thus, these should be the next steps in learning chords on the guitar:
- Learn how to change between the open chords you have learned fluently.
- Learn barre chords. This will give you the ability to play the guitar all over the fretboard, as well as to learn any chord that can be learned.
Also, barre chords are moveable, like power chords. This means there are less chord shapes to learn!
This way you’ll be building a chord vocabulary you can use when you learn songs as well as when writing your own.
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