How to Play Guitar Chords

Knowing how to play guitar chords is one of the most important things for beginner guitarists to learn. Guitar chords are important tools for developing your finger strength and dexterity, as well as a foundation for learning, reading and playing songs. Follow along to learn how to play some of the most common guitar chords.

Chords can be thought of as the building blocks to songs. They are a combination of at least two notes that are played simultaneously, creating a fuller, richer sound than each note individually. While most chords involve at least three notes played simultaneously, some may use even more.

Take a look at three of the most widely used chord "Families": Major Chords, Minor Chords and Seventh Chords.

What You'll Need to Know

Before we jump right in to how to play each chord, let's briefly go over some of the basic things that you will need to know in order to use the information below.

Strings

A standard guitar has six strings, each of which has a different size and note value.

In standard tuning, the bottom string (also the skinniest and highest sounding) is an E note. This is also known as the 1st string. The 2nd string up (a little bit thicker and lower sounding) is a B note. The 3rd string up is a G note, 4th is a D, 5th is an A, and the 6th string (thickest, lowest sounding, and closest to your body) is also an E note. When in tune, playing the 1st and the 6th strings open should produce the same note, albeit at different pitches.

Mnemonic devices can help you remember the order of the strings: For example, from top to bottom: Eat All Day Get Big Easy.

Frets

While the strings divide the guitar from left to right (as in the diagram), fret bars are small metal strips that divide the guitar neck into sections, or frets, from top to bottom.

If you look at your guitar from above, you can begin to see that the strings and frets together form a kind of grid that covers the entire neck of the guitar. Placing your finger on a string in between two of the frets is what enables you to play a note. The higher up you get on the frets, the higher the notes sound. In general, each fret is a half-step higher than the previous fret.

Fingers

In the same way that we numbered each of the strings, you assign a number value to each of the fingers on your fretting hand so that you know which fingers to use when creating a chord.

When reading the diagrams below:

        • 1 = Index finger
        • 2 = Middle finger
        • 3 = Ring finger
        • 4 = Pinky finger
        • 0 = Play the note Open
        • X = Don't play the string

Major Chords

The most common chords found in Western music are the "Major" chords. Major chords are characterized by their bright, upbeat sounding quality. These are the ones that beginning guitar players usually learn first.

A Major

  1. Place your index finger on the 4th string, 2nd fret
  2. Place your middle finger on the 3rd string, 2nd fret
  3. Place your ring finger on the 2nd string, 2nd fret
  4. Start from the 5th string and strum each of the strings below in quick succession. Do not play the 6th string.

The A Major Chord is a little bit more difficult than the C Major, due to the fact that all three of your fingers are scrunched together closely on the 2nd fret. Try playing this chord a few times to see how it feels and sounds. If you are still having problems, or your fingers are so big that they just don't all fit on the 2nd fret at the same time, you may want to experiment with other fingerings. One way to remove the need for the ring finger is to use your middle finger to hold down both the 3rd and 2nd strings at the same time.

B Major

  1. Place your index finger on the 1st string, 2nd fret
  2. Place your middle finger on the 4th string, 4th fret
  3. Place your ring finger on the 3rd string, 4th fret
  4. Place your pinky finger on the 2nd string, 4th fret
  5. Start from the 4th string and strum each of the strings below in quick succession. Do not play the 6th or 5th strings.

The B Major chord is often one of the most difficult for beginners to learn due to the fact that you must use all four of your available fingers and because you are using the 4th fret for the first time. Don't worry. The more you practice this chord, the easier it will be for your fingers to remember the shape they should be in.

C Major

  1. Place your ring finger on the 5th string, 3rd fret
  2. Place your middle finger on the 4th string, 2nd fret
  3. Place your index finger on the 2nd string, 1st fret
  4. Start from the 5th string and strum each of the strings below it in quick succession. Do not play the 6th string.

The C Major Chord that you have just made should look a little bit like a staircase, with your index finger forming the lowest step. It may seem awkward at first to keep your fingers in that position, but don't worry. The more you practice each chord, and the stronger your fingers become, the easier it will be for your hand to form the chord structures. It's alright if it didn't sound perfect or if some of the notes didn't ring true. That will come with practice.

D Major

  1. Place your index finger on the 3rd string, 2nd fret
  2. Place your ring finger on the 2nd string, 3rd fret
  3. Place your middle finger on the 1st string, 2nd fret
  4. Start from the 4th string and play each of the strings below in quick succession. Do not play either the 5th or 6th strings.

Of all of the major chords, the D Major Chord is often the most difficult for beginners and the toughest to make each of the notes ring true. But have no fear. As with all of the lessons you will learn on the guitar, the more you do it, the easier it becomes and the better it sounds!

E Major

  1. Place your middle finger on the 5th string, 2nd fret
  2. Place your ring finger on the 4th string, 2nd fret
  3. Place your index finger on the 3rd string, 1st fret
  4. Strum all of the strings in quick succession

The E Major Chord is one of the most recognizable of the "Major" chords, as it can be found in many of the most popular blues and rock songs. Again, don't worry if some of the notes don't ring true, or if it sounds at all muffled. With enough practice, your fingers will be able to hold down only the necessary notes on the right strings, while allowing the others to be played "Open."

F Major

  1. Place your index finger so that it covers both the 2nd and 1st strings on the first fret.
  2. Place your middle finger on the 3rd string, 2nd fret
  3. Place your ring finger on the 4th string, 3rd fret
  4. Start from the 4th string and strum each of the strings below in quick succession. Do not play the 6th or 5th strings.

The F Major Chord is similar in shape to the C Major chord in that it looks much like a staircase, expect for the fact that most of the notes in the F Major chord are moved down one string. Besides the similarity of their shapes, the F and C chords are relatively easy to move between and can be found together in many different musical patterns.

G Major

  1. Place your middle finger on the 6th string, 3rd fret
  2. Place your index finger on the 5th string, 2nd fret
  3. Place your ring finger on the 1st string, 3rd fret
  4. Strum all of the strings in quick succession

The G Major chord can be played with a few different fingerings, although the one described above is the easiest for beginning players. An alternate fingering would be to use your ring finger to play the first note, your middle finger to play the second, and your pinkie to play the final note.

MINOR CHORDS

In contrast to Major chords, Minor chords usually have a darker, moody sound to them. While they are relatively similar in terms of theory (a Minor chord is just a Major chord with a Minor 3rd - rather than a Major 3rd), the sounds that they produce are drastically different and can alter the mood of the song they appear in. Here is how to play the Minor chord versions of the 7 "Natural" notes that we covered in the previous lesson.

A Minor

  1. Place your index finger on the 2nd string, 1st fret
  2. Place your middle finger on the 4th string, 2nd fret
  3. Place your ring finger on the 3rd string, 2nd fret
  4. Start from the 5th string and strum all of the strings in quick succession. Do not play the 6th string.

The A Minor Chord is similar to the A Major chord (as you can see), although many people think that it is easier to play (due to the fact that you don' have to squeeze all of your fingers onto one fret. Practice moving back and forth between the Major and Minor versions of the A Chord.

B Minor

  1. Place your index finger on the 1st string, 2nd fret
  2. Place your middle finger on the 2nd string, 3rd fret
  3. Place your ring finger on the 4th string, 4th fret
  4. Place your pinky finger on the 3rd string, 4th fret
  5. Start on the 4th string and strum each of the strings below in quick succession. Do not play either the 6th or 5th strings.

The B Minor Chord is one that is often difficult to get at first (probably because you have to use all four of your fretting fingers - including your pinky). Don't worry if you have trouble making this chord at first. Just remember that it has a similar staircase shape to the C Major and F Major chords.

C Minor

  1. Place your index finger on the 5th string, 2nd fret
  2. Place your middle finger on the 2nd string, 3rd fret
  3. Place your ring finger on the 4th string, 4th fret
  4. Place your pinky finger on the 3rd string, 4th fret
  5. Start on the 5th string and strum all of the chords below (besides the 1st string)

The C Minor Chord is another tough one, as it requires your fingers to stretch more than they have so far. Make sure to stretch out your fingers before trying this one.

D Minor

  1. Place your index finger on the 1st string, 1st fret
  2. Place your middle finger on the 3rd string, 2nd fret
  3. Place your ring finger on the 2nd string, 3rd fret
  4. Start from the 4th string and strum each of the strings below in quick succession. Do not play either the 6th or 5th strings.

The D Minor Chord is one that many guitar players have trouble wrapping their heads around (maybe because it inverts the sharp of the D Major chord). Spend some time with this one until you play it well.

How to Play E Minor Chord on Guitar

  1. Place your middle finger on the 5th string, 2nd fret
  2. Place your ring finger on the 4th string, 2nd fret
  3. Start on the 6th string and play all of the strings below in quick succession.
  4. Be sure to play All of the strings on this one.

The E Minor Chord is a very popular chord and is used in many different situations. Luckily, it is also a relatively easy chord to learn and master. It is also really easy to move back and forth between the Major and Minor chord versions of E (as the E minor is simply an E Major without the index finger.

F Minor

  1. Place your index finger flat so that it covers the 1st, 2nd and 3rd strings on the 1st fret.
  2. Place your ring finger on the 4th string, 3rd fret
  3. Start at the 4th string and play each of the strings below in quick succession.
  4. Do not play either the 6th or the 5th strings

The F Minor Chord can be tough if you haven't built up your finger strength yet. Just keeping all of the strings fretted with your index finger can be difficult at first. Try starting with just your index finger and then add your ring finger when you are comfortable holding down all three notes.

G Minor

  1. Place your index finger flat so that it covers the 1st, 2nd and 3rd strings on the 3rd fret
  2. Place your ring finger on 5th string, 5th fret
  3. Place your pinky finger on the 4th string, 5th fret
  4. Start at the 5th string and play all of the strings below in quick succession
  5. Do not play the 6th string

The G Minor chord is similar to the F Minor chord in that it requires your index finger to hold down three strings at once, but it can be even more difficult because it also requires your ring and pinky to hold down notes to. Take note: The diagram above doesn't include the first 2 frets (as the chord starts on the 3rd).

Seventh Chords

A Seventh chord is a regular chord with an added seventh note above the root. Seventh Chords are often used in Jazz and Bues forms due to their ability to bridge the gap (or suggest movement) between one chord and another. Any type of chord can be turned into a Seventh chord by simply adding a seventh note above the root. Here we will look at the Major and Minor variations of the seventh chord.

A Major 7th

  1. Place your index finger on the 3rd string, 1st fret

  2. Place your middle finger on the 4th string, 2nd fret

  3. Place your ring finger on the 2nd string, 2nd fret

  4. Strum all of the strings except the 6th.

A Minor 7th

  1. Place your index finger on the 2nd string, 1st fret

  2. Place your middle finger on the 4th string, 2nd fret

  3. Strum all of the strings except the 6th

B Major 7th

  1. Place your index finger on the 5th string, 2nd fret

  2. Place your middle finger on the 3rd string, 3rd fret

  3. Place your ring finger on the 4th string, 4th fret

  4. Place your pinky finger on the 2nd string, 4th fret

  5. Strum all the strings except the 6th and 1st

B Minor 7th

  1. Place your index finger flat so that it covers strings 5 through 1 on the 2nd fret

  2. Place your middle finger on the 2nd string, 3rd fret

  3. Place your ring finger on the 4th string, 4th fret

  4. Strum all of the strings except the 6th

C Major 7th

  1. Place your index finger on the 5th string, 3rd fret

  2. Place your middle finger on the 3rd string, 4th fret

  3. Place your ring finger on the 4th string, 5th fret

  4. Place your pinky finger on the 2nd string, 5th fret

  5. Strum all the strings except the 6th and 1st

C Minor 7th

  1. Place your index finger flat so that it covers strings 5 through 1 on the 3rd fret

  2. Place your middle finger on the 2nd string, 4th fret

  3. Place your ring finger on the 4th string, 5th fret

  4. Strum all of the strings except the 6th

D Major 7th

  1. Place your index finger flat so that is covers the 3rd, 2nd and 1st strings on the 2nd fret

  2. Start on the 4th string and strum each of the strings below in quick succession.

  3. Do not play either the 6th or 5th strings.

D Minor 7th

  1. Place your index finger flat so that it covers the 1st and 2nd strings on the 1st fret

  2. Place your middle finger on the 3rd string, 2nd fret

  3. Start on the 4th string and strum each of the strings below in quick succession.

  4. Do not play either the 6th or 5th strings

E Major 7th

  1. Place your index finger on the 4th string, 1st fret

  2. Place your middle finger on the 3rd string, 1st fret

  3. Place your ring finger on the 5th string, 2nd fret

  4. Play all of the strings in quick succession

E Minor 7th

  1. Place your middle finger on the 5th string, 2nd fret

  2. Play all of the strings in quick succession.

F Major 7th

  1. Place your index finger on the 6th string, 1st fret

  2. Place your middle finger on the 2nd string, 1st fret

  3. Place your ring finger on the 4th string, 2nd fret

  4. Place your pinky finger on the 3rd string, 2nd fret

  5. Strum all of the strings except the 5th and 1st

F Minor 7th

  1. Place your index finger on the 6th string, 1st fret

  2. Place your middle finger on the 4th string, 1st fret

  3. Place your ring finger on the 3rd string, 1st fret

  4. Strum the 6th, 4th and 3rd strings

G Major 7th

  1. Place your index finger on the 6th string, 3rd fret

  2. Place your middle finger on the 2nd string, 3rd fret

  3. Place your ring finger on the 4th string, 4th fret

  4. Place your pinky finger on the 3rd string, 4th fret

  5. Strum all of the strings except the 5th and 1st

G Minor 7th

  1. Place your index finger on the 6th string, 3rd fret

  2. Place your middle finger on the 4th string, 3rd fret

  3. Place your ring finger on the 3rd string, 3rd fret

  4. Strum the 6th, 4th and 3rd strings

Practice Lessons

As you've probably guessed, knowing how to play each chord is only half of the battle. You also need to be able to play each of them confidently and cleanly. The only way to do this is by continued practice and repetition. Here are some brief tips on how to start practicing theses chords:

  1. Spend at least 15 minutes practicing each chord until you move on to the next one. Make sure that you can play each one cleanly and without looking at the chord diagram, as this will make it much easier when you begin to learn songs.
  2. While playing each chord, start by strumming slowly at first (one string at a time), as this will allow you to see if all of the notes are being played clearly.
  3. Once you are comfortable making each of the chord shapes, start trying to move your fingers from one chord to another as quickly and accurately as possible. This may seem hard, and will probably necessitate long pauses in between each switch at first. But the more you do this, the less time it will take you to change chord shapes and the easier it will be when we eventually start to play actual songs.

Conclusion

Whether you are a beginning guitar player or a seasoned veteran, chords are always going to be a large part of your repertoire, which is why knowing how to play them is so important.

And while you may have trouble getting your fingers into some of these positions at first, the more you practice, the stronger your fingers will become and the easier it will get for you to make some of the more difficult chord shapes. So take the time to master each of these chords before you move on to the next one. Trust me, you will be glad you did!

Resources for How to Play Guitar Chords

References

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