The Best Way to Play the Open C Major Chord
Having trouble playing an open C Major Chord?
No shame at all since all guitarists have had this problem at one time or another. Here's a quick and permanent way to overcome the I Can't Play an Open C Major Chord blues...
First, don't beat yourself up. Yes, even greats such as Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, and James Taylor had problems playing this seemingly innocent combination of notes that is near the guitar nut. They got over the hump and so can you.
Next, break the chord down into doable parts. Yes, the open C Major chord does not seem like a finger-twister, and it's not. But it is demanding for the beginner, particularly because of the third finger's placement on the 3rd fret of the 5th string. The key to successfully practicing this chord is to break it up into two parts: the notes on the B and D strings first, adding the note on the A string last. Don't try to place the three required fingers all at once...this will most likely lead to frustration.
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Open C Major Chord (the thumb "should" go BEHIND the neck)
- Place the first finger of your fret-hand
(the hand on the guitar neck, whether it's your left or your right
hand) on the 1st fret of the 2nd string. By the way, you should know
that this is the B string. If not, go to my hub, The Best Way to Memorize the Names of the Strings on the Guitar.
- Make sure the finger is not flat and that it's tip is perpendicular (or near-perpendicular) to
the fretboard. Once your form is good, press down hard enough so that
the note rings out when you hit in with your bridge-hand (the hand by the bridge
of the guitar, towards the end of the instrument's body).
- When you get
this it will be a C note. But if it's not happening try pressing harder.
Don't worry: the indent that's been made in the tip of your first
finger goes away. Great, you've got the first note of the
- Now, keeping your first finger in place on C, put your second
finger on the 2nd fret of the 4th string. This is more difficult because
now you have to maintain one note (C) while acquiring another (E). The trick here is to successfully clear the open G string and you have to arch your second finger to do this. Act
like the G string is an infrared beam in a bank heist: any touching it and the gig
is over*. Expect this to take longer than your last accomplishment (C on the 1st fret, B string).*Too many movies, I know.
- It might have been a little
difficult, but you got both fingers (first and second) positioned
successfully: good job. Now, to place the next note you will be doing a
- While keeping your first and second fingers down AND not touching the open 3rd string, attempt to place your third finger on the 3rd fret of the 5th string (this note is also C, but obviously lower in pitch than the C on the B string, 1st fret). You will have to clear the 2nd fret, D string in order for it to ring; as you reach for the A string with your third finger, keep that in mind.
...And of course, that open G string must remain untouched as well. You might not get this last note immediately, and depending on how much you practice it might take a few days or more. Everyone's hands and abilities are different. But--with consistent and correct practice--you will get this last note, and, consequently, the open C Major chord will be yours.
When you are able to play the open C Major chord, there are some things you should know about it and memorize. Now we are briefly detouring into the topic of music theory:
The notes that make up any C Major chord on any instrument are: C E G. Those three notes are this chord's note-formula.
The notes making up this particular version of C Major are, from the A string to the high E string, C E G C E. Those five notes--C E G C E--can be boiled down to C E G, since the C and E notes have duplicates. I hope that's not confusing. But if it is...
Water, as we know, is H20.
This is regardless of whether the water is in a cup, goblet, gallon
container, or bathtub. Chords are the same. Regardless of size, pitch,
duplication of notes, or position on the guitar neck, a C Major chord
will always be essentially C E G.
Now, with one more note you can play C Grandé, a full-neck, full-bodied C chord. Why not? It's one note away from the same as the chord you've just learned. To learn it go to my hub, The Best Way to Play the C Grandé Chord.
Well, that's it for now...I look forward to your questions and comments and would like to hear how fast you managed to learn this chord.
-6 String Veteran
Want to Quiz Yourself on This Lesson?
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Some Useful Guitar Links
Great guitar site with features such as Composer and Groove Builder, allowing visitors to hear and jam along with their own chord progressions or others'. Many good guitar instructors--acoustic and electric--have pages on this fully interactive site.
- Ultimate Guitar OnLine
Ultimate Guitar OnLine | A guitarist's resource providing a wealth of information on guitar repair, guitar tabs, free guitar lessons and much more.
- Guitar Nine Records
Guitar Nine Records is a guitar-oriented record label whose web site contains more than 1800 instrumental guitar CDs for sale, plus feature columns on guitar playing, releasing records, artistic inspiration and more.
- Truth In Shredding
Exciting, consistently up-to-date site focusing on newer, underground guitar virtuosos. It's easy to forget it's been more than 30 yrs since Eddie Van Halen's Eruption.
- David Wallimann's YouTube Channel
One of the many excellent YouTube channels focusing on guitar instruction. David's channel is electric-oriented, frequently featuring contests open to guitarists of any age / skill level.
- Gibsonsulli's YouTube Channel
Another great YT channel, this time featuring free (yes, FREE) backing tracks. Get warmed up and ready to jam All Night Long.
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