I guess it’s fair to say that the vast majority of guitar players start out with learning a few beginner guitar chords. Of course, I’m sure there are exceptions, but most teachers, courses and books will show you how to play guitar chords before moving to more advanced things on the instrument. And that makes perfect sense from my perspective as a player and teacher.
In the following I tried to put a comprehensive one-stop-shop together for you on everything regarding guitar chords. What they are, the differences between them, how to learn them and where to go in order to either look-up a chord or to learn it from scratch. As with everything online, there are already some very good resources out there among all the non-sense. I tried to weed things out for you and make it as easy as possible, so you can just go ahead find everything you need right here.
We will be covering a lot of things relative to how to learn and play chords on guitar – therefore, here is a list of the topics we will be discussing. You can read everything top to bottom, or just click on the link of your choice to get started.
1. What Is A Guitar Chord?
Don’t worry, we will keep the theory to a minimum because most people really don’t care about it. That’s not to say that music theory isn’t important. There’s certainly nothing wrong in trying to understand the concept behind the things that you are doing. I will therefore share some good places with you to do more of a deep-dive on that, but please understand that for the purposes of this article, I’m going to refrain from going into too much detail.
Whether we’re talking about chords for guitar or chords in general, it ultimately doesn’t matter. You can play the same chord on different instruments – at the core, it’s the same thing but it just sounds different depending on what instrument you play the chord on. For example, the tone-composition of an A-Major chord on piano is the same as it is on guitar.
Guitar beginners sometimes confuse chords with tones. It’s not that they don’t know the difference, but I guess it’s rather the semantics. A tone is one single note. If you take your guitar and play the low E-String in the fifth fret, you get the tone/note “A”. Now a chord on the other hand, is comprised of three or more notes. In other words, playing three (or more) related notes at the same time creates a chord. You might have heard the term “triad”, which refers to the three notes of a chord.
So, let’s stick to our A-Chord for a moment. We now know that we need at least three notes to plat that chord, right? So, it’s pretty obvious that one of those notes should be an “A” (since we are playing an A-Major chord). What are the other two notes we need? Fortunately, you and I won’t have to figure that out. Some smart folks did that for us already many centuries ago. Following an ‘algorithm’, if you will, it was determined that in addition to the “A”, which is also called the root, we need a “C#” (major third) and an “E” (perfect fifth).
For other “A”-Chords (A-Minor, A7, etc.) the root note “A”will always remain the same, but the other two or more notes will change accordingly. Wikipedia did a pretty good job in putting an easy to understand summery of all that together.
All the things we just discussed are certainly helpful, but only to a limited extent. Because all we did thus far was talking about the theory behind a chord – but how does that help to actually play an A-Major chord on guitar? Even though you know the three notes now, at this point you don’t know where to find them and where to put your fingers on the strings in order to play that chord. Plus, we just used one chord as an example, but there are obviously dozens of other chords.
Well, good thing that all of this has been worked out. So, when you learn to play guitar, rather that someone telling you to play the notes XYZ, they would show you where to put your fingers, meaning which strings you play and the exact finger-position on the fretboard.
As I had mentioned, we only scratched the surfaced on guitar chord theory here. If you want to learn more about the whole subject without getting too crazy, click here for a good summary and easy to digest explanation around the theory of chords.
2. The Different Kinds Of Chords
Guitar chords can be categorized in a number of ways. What I tried below is to highlight some of the most frequently used chord definitions and groups. This is by no means intended to be all-inclusive but rather give you starting points to learn about the different types of guitar chords.
Easy guitar chords
Let’s start with easy, everybody likes that. Typically, when someone learns to play the instrument, he or she would start with a handful of rather basic chords that can be learned relatively fast. I need to pause here for a second, though, because I feel it’s worthwhile giving you a full disclosure here and putting things in perspective. “Easy” is a relative term. And the same is true for “easy chords”. A chord that I consider easy to play might be a challenge to somebody else and vice versa.
Let me give you a real-life example. Let’s take the C-Major chord. I don’t think that there’s any beginner guitar course, program, book or whatever out there that does not teach the C-Major chord. If you want to learn to play the instrument, you will have to learn this chord. A lot of traditional courses actually start with this particular chord, simply because it’s that important and part of so many songs.
Arguably, and based on what I just described, the C-Major chord would fall into the simple guitar chords category. However, the fact is that a lot of people, even those who have mastered the first few hurdles in their guitar journey, have massive problems with it. Whenever I post a new guitar song tutorial online that has the C-Major chord in it, people ask me if there’s a workaround for that chord, because they struggle with it so much. Well, there isn’t, that’s just the reality and if you’re one of those people, I strongly encourage you to practice that chord because otherwise it’s like driving a car that can only go 30mph at maximum speed. Sorry, if that came across a little harsh, but unlike many others, I’d rather tell you what’s happening in reality as opposed to telling you that ‘I found the holy grail of how to avoid difficult guitar chords’. If you see anything online along those lines, I’d be very cautious. Just my two cents.
My point is, below I put a short list together of what are typically considered common beginners guitar chords. That might actually be the better term rather than ‘easy chords’.
A-Major, A-Minor, A7, C-Major, D-Major, D-Minor, D7, E-Major, E-Minor, E7, G-Major, G7,
Here is a link to the Chordbank in case you want to look any of these chords (and dozens of others) up and learn them.
You have probably heard that term already, but just in case you’re not sure what is meant when somebody speaks of an open chord on guitar: it’s a guitar chord where at least one string of the instrument is not fingered, meaning none of your fingers are pressing down any of the strings – yet, those strings are part of the chord and need to be played. They will ring freely as you play them. Well, let’s put it this way, they have to ring freely, otherwise the chord is not played accurately.
Below is a video where I show you in more detail what I mean.
Major, Minor, 7th and more
I’d like to keep this section very short and I only bring this up because thus far we’ve been only highlighting so called Major Chords. But of course, there are other chord groups such as minor chords, 5ths, 7ths, etc. The underlying principle that we discussed before, meaning that a chord – any chord – consists of three notes at least, is true for these categories. The best way to explain that is by way of showing it to you in another short video. Again, let’s just stick with the A-chord. Above I told you and demonstrated how to play an A-Major chord on guitar. Now, let’s look at the Minor variant (called Am or A-Minor), and the A7.
Bar or Barre Chords
The next guitar chord category is the so called – and especially among guitar beginners, hated and dreaded – Bar Chords. Bar is short for Barre. And it literally means that you ‘bar’ a chord by using your (in most cases) index finger as a bar. You’ve probably already heard of the F-Chord. That’s the prime example of among all guitar bar chords where the index finger lies across all six strings at the same time (in the first fret). It is obviously not considered to be among the easiest guitar chords, because putting enough pressure on all six strings at the same time with one finger, is something that requires a good amount of practice. I put a couple of tutorials together specifically on the F-Chord. Here is one where I show you what I believe is the easiest way to learn the F-Chord. Alternatively, but only as a temporary solution until you are able to play this chord as a full bar chord, I’ll also share another tutorial on a workaround for playing the F Chord on guitar.
One last word with regard to bar chords. As I just acknowledged, they are not very popular among guitar starters. I don’t mean to discount the fact that bar chords require a lot of practice. But on the other hand, avoiding to learn and play bar chords on guitar – and coming back to my car analogy from above – it’s like driving but categorically refusing to learn how to make a left turn. You would rather take 4 right turns before learning how to make a left. In other words, there is really no point in that. Also, to many students it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy – it’s so hard, I just can’t learn it. However, that’s far away from the truth. I’m a good example. I am by no means talented. I had to work twice as hard as many others on the guitar. Ultimately, things took me longer to learn, but I made it. Persistence is key and before you know it, bar chords become second nature. So, don’t give up, don’t avoid them, because sooner or later, you will need them.
There is this rumor or anecdote that Pete Townshend invented the guitar power chords. Well, I have my doubts that he actually invented them, but let’s give him and many others some credit – Rock Guitar without power chords is unimaginable. And when I say Rock Guitar, I mean it its broadest sense including related genres such as Metal for instance.
A power chord is somewhat of an anomaly in that it’s comprised of only two notes, the root note and the fifth. You can play a power chord on guitar in two ways. As I just described, root plus 5th or alternatively, add an octave to the root. It’s probably to just show you in a short video what I mean:
On that topic, I also made a tutorial on how to add vibrato to power chords which might be interesting in that context:
Power chords may look like bar chords to the untrained eye but they aren’t. They are much easier to learn and play than bar chords, because there is no “barring” involved. Nonetheless, just as any other chord, they do require proper execution and good control. Meaning, there is more involved than just hitting the two or three notes – it’s also about muting the strings that you don’t want to ring freely as demonstrated in the video.
3. Learning Guitar Chords
In this section we will be looking at few important aspects relative to learning guitar chords. It goes without saying that simply watching guitar chord videos is probably the easiest learning method. But there is also other media such as books, tabs, chord charts and diagrams. So, let’s discuss a few different but common ways you would come across when dealing with chords.
How to read guitar chords?
If images or video is not available, guitar chords are usually depicted and illustrated in chord diagrams. While diagrams may look a little different depending on where you get them from, the underlying structure is always the same. The six strings of a guitar are shown as six horizontal lines, diveded by vertical lines marking the respective frets. Dots or bars mark the finger positions.
Additionally, we have guitar tabs. Tabs are easier to read and understand than standard notation. By the way, ‘tabs’ is short for tabulature. I think it would make sense to show you all the different ways of how guitar chords are depicted and put them side to side (see picture below).
4. Guitar Chords Chart
As I had said earlier, in this day and age, learning guitar chords online is an easy way to go about this whole thing. You can look up new chords quickly on Google or YouTube. This has a huge advantage over other methods, because you get both, the visual and the audio. Seeing what to do with your hands in order to play a chord is one thing, but actually hearing it too, is a massive plus. A little bit later I will share with my favorite sources to look-up or learn chords so you don’t have to look all over the place.
Before we move on to the next topic, I’d like to quickly make a point, or I should say, answer one of the many questions I keep getting: is there a difference between acoustic guitar chords and electric guitar chords? Simple answer: No, there isn’t. Arguably, there might be some chords that lend themselves to be played on an acoustic vs. and electric guitar and the other way around. But in principle, there is no difference.
We talked about charts already. However, I wanted to make sure that you fully understand them, because you will inevitably come across them during your guitar journey. In the next chapter I will share with you a number of valuable resources for you including some of my favorite places to get anything from a downloadable basic guitar chords chart without all the bells and whistles, to a nifty tool that lets you create your own charts, safe them online, share them with others and print them.
Some guitar chord charts are very basic. You got the six strings of your guitar, the fret position and dots/bars marking which and where to play the respective strings. These charts, though, don’t tell you what fingers to use. Which is okay, because once you have a little bit of experience under your belt, it is obvious which finger goes where.
The more advanced versions use numbers that correspond to the fingers of your hand. Typically, you will find this structure:
5. Top 5 Guitar Chord Learning And Look-Up Resources
Okay, let’s look at some of the online resources that I would consider among the Top 5 places to either learn new guitar chords from scratch, or to look them up in case you need a refresher. The good news is, all of them are completely free, and we all like free, don’t we?
1. List of guitar chords
Rest assured, this list is as comprehensive as it gets. There are virtually hundreds of chords in this document. It’s easy to navigate and you will find anything from your easy and beginning guitar chords to rather ‘exotic’ chord variations. It’s always good to have this list handy. It’s a pdf document and it’s free. Send me a quick note and it will get emailed to you right away -> Click here.
2. Interactive Chord Guide
Another great free guitar chords tool. I call it a tool on purpose, because it’s more than just a place to lookup chords. You can create your own chord charts. Let’s say you wrote a song on guitar which you want to share with your friends or just get everything on paper – you just click on the chords of your choice and the tool creates a chart for each of your chords accordingly. You can then safe the whole thing online or alternatively download and print it. Free and easy, click here to get there.
3. Guitar Chordbank
The Guitar Chordbank is something that I started a couple of years back ago. The idea was to create a video library of guitar chord videos. You just click on the chord of your choice and in a short 30-60 seconds video, I explain to you what you need to do with both of your hands to play that chord, as well as anything else you need to know about it (e.g. in case you need to mute certain strings, etc.). Again, completely free of charge and just one click away. New videos are being added on a regular basis, but what’s up there already is likely more than you will ever need. Visit the Chordbank here and add it to your bookmarks.
4. Beginners Guitar Course
As the name suggests, this is more than just a simple guitar chord learning resource. This is a full-fletched course for guitar beginners. The reason why I’m adding this to my Top 5 list is because I know that some of you are not just interested in chords, but also how to use them in songs. Also, a chord can be played in different ways; upstrokes, downstrokes, picking, plucking, etc. We cover all that and more in this now completely free program which was initially priced at $69. Well, again, it’s free so you have nothing to lose, go ahead and check it out.
I’m not trying to be funny here, but of course, I would be remiss not to include YouTube. The fact is, there are a lot of good (and not so good) guitar chord video tutorials on YouTube. So, if any of the resources I listed above don’t get you what you want – which I highly doubt! – YouTube is yet another option at your hands.
Yes, I know, it was supposed to be a Top 5 list. However, I thought, I’d throw this in here, too. Not as part of my personal Top 5, but as an add-on. Jamplay is the #1 online guitar learning platform. I partnered up with them a couple of months ago because after I had a chance to evaluate them thoroughly, I decided I can confidently vouch for them. Jamplay offers anything you can think of around online guitar learning programs. I encourage you to check them out and take a look for yourself. Here is a link to a post that I wrote just recently about the different ways to learn guitar online. You’ll find a link over to Jamplay AND – very important – a few exclusive coupon codes that you can use in case you want to sign-up with them. The prices, as you can find out for yourself, are very reasonably to begin with, but with my coupon codes, you can safe even more.
I know we covered a lot of ground today. But I hope I was able to meet your expectations with this article – again, my goal was to give you a general introduction to guitar chords, what they are, how to read them, how to learn them and where to go online to find trustworthy and easy to use chord learning & look-up resources.
I know that my Top 5 picks are subjective. But as a matter of principle, I can only talk about things that I know. I’d rather share my experience and honest opinion with you, albeit simply based on my personal experience, as opposed to pointing you to websites or other sources that I never tried myself. I hope that makes sense. With all that said, I encourage you to share in the comment box below if you know if other good places or media to learn guitar chords.
Lastly, if there’s anything missing here, let me know. I’d be happy to answer any questions. Contact me directly or just post them below.