How to Play Guitar Chords
Ok, so you’ve got the basics of guitar playing (if not read this first) and you’re ready to be the next Jimi Hendrix. So what now? It’s time to learn how to play guitar chords.
Now, I know it sounds intimidating, and if you just picked up a guitar for the first time you’re probably worried about your fingers hurting.
Don’t worry – you’ll get there. It just takes practice and patience.
Playing guitar chords isn’t that difficult to do. What’s a chords? It’s when more than two notes are played at the same time to produce a harmonious sound.
So how do you play guitar chords? Read on…
Understanding Guitar Chords
In case you weren’t paying attention to our previous lesson, here are the notes on the guitar from bottom to top (thinnest to thickest string):
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 guitar 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 guitar head and guitar 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
Normally, you won’t use the thumb much to press down on strings. You push it up behind the neck of the guitar so your fingers get enough leverage to press down on a string with force.
Learning Your First Guitar Chord
You ready to learn your first chord? Great. We’ll start with the C Major chord.
The notes that make up a basic C Major chord?
Want to know how we knew that? You’ll need to stay tuned for our basic music theory articles coming soon!
For now, we’re going to show you how to construct this chord on a guitar.
- C Note – Played on the A String, pressing the 3rd
- E Note – Played on the D String, pressing the 2nd
- G Note – Played on the G string – no fret (i.e. string stays “open”)
- C Note – Played on the B String, pressing the 1st
- 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 play them all together. Congratulations – you’ve just played your first guitar chord. Aren’t you just a boss…
Learning Other Guitar Chords
Playing chords is all good, but you want to be able to play songs don’t you? It’s not going to happen overnight. But you can definitely learn quickest by using online guitar lessons like this one or this one.
At the end of the day it takes practice and learning – you have to keep pushing yourself.
But for now, we’ll give you two more chords you can use with the C Major you just learned to play a basic strummed song (freestyle).
The F Major Chord
The F Major Chord sounds great when played along with a C Major Chord. What notes are in this one?
Here’s how you play it:
- Press finger 1 down on the 1st fret of both String 1 (E) and String 2 (B)
- Press finger 2 down on the 2nd fret of the G String (String 3)
- Press finger 3 down on the 3rd fret of the String 4 (D String)
Now play each string one-by-one and all together like you did in the previous exercise.
There you go – you just played an F chord. Practice this and the C chord a few times before moving onto the third one below.
The G Major Chord
The final guitar chord you’re about to learn is the G Major. This is another one that sounds great when played along with the F and C that you learned above.
What’s it made up of?
There are a few ways to play this one, and we’re going to show you the more complicated way to get you used to fretting.
If you see it, you’ll notice it’s the exact same thing as the F chord you just played, but it’s moved up by 2 frets.
Here’s how you play it:
- Press down on the top two strings (E and B) on the 3rd fret with Finger 1
- Press down on the G String (third string from top) on the 4th fret with Finger 2
- Press the D String (fourth from top) on the 6th fret with Finger 3
Now play each note one by one and all together.
That’s a G Major Chord.
Putting the Chords Together
So now that you know the “Big 3” guitar chords it’s time to put them together to make your first (straight up basic) song.
Playing these 3 chords one after another sounds great.
Try it – play the C Chord a few times, then switch to an G, and finally a G. Now go back to the C.
Doesn’t that sounds amazing? (I know, not really – but it’s a start right?)
Do it in this order and it’ll start to sound like a real song:
- Strum C Major 4 times
- Strum F Major 2 times
- Strum G Major 2 times
At first, it’s going to sound broken and sloppy. But just keep at it. Practice these three chords until each one sounds pristine, and your transitions between chords are smooth and not jittery.
You should be able to move from one guitar chord to another without hesitation, trouble and thinking.
That’s where practice comes into play. Keep practicing these basics until it’s second nature to you.
Once you’ve done that you’re ready to move on.
So What’s Next?
There are literally a million more things to learn about playing the guitar like a pro. But don’t worry, we’ll help you get there eventually.
The next thing you need to do is take a look at these online guitar lessons so you can decide which route to take to master the guitar.