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Guitar Chords Beginners Guide

Updated on December 23, 2021
Jon Green profile image

For many years i taught guitar in college,Is guitar the fastest instrument to learn? You can get a long way in a few weeks!


This article is a short introduction and overview of some aspects of learning guitar quickly and cheaply. Most of the material is stuff that I've covered in detail in different hubs, so it's kind of an index to the hubs. I'm happy to answer any questions via the comments box, or if you'd like to request a hub on a new subject, please go ahead. The vast majority of songs are in 4/4 time, so when you see a chord you generally strum it 4 times - a starting point anyway.

My new hub Guitar for complete beginners has info and tips to get you started.

Consider using a capo - it can reduce the string height and make stretches easier, both aspects of learning guitar that make many people give up! A lot of electrics are easier to play, too.

You could also try First Guitar Lesson hub.

Basic chords - see Guitar Chords 101

Changing chords

If you're a beginner, focus on changing chords fluently. Change from E to Am, the same shape shifted over one string, from C to F, a similar shape, from Em to A, from A to D. Although it looks instant, your first finger should lead, so focus on getting that in the right place first. The rest of the chord will follow.

The chord grids read like this: the six vertical lines are the strings, and the horizontal lines are the frets. Aim to place your finger close behind the fret, this will give you a clearer note and also just make it easier as you will need less pressure.

Try to get the root note of the chord on the lowest sounding strings. For instance, the C and A chords have the root note on string 5, so don't play string 6. D chords have an open D, 4th string as the lowest note.

Following on from this another hub entitled Guitar - advanced and jazz chords has pictures of the more advanced chords used in blues, funk, soul and jazz.

If you need guidance on using the right fingering, just check out Youtube videos.

Reading tab

Tab is a notation system, detailed in my other hubs. It really speeds up the process of learning melody lines, riffs, and scales. Basically, each of the 6 strings has its own line, with the fret number used on that line.

  • Tab has six lines, one for each string - the thickest string (E) is also the lowest in pitch, and it is the bottom line on tab.
  • Conversely, the top line is the high E string, the thinnest string.

A horizontal line is a melody, or riff - a vertical stack is a chord. When both things are used together, you can bet it's tricky!

Reading guitar tab


Look at my other hubs for detail. Try playing frets 12,11, 9, 7 ,5, 4, 2, 0 on any string. Fret 12 is usually marked by a double dot on the neck.This will give you 8 notes, a major scale. Depending on the string this will be an E major, A major, D major, G major, B major, E major scale. Use a plectrum, playing alternate picking, which is down stroke, upstroke in turn.

A new way to look at scales is the Apple i-phone application for guitar reference. It looks really useful, and obviously you can improve your knowledge of the fretboard while waiting at the airport etc.

  • Listen to great songs by Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Randy Newman, The Beatles. Get a Beatles songbook from your local library and work your way through it.
  • Learn Power chords: G5 is fret 3 on string 6 (thickest string) , fret 5 on next two strings. For A5, move it all up two frets. NB: your second finger is not used. It should be pointing up in the air.
  • Work on 1,4,5 chord progressions, as they are so widespread in rock, blues, and all pop styles. From G5, move across one string and you have C5. Move this shape up 2 frets and you have D5. All 1,4,5 s are like this, and most Chuck Berry songs use this chord form, with little finger extended 2 frets above the 5 note.
  • 1,4,5 in C: C, F, G7
  • in D: D, G, A7
  • In E: E, A, B7
  • In A: A, D, E7

You should find barre chords much easier if you work with power chords first, and build up strength in your little finger. Any problems are usually resolved by changing your thumb position, so it's pointing towards the headstock.This is the same fix with barre chord problems. As we all have different sized hands, you need to experiment a bit to find a comfortable way to do this.

Typically, you would need to be playing for a year or so before really getting to grips with barre chords. When you start to learn them, use four shapes: E, Em, A, Am.

Try them up the neck as this is much easier due to the smaller fret spans involved. A (E shape over a barre, fret 5) and Am (also in fret 5) might be a good place to start. F(at Fret 1) really isn't.

Learn three chord songs first.

For instance many easy songs (think country) will use C F G7 or

D, G, A7,

E, A, B7

G, C, D7

A, D, E7

Many Hank Williams songs can be played with just 3 or 4 chords. That doesn't stop them being great songs that have stood the test of time.

Palm muting

When playing riffs, power chords, solo lines right hand muting is very important. On electric guitar it's even more vital. Block any strings you don't want to hear with the palm of your right hand, near the bridge. You're not pushing down, just making contact.


Just 10-15 mins daily will get you improving. Structure your time so you review songs, review scales, learn new material each time. And start a file to keep music, tab etc to work on in the future. Natural talent is one aspect to making progress, but organisation is probably more important.

Watch youtube guitar clips

Chet Atkins, Jerry Reed, Ted Greene, Jeff Beck, Bireli Lagrene. These are all greats you can learn from, and select songs from.

Bob Brozman for slide guitar

Pierre Bensusan for DADGAD tuning

Private Lessons

You should definitely take a few lessons, but a short group of three, followed by a break and backed up with jamming with friends is the way to go. I teach guitar, but still can't recommend an endless series of weekly lessons. It's both inefficient and costly.

Group lessons are very popular, and seem to be more fun for most people in the earlier stages of learning.

Barre chords

Often a major hurdle for guitarists. Try root 6 chords first, using an E or Em shape over a barre first finger. Point your thumb back towards the headstock.

Although it's good to know these chords, there are ways and means of replacing them with 3-note voicings, so don't worry about constantly using them.You can also play them Hendrix-style, using your thumb for the sixth string. Less tiring, often better tone as well.

Check my Guitar 101 and advanced chord hubs for more info. There is also a hub on Guitar Barre chords.

Plectrum (pick) or Fingerpicking? It's worth learning both styles of playing. Picks should ideally be 73mm, a good all-round solution, but definitely try playing with just your fingers too.

Which guitar?

  • Have a look at my hubpages article, entitled How to buy a Guitar. If you buy the most expensive guitar you can, you will probably save money in the end. You could do with trying out as many as possible in your local music store, but generally
  • Taylor acoustics, especially the Baby Taylor, Martin acoustics
  • Fender Telecaster and Stratocaster guitars would all be good choices
  • I almost never buy new


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