Simple Chords for Beginner Guitar Players

This picture and all others are copyright Matt Bird - though go ahead and use 'em. They're pictures of my fingers, for pete's sake, and bad ones at that. (I'll upgrade from laptop webcam shots some day, I promise.) Just ask first, please.
This picture and all others are copyright Matt Bird - though go ahead and use 'em. They're pictures of my fingers, for pete's sake, and bad ones at that. (I'll upgrade from laptop webcam shots some day, I promise.) Just ask first, please.

Ah, the guitar player. Beloved by all, a staple of any social situation involving idle chatter, guitarists are always in demand. Can't argue with a dude or dudette who can strum a tune, simple or complex.

Getting to the point of effortlessly picking out songs takes a lot of hard work, however, and for acoustic players in particular that effort stems from mastering chords. Combinations of depressed strings that ring out in pretty form, chords are the basis of thousands upon thousands of songs, and a vital component of any guitarist's arsenal.

There are lots of chords. Tons. Technically, as many as there are string and fret combinations on a guitar. This guide will help beginners become familiar with the simpler, more familiar chords, both to strengthen their knowledge of guitar playing in general and to stretch their fingers in preparation for more complex sounds.

Terminology

Before you get the hang of playing the guitar (not to mention reading this chord guide) there are two things you need to learn: the names of the strings and the order of your fingers. Both are important for learning how to properly form chords with minimal difficulty.

First up, your fingers. This is fairly easy. Turn your hand over, palm facing up, and look at your fingers. Your first finger is your pointer finger, then second, third and fourth in that order. The thumb can come in handy when forming chords as well, though not on anything geared towards a beginner.

Next up are the string names, which are a bit more complex. Strings run from bottom to top, top denoting pitch rather than placement on the guitar: the lowest strings are, for right-handed players, actually physically closest to your head. Strum the guitar from top to bottom and you'll understand the reverse logic at work here.

The strings are arranged in this order, from lowest to highest: low E, A, D, G, B, and high E. Knowing the names isn't essential to learning the chords, but it can't hurt to learn early and sound like a professional guitarist - or at least a learned one. Look above for a picture of the string arrangements.

But wait!

Yes, there's actually one more thing to learn about the makeup of your guitar. Have a look at the neck. There are small, thin, metal lines running along the neck in a neat column from the stock to the base. These are frets, and depressing the strings against the frets creates different sounds when the strings are depressed.

For the purpose of the player, it's best to think of frets as the space between these thin bands. Thus the first gap from the top of the guitar is the first fret, the second gap the second fret and so on. So when this guide tells you to place a finger on the second fret of the A string, for example, you want to depress the string on the second gap of the second string from the top. Make sense?

G

One of the cornerstones of thousands of songs, strummed or plucked (or both), is the G. It has a pleasant ringing sound often heard at the end of more pleasant ditties. It's also a little more difficult than some of the basic chords, but learning it early is key to mastering any number of songs.

There are two ways to form a G, the latter of which is trickier but gives a slightly nicer sound:

- The first is to place your first finger on the second fret of the A string, the second on the third fret of the bottom E string and the third on the third fret of the top E string.

- The second is the same for the first two strings, though the third finger goes on the third fret of the B string and the fourth finger goes on the third fret of the top E string.

Em

Next up the Em (E minor) string, which is perfect for mournful or darker songs. This is one of the simplest, easiest-to-learn chords on a guitar: simply place your second finger on the second fret of the A string and your third finger on the second fret of the D string. You can use the first and second fingers instead, if you wish, though it's easier to transition to other chords with the second and third.

E

E after Em? Yes, it's easier to learn the minor chord first, as E is just another finger added on to create a more pleasant sound. Keep the second and third fingers on the second frets, as before, then put the first finger on the first fret of the G string. Lift this finger to quickly and easily transition between the two.

A

Something of a victory chord in its exhubrance, the A looks easier than it is. It requires you to put the first, second and third fingers on the second frets of D, G and B. Start from the third finger and work your way up. This requires a bit of cramping, but the result is a nice sound.

Am

A lower version of the A, Am is a bit easier as it takes the cramping out of the equation. Put your first finger on the first fret of the B string, and your second and third fingers on the second fret of the D and G strings, respectively. If you have trouble with this formation at first, use the C chord form to practice. It's easy to move from one to the other, and the swap is a common element in many songs.

C

Another pleasant and nicely melodic chord, C shows up in happy and sometimes melancholy songs, particularly since it makes an easy transition to the sadder Am or Em. This one requires a bit of a stretch like the G: put your first finger on the first fret of the B string, your second finger on the second fret of the D string and your third finger on the third fret of the A string. With enough practice your fingers will fall quite nicely into the C chord, in that order, with little to no trouble.

D

Another triumphal chord that's great for transitions, D can be a bit weird at first because it forces three fingers into scrunching together at the bottom of the neck. It'll take some practice before this formation comes naturally. Put the first finger on the second fret of the G string, the second finger on the third fret of the B string and the third finger on the second fret of the top E string.

Got those down?

Good. Now start moving between them - and try to do it without fumbling or causing the strings to ring or rattle too much. Start slow, then pick up momentum while strumming or picking the strings. Focus on moving between radically different chords - like, say, C to D - in a hurry. This simple exercise will not only help you master the finger placement of the various chords, it will allow you to form some simple, pleasant songs. Gotta start somewhere, right?

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Did I screw up? Probably. Let me know. 1 comment

Jackie 4 years ago

Hay, Matt, I'm just learning the guitar, & I also happen to be blind. The fact that u actually said, in words, put your fingers here, here, & here is so helpful. So many websites have chord diagrams that it's hard to find sites I can actually derive benefit from. Thanks. Any more chords you'd like to write up would be awesome. I'll bookmark your site & visit from time to time. Thanks again.

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