How to Play Basic Guitar Chords (A Full Guide)

Learn the most-used guitar chords for beginners quickly!

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Last Updated: August 2022

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.

Let’s dive right in…

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

Basic Guitar Chords

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How to Play Guitar Chords for Beginners

Guitar Notes

Remember the notes on the guitar (thickest to thinnest string):

  • E
  • A
  • D
  • G
  • B
  • E

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


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First Position Guitar Chords

Guitar Chords in First Position

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

Now press down those strings and play each note (except the two you’re not supposed to play) one at a time. 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?

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 guitar chords 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

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

Here’s a diagram example:

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 guitar chords diagrams.


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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 how to play guitar.

If you’re looking for more advanced types, we recommend checking out these great online guitar lessons.

C Major

The C major is the most common chord ever – and pretty much every music student starts with it, whether they’re learning guitar or piano.

It is made up of the C, E and G notes and is the root chord of the C Major scale. (Learn guitar scales here!)

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

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

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


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More Majors

Now let’s round out our list with a couple more major guitar 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

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


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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 guitar chord.

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

Guitar 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. 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.

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!

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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.