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The Best Way to Play the Open C Major Chord

Updated on September 14, 2011

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)

Open C Major Chord. I say "should go behind the neck" because it won't kill you if it doesn't. Plus it depends on how demanding your style of playing is.
Open C Major Chord. I say "should go behind the neck" because it won't kill you if it doesn't. Plus it depends on how demanding your style of playing is. | Source


  • 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 chord!

  • 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 little stretching...

  • 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.

Post-Victory Considerations

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

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    • profile image

      Jude 2 years ago

      Trim your fingernails

    • 6 String Veteran profile image

      6 String Veteran 7 years ago

      Thanks. More chords coming soon.

    • Kosmo profile image

      Kelley 7 years ago from California

      The open C major chord was one of the first chords I learned. These days, though, it's only troublesome because I hardly ever play it anymore, having switched to barre chords. Anyway, your instruction is very good. Thanks. Later!

    • 6 String Veteran profile image

      6 String Veteran 7 years ago

      Thanks for your comments, Doc. Yep, those intimidating F Maj chords will be rearing their heads soon....

    • Doc Snow profile image

      Doc Snow 7 years ago from Atlanta metropolitan area, GA, USA

      Good work, man.

      Got suggestions for F, too? That seems to be the worst for my students. Then there's the intimidating barre chord. . .

    • 6 String Veteran profile image

      6 String Veteran 7 years ago

      Glad to be of service...follow up / let me know how it goes.

    • profile image

      Aleister888 7 years ago

      Nice man, i was just about to sit down and play guitar for today, so i shall try out this method ^_^