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Basic Guitar Chords

Learn how to play guitar chords for beginners

Last Updated: January 2023 | Article Details: 2629 words (14 – 16 minute read)

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Guitar chords are the most important thing any beginner could learn.

And in this guide we’ll show you the most used ones in a LOT of music you probably know.

Just remember, practice your fretting- you want your fingers to firmly hold down each individual string without hitting other strings.

And if you really want to master guitar chord, check out the best guitar lessons online to level up.

Let’s dive right in…

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How to Play Guitar Chords for Beginners

Remember, from our guide to guitar scales lesson, the notes on the guitar (thickest to thinnest string):

  • E
  • A
  • D
  • G
  • B
  • E
Note Names Shown on Guitar Strings

Now each of these notes is also going to get a number – from 1 to 6. The bottom E (highest pitch note + thinnest string) will be #1. The lowest pitch note and thickest string (top E) will be #6.

The frets on the neck are also going to get a number – the first fret (Fret 1) will be the one closest to the nut of the guitar (mind out of the gutter, people…) and go downwards. The nut is what you could call Fret 0 and sits right on the border of the head and neck.

We’re also going to be numbering our fingers (except your thumb):

  • Thumb = T
  • Index Finger = 1
  • Middle Finger = 2
  • Ring Finger = 3
  • Pinky = 4
Closeup Hand  Fretting a Guitar Chord

First Position Chords

We’ll start with the C Major chord.

The notes that make up a basic C Major?

  1. C
  2. E
  3. G
  • C Note – Played on the A String, pressing the 3rd fret
  • E Note – Played on the D String, pressing the 2nd fret
  • G Note – Played on the G string – no fret (i.e. string stays “open”)
  • C Note – Played on the B String, pressing the 1st fret
  • The Low E (top string) and High E (bottom string) are not played
Closeup of a Chord Being Fret on Guitar

Now press down those strings and play each note (except the two you’re not supposed to play) one at a time by picking the guitar strings. Sound off or kind of weird? Don’t worry, it happens. Check your fretting hand – are your fingers pressed down firmly and in the right place?

Related Content: How to Play Power Chords

You may have to twist and curl your fingers in positions that feel awkward at first to get a good sound, but you’ll get used to a comfortable position over time. Play them again – sounding better? Good. Now strum the strings from top to bottom, all together.

Congratulations – you’ve just played your first guitar chord. Aren’t you just a boss…

How to Read Diagrams

So when you’re looking for songs to play online, you’ll often come across something known as tablature or “tabs” for short. You’ll also see something called “chord charts.”

These are chord diagrams that show you what notes and chords to play for a particular song or progression. Remember the finger, fret and string numbering we mentioned above?

If not, here’s a diagram to help jog your memory:

Guitar Tab Fingering Diagram

Basically a diagram or a tab will tell you what strings to press on what frets using which fingers..

Here’s a diagram example:

Basic Chord Diagrams for Guitar

Here’s what you’ll notice when you’re looking, for example, at the C chord diagram:

  • The strings and frets numbers’ correspond to the diagram above it
  • The top string of the guitar has an X over top of it – that means you DON’T play that string
  • The second string is pressed down on the 3rd fret with the 3rd finger
  • The third string is pressed down on the 2nd fret with the 2nd finger
  • The fourth string isn’t pressed on any fret and has an O on top of it – that means you play that string “open” (i.e. not pressed down on a fret)
  • The fifth string is pressed down on the 1st fret using the 1st finger
  • The bottom string is not pressed down on a fret and is played “open”

And that’s how you read chord diagrams.

4 Most Common Chords on Guitar

There are so many potential guitar chords (and voicings) you could play. But you don’t have to worry about ALL of them. Focus on the basics and then move on. Slowly but surely your chord vocabulary will gradually increase.

To start things off let’s go over the 4 most basic (and most common) ones you’ll ever come across.

Some of these are known as “open chords” – they’re straight forward and easy to play. And if you know them, you can play a hell of a lot of popular music.

Below you’ll find a description of how to play it along with a chart diagram of how it’s played. If you need, brush up on the basics of playing guitar.

C Major

The C major is the most common chord ever – and pretty much every music student starts with it.

It is made up of the C, E and G notes and is the root chord of the C Major scale.

Here’s how it’s played

  • 1st finger on 2nd string on 1st fret
  • 2nd finger on 4th string on 2nd fret
  • 3rd finger on 5th string on 3rd fret
  • Don’t play 6th string when strumming

Your first 3 fingers form a sort of staircase. Just be sure not to play the 6th string when you strum.

Also, be careful not to accidentally mute the 1st string (high E – thinnest string).

C Major Chord on Guitar

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D Major

D major is a bright sounding chord that’s also popular.

It’s made up of the D F and A notes and your fingers make up a triangle.

  • 1st finger on 3rd string on 2nd fret
  • 2nd finger on 1st string on 2nd fret
  • 3rd finger on 2nd string on 3rd fret
  • Don’t play 6th or 5th strings

You’re only playing the first 4 strings with this chord. Take a look at the diagram below.

D Major Chord on Guitar

G Major

With the G major chord on guitar, we start to twist our fingers a bit more.

It’s a kind of claw shape, which can make it hard to switch from another chord to this one, but you’ll get used to it.

  • 1st finger on 5th string on 2nd fret
  • 2nd finger on 6th string on 3rd fret
  • 3rd finger on 1st string on 3rd fret

This time, you’re going to strum all of the strings. There are no strings left out even though the root chord only has the 3 notes G, B-flat and D.

Check out the diagram below:

G Major Chord on Guitar

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F Major

The F major is another open chord that’s often one of the first you’ll learn.

A lot of times you’ll start by practicing switching between the C major and the F Major, because of some similar finger placements.

  • 1st finger on 1st + 2nd string on 1st fret
  • 2nd finger on 3rd string on 2nd fret
  • 3rd finger on 4th string on 3rd fret
  • Don’t play string 5 or string 6

On this chord, we’re adding an additional string being held down (using a single finger, no less).

Try it out with the aid of the image below.

F Major Chord on Guitar

More Majors

Now let’s round out our list with a couple more major chords. Majors are the happier sounding chords, and are often used in pop music.

A Major

The A major is probably the easiest thing to play ever. It doesn’t take a lot to remember these finger positions.

You’re able to “barre” three of the strings on the same fret. Barre chords are a specific type you can learn more about below or in our full how to play guitar guide.

  • 1st finger on 4th string on 2nd fret
  • 2nd finger on 3rd string on 2nd fret
  • 3rd finger on 2nd string on 2nd fret
  • Don’t play 6th string

See? Easy-peasy.

A Major Guitar Chord

E Major

Rounding out our list is the E Major. It’s an open chord and each string of the guitar gets played when strumming this particular shape.

  • 1st finger on 3rd string on 1st fret
  • 2nd finger on 5th string on 2nd fret
  • 3rd finger on 4th string on 2nd fret

Remember, with this chord you’re going to let all strings ring out on the strum.

Even easier than the last one!

E Major Guitar Chord

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Basic Minor Chords

Now that you have a bunch of major quality chords you can use right away, let’s talk about minor keys.

Minor chords are ones that sound more melancholy or “sad.”

A Minor

This is VERY similar to the E major you learned above.

All you have to do is make that same shape and move each finger down one string.

  • 1st finger on 2nd string on 1st fret
  • 2nd finger on 4th string on 2nd fret
  • 3rd finger on 3rd string on 2nd fret
  • Don’t play 6th string

The only real difference you need to be aware of is the 6th string (thickest guitar string) doesn’t get played .

Check out the diagram:

A Minor Chord on Guitar

E Minor

The E minor is probably one of the easiest guitar chords you’ll ever play. You only use 2 fingers.

In fact, it’s exactly the same as the E major, but without one of the fingers.

  • 2nd finger on 5th string on 2nd fret
  • 3rd finger on 4th string on 2nd fret

All of the strings get strummed this time for a nice full sound.

E Minor Chord on Guitar

D Minor

Now let’s move onto the D minor. Again, this one is similar to it’s major counterpart with one minor adjustment.

You just have to move one fret position.

  • 1st finger on 1st string on 1st fret
  • 2nd finger on 3rd string on 2nd fret
  • 3rd finger on 2nd string on 3rd fret
  • Don’t play 5th and 6th string

Check out the diagram below:

D Minor Chord on a Guitar

B Minor

The last one we’re going over – the B minor – isn’t exactly an open chord, but it’s still a really commonly played one.

However, it’s also one of the most difficult for beginners to play because it’s usually shown with a “barre” on the 2nd fret.

But we’re going to show you an easier version below.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • 1st finger on 1st string on 2nd fret
  • 2nd finger on 2nd string on 3rd fret
  • 3rd finger on 3rd string on 4th fret
  • Don’t play 4th, 5th or 6th string
B Minor on Guitar

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Even More Chords

And that’s that – chords every beginner needs to know. Of course, there are many more you’ll want to learn, but before you try to move on master these basic ones first. Once you can play them all without problems, you’ll be ready to tackle different voicings and more advanced options.

For now here’s a quick intro to another type of chord that is important to know as a guitarist.

Barre Chords

If you’ve brushed up on basic music theory, you’ll know there are Major chords (“happy” sounding) and Minor chords (“sad” sounding). Well, there are a bunch of other types too. There are so many note combinations it’d be impossible for us to list them all right here in this guide. 

So make sure you download our free practice plan and “cheat sheets” below. And read our guide on better guitar practice.

One thing we should mention, though, are Barre (or “Bar”) Chords.

The way they’re fretted make it easy to move between chords.

It’s where you basically use your index finger to press down ALL the strings on a fret, (example the first fret) then the rest of your fingers make the shape of an E Major underneath the index finger.

That will let you play an F Chord.

Guitarist Fretting a Barre Chord

Here’s a Breakdown:

  • Finger 1 presses down ALL strings on fret 1
  • Finger 2 presses down String 3 on fret 2
  • Finger 3 presses down String 5 on fret 3
  • Finger 4 pressed down String 4 on fret 3

That shape (excluding finger 1) is an E Major if you were to play it starting on fret 1 instead of fret 2. Now… If you keep that same shape with your fingers and move your hand down so Finger 1 is now pressing down ALL strings on fret 2, the chord becomes a G. And so on… The Ramones used a lot of barre chords, pretty successfully too! So practice some yourself!


Frequently Asked Questions

Why Should I Learn Guitar Chords?

Chords are an important part of music. They provide the emotional vibe of a song. Knowing how to play chords on the guitar allows you to form a harmonic basis to a song. The harmonic basis of a song is how the emotion flows and moves – are you playing a happy song or a sad song? The chords you choose here will make the difference. You should learn chords, so that you are able to play songs and even write your own music.

Why Does My Guitar Buzz When I Play a Chord?

The most common reason for a buzzing sound when you play a chord on a guitar is that the strings are not being “fretted” properly. That means you’re likely not pressing down hard enough on the strings on your fret hand. It may also mean that you’re pressing down on a string too far away from the actual fret. Make sure your nails are trimmed low and you’re using the top pads of your fingers on each string you’re trying to press. Press down hard and make sure you’re not accidentally touching any of the strings you’re not supposed to fret.

What Are Guitar Chord Inversions?

An inversion simply means playing the notes of a particular chord “out of order.” For example, a chord is normally derived from the first, third and fifth note of a scale (in that order). So you’d play the notes in the order 1-3-5. An inversion of that chord would be, for example, playing it as 3-5-1 or 5-1-3. It’s the same chord being played, but since it’s been “inverted” it’s got a distinct sound to it from the original “root” shape of the chord

What Are Guitar Chord Shapes?

When you play certain chords on the guitar, you’ll notice that your fret hand fingers are making a certain shape. Some of these shapes can be “transposed” (moved up or down the guitar neck) to play different chords. You’d simply leave your fingers in the exact formation they’re currently in (the “shape”) and move it to another string or another fret position and it’d form another chord.

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    Wrap-Up

    Now that you know these basic chords, make sure you download our free cheat sheets (see above) for even more charts/diagrams you can start playing today!

    And that’s it! Make sure you keep practicing as often as you can – daily is best.

    Next up, we recommend checking out our guide to guitar picking techniques.

    If you really want to become a better guitar player fast, I highly recommend you check out Guitar Tricks (14 Day Free Trial) – they’ve got a TON of in-depth video lessons on everything you could possibly want to learn.

    Thanks for reading our complete guide on how to play guitar chords. We hope you found it helpful.


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    About The Author:

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    Omar Zulfi

    Omar Zulfi is a music producer, rapper, singer, songwriter and digital entrepreneur. He is the founder and head writer at Deviant Noise. Learn more about what he's doing by clicking here.