Here’s the good news about beginner guitar chords – there are only eight you need to know.
The bad news is that some beginners find it difficult to pick these up. You may want to start with some simple single note, double stop, triad, or flatpicking exercises before you start pulling your hair out trying to work out the following chords.
But the three-finger chord is a staple, even among professional guitarists, so if you see any kind of future in guitar playing for yourself, you must learn and memorize each of these shapes.
Let’s get into the eight important guitar chords all beginners need to know. Check out this handy guitar chord generator if you want to take things even further.
1. A Major Guitar Chord
A major (also known as A), is tricky for one reason: unlike any of the other chords on this list, you have to cram your index, middle, and ring finger into one fret, namely the second fret on the second, third, and fourth strings.
With some of the other chords on this list, like C, there’s more of a spread between your fingers, and this can be tough if you don’t have a lot of flexibility.
Whenever you’re playing single notes on the guitar, the goal is to have your finger hugging the fret – not on top of it, but right up against it. Don’t worry too much about this with the A chord. Place your top finger (your ring finger) right next to the second fret, and let your other fingers fall in line above (making sure that they are still in the same fret).
Once you have your fingers in place, you can strum from the fifth string down (every string except for the sixth string) to make sure your fingers are in the right position.
2. C Major Chord
There are only a couple of three-finger chords in this lesson that have a three-fret spread, and C is one of them.
Start with your index finger, which goes on the first fret of the second string. Then, place your middle finger at the second fret of the fourth string, and your ring finger at the third fret of the fifth string.
With this chord, it is important that each of your fingers are close to the frets. There is always more leniency with chords compared to single notes or double stops, but with the C chord, you can avoid a lot of potential buzzing by keeping an eye on your finger positioning.
As with the A chord, you can strum the C chord from the fifth string down to make sure it sounds right.
3. D Major Is A Chord You Need To Learn
D can be a little confusing, and I’ve seen various guitarists play it in at least three different ways.
Not that one is better than the other – it’s just a matter of what’s easy to do and what you get used to.
I suggest starting with your index finger on the second fret of the third string. Next, place your middle finger on the first string of the second fret. Yes, you do need to place your middle finger in the same fret as your index finger (different string, mind you). It might seem awkward at first, but you will get used to it. Finally, place your ring finger on the third fret of the second string.
D is generally strummed from the fourth string down, excluding the fifth and sixth strings.
4. E Major, An Important Chord For Guitarists
To play E major, first, place your index finger on the first fret of the third string. Then, place your middle finger on the second fret of the fifth string. Finally – and this is the weird part – slot your ring finger in below your middle finger at the second fret of the fourth string. If you remember how to play A, it’s kind of the same idea, except for the fact that only two of your fingers are occupying the same fret.
Strum all strings to see whether or not you’ve done it right.
Note: We’ve now also got a guide on using the CAGED guitar system and barre chords.
5. Beginners, Practice The G Major Chord On Guitar
G major is an easier chord than it appears. The spread is mostly between your middle finger and ring finger, which is not a problem when you bend your ring finger at just the right angle.
To begin with, place your index finger at the second fret of the fifth string. Follow that with your middle finger on the third fret of the sixth string. Then, place your ring finger on the third fret of the first string.
As with the E chord, you can strum all strings when holding the G shape.
6. A Minor
We’re done with all of the major chords (for now), and we’re on to minor chords, which have a slightly different sound to them. In general, they sound kind of darker, sadder, or more incomplete compared to major chords.
The A minor chord is exactly the same as E major, except for the fact that you need to drop each of your fingers down a string. So, your index finger goes on second string first fret, your middle finger goes on fourth string second fret, and your middle finger goes on third string second fret.
As with most chords in this lesson, you can strum from the fifth string down, leaving the sixth string out.
7. D Minor
D minor has a three fret spread – fortunately, it’s all on adjacent strings.
Your index finger goes on first string, first fret. Your middle finger should be placed on the second fret of the third string. Then, your ring finger goes on the third fret of the second string. This can be a little tricky. Just keep trying until you get it.
In reality, there is only one note difference between D minor and D Major (the note on the first string), and this is true of all major and minor chords. But that one note is what makes a chord either major or minor.
As with D, strum from the fourth string down (leaving out the fifth string and sixth string), and you’re good to go.
8. E Minor
This is the easiest chord in this lesson, and unlike the others, it’s actually a two-finger chord as opposed to a three-finger chord.
I suggest using your middle finger and ring finger, as counterintuitive as it sounds. It makes the transition into other chords a lot easier.
Basically what we have is an E major chord without the index finger. So place your middle finger on the fifth string at the second fret, and put your ring finger at the second fret of the fourth string. That’s it.
As with E, you can strum all strings.
How To Achieve A Clean Sound & Let Your Muscle Memory Do The Work
To wrap up this lesson, I want to share a couple of tips with you.
First, just be aware that it can be tough to get all of the strings ringing out clearly when you’re starting to work on these chords. I suggest picking individual strings while holding chord shapes to identify where you’re inadvertently “muting” notes, so you can make adjustments.
Your fingers need to be curled, and/or arched over the strings to avoid this muting. If you feel strings other than the ones you’re muting on any given finger, it means you’re muting a separate string.
Finally, a lot of people tend to think guitar is a mental exercise. It’s not. You’ll learn a lot quicker if you let your muscles do the work. Muscle memory plays a huge part in learning an instrument, much like learning to type or using a video game controller.
The fastest way to learn a chord isn’t to place your fingers in the correct position and strum it a million times. The fastest way to reinforce chord shapes is to make them, brake them, make them, brake them, rinse, repeat. In other words, place your fingers in position, release, place them in position again, release, and repeat. Don’t rush this process – make sure your fingers are in the correct position before releasing.
But you still need patience, so don’t expect to be perfect at chording in a manner of hours. Give it a couple of weeks, maybe even a month or two, and then assess your progress.