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Beginner Guitar:
The Basic Chords on Guitar

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Q: Hi Andrew, I'm a beginner, and I keep hearing about how beginners need to learn the basic chords. What are the basic chords, and how can I learn them well enough to play a few songs?
~ Garry

A: The term, “basic chords,” is somewhat of a slang term referring to about 18 or 20 chords found in the first position on the guitar fret-board. They make up three types of qualities that are very important to music. Those qualities are major, minor, and dominant seventh.  Basically the idea behind this is that with those three chords, you can pretty much play just about any song, or tune out there.  For some songs you may have to actually change the key the song was originally written in to be able to use those 18 or 20 chords.  Luckily there are a lot of song books out there on the market which already have those songs transposed into keys that will work well with the basic chords.

To get you started, I have included a link to view and download my chord booklet. This four page booklet contains the most popular basic chords. There are 19 chords in the booklet, I would highly suggest you learn every single one of them. It's not easy to even get a good quality of sound in the very beginning. And then, later on, once you do have good sound quality there is another level of difficulty in easily switching from one chord to another. So it is not a very quick road to success for most people, which is why it is very important that you remain patient with yourself while developing your skills with the chords.

One of the most important things that I would suggest you start with is developing an awareness of which string-sets are involved in creating the various chords. In the booklet, there are chords which use all six guitar strings, chords which use five guitar strings, and chords which use four guitar strings. This is very important information, especially for the strumming-hand. If you do not already know the numbers for each string on the guitar, the guitar strings are numbered from one to six, going from the thinnest string, (string #1), to the thickest string, (string #6).


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One of the easiest chords to begin learning out of this entire set is the “D major chord.”  A tip I can give you for learning this chord is to begin with the notes found on third guitar strings second fret, and first guitar strings second fret. Place your index finger and your middle finger, (in order), on those notes first. Then add in your third finger at the third fret of second string. Usually with this approach, you will have a lot better luck with developing the clarity of each note in the chord when you go to strum it.  One of the things that takes the most time in learning how to play these chords is developing the clarity of each note in the chord.  Three pointers that I could give to help in this department would be to… #1). Always use the tips of the fingers. #2). Arch up the knuckle right behind your fingernail. #3).  Move your wrist around in different ways until you get each note of the chord clear.

In the sense of overall tips I could give you… #1). Keep working at developing the chord shapes so that the sound of the chord’s notes are perfect and clear. Allow the technique of developing the chord shapes to happen over a period of time. This is necessary to develop the muscle memory of each chords shape. #2). As soon as the chords begin to sound good, begin practicing the technique of switching one chord to another. Groups of chords will then begin to become easier and easier when switching one to the next.
#3). Familiarize yourself with the chord families of I, IV and V. In the any key be at major or minor, a good sounding set of chords can be played next to one another by using this theory principle.  For example; if we establish the key center of G major, the G major chord would be considered our I chord, the C major chord would be considered our IV chord, and the D major chord would be considered our V chord. This group of chords are all part of the same key center and will in-effect all sound good played next to one another. This theory principle will work in any major or minor key.  In fact, it will also work with dominant 7th chords. However, when using dominant seventh chords, you will notice that the sound of the progression will take on more of a blues style.

So, in summary I like to say that it is most important to take your time learning the basic chords. Some of them are quite difficult, so be patient. Learning these chords can take quite a lot of time, with practice - you will be able to play them. It will also be important that you put these chords to use as soon as possible. If you do not already own a few songbooks, it would be a very good idea to pick up a couple.  By practicing the chords as they occur in songs, you will often times become quite motivated to perfect certain chords because they appear in one of your favorite songs. And, as I keep stating quite often, it is very important to also work on the chords with a metronome. Having the click track of the metronome behind you, giving you 100% accurate time, is one of the best ways to develop any technical skill on the guitar.


The PDF document below contains basic chord information for the beginner guitarist.


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