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Beginners Guitar Chords - 3 To Get You Started

Jan 31, 2008
If you've just started out playing the guitar, this lesson will show you three basic chords that you can then use to play a lot of different songs, after a bit of practise (the famous '3 chords' !).

Step 1 - Tune Your Guitar

Before starting a guitar practise session, always get into the habit of tuning your guitar. If it's out of tune, then any chords you play on it won't sound too good, so to avoid getting discouraged, tune it up first. The following is a quick guide to putting your guitar in Standard Tuning:

1 -||--|--|--|--|--|-- (highest-sounding)
2 -||--|--|--|--|-X|--
3 -||--|--|--|-X|--|--
4 -||--|--|--|--|-X|--
5 -||--|--|--|--|-X|--
6 -||--|--|--|--|-X|-- (lowest-sounding)

If you're playing the guitar by holding the neck with your left hand, then if you tilt the guitar towards you, you should see the strings arranged like this. You tune the strings one at a time, by putting one finger on the fret marked with an 'X' in the diagram, and playing that string, together with the string above it (ie higher than it).

So start off by tuning string 2 (next to top string): put your left index finger on the 5th fret on string 2, as shown in the diagram, and while playing this note, play string 1. If the notes don't sound the same, adjust the tuning peg on string 2 until it matches. Then do the same for strings 3, 4, 5, 6. Watch out that you put your finger on the 4th fret when doing string 3, for all the other strings, use the 5th fret.

The C Major Chord

Ok, now hopefully your guitar's in tune, so let's move on to learning the first guitar chord - C Major. The chord diagram for it looks like this:

1 -||--|--|--|-- (highest-sounding)
2 -||-1|--|--|--
3 -||--|--|--|--
4 -||--|-2|--|--
5 -||--|--|-3|--
6 -||--|--|--|-- (lowest-sounding)

In this guitar lesson, we'll only be using the first 3 frets on the guitar. The numbers in bold on the chart show you where to put your fingers. Your index finger is 1, middle is 2, ring finger is 3, then little finger is 4. So the steps to forming this C major chord with your hand that's holding the guitar neck are as follows:

* Put your 1st finger on the first fret of string 2, and hold it down

* Add your 2nd finger on the second fret of string 4, and hold it down

* Finally, add your 3rd finger on the third fret of string 5, and hold it down

If you followed these steps, you should have all three fingers holding down strings 2, 4, and 5. When pressing down on the strings, it's important to put your finger as close as possible behind the fret. So not right on top of the fret, and not too far away either. This way, the string won't make a 'buzzing' sound when you play it. In this chord, strings 1 and 3 have no fret held down - you just play the string as it is (this is called an 'open string'). When starting, it might be hard to get string 3 to sound, as your other fingers might be stopping it from ringing. If it doesn't ring to start with, don't worry about it, just play the other strings.

One important point when putting your fingers on the frets to make the chord, is that the fingers should curl down onto the strings from directly above. This way, each finger is only holding down the fret it's supposed to, without affecting other strings next to it. This helps you get a cleaner sound to the chord.

So if you've managed to get your fret hand fingers in place to hold down the chord as shown, then strum the strings with your other hand (either with the plectrum, or just your fingers). If you're holding down the chord correctly, then you should hear the C major chord sounding. With this chord, the bottom string (string 6) isn't normally played, so try to strum just strings 1 - 5.

Congratulations - you've just played the C major chord! If it sounds a bit strange, then you might need to check your guitar's in tune, or check you've got the right strings/frets held down. Practise playing this chord a few times, until you get the hang of it.

The G Major Chord

Moving on to the next chord, the diagram for G major is as follows:

1 -||--|--|-3|-- (highest-sounding)
2 -||--|--|--|--
3 -||--|--|--|--
4 -||--|--|--|--
5 -||--|-1|--|--
6 -||--|--|-2|-- (lowest-sounding)

In the same way as you did with the C major chord, try to form the chord step by step, starting with your 1st finger on string 5 at the 2nd fret, then 2nd finger on string 6 at the 3rd fret, finally your 3rd finger on string 1 at the 3rd fret.

When you can hold all three fingers down on the correct frets at the same time, try strumming this chord. Strings 2, 3, 4 should ring freely, so try to ensure your fingers curl down onto the fretted strings without obstructing them. All strings should be strummed for this chord.

Sometimes it can be a bit of a stretch between fingers 2 and 3, so practise this one until it feels more comfortable. I personally use fingers 2, 3 and 4 for this chord as I find it more natural, and it also makes it easier when switching back and forth between G Major and C Major. Basically, don't be afraid to experiment a bit, and find what works best for you.

The D Major Chord

OK, so here's the last of the three basic chords, D major:

1 -||--|-2|--|-- (highest-sounding)
2 -||--|--|-3|--
3 -||--|-1|--|--
4 -||--|--|--|--
5 -||--|--|--|--
6 -||--|--|--|-- (lowest-sounding)

Again, form this chord step by step, one finger at a time. When you can hold all 3 fingers down, try strumming it. Usually for the D major chord, the bottom two strings aren't sounded, so try just to strum the top 4 strings if you can.


Well those are the three basic chords. The next step is to practise them over and over, until you can form them reasonably quickly each time. What you find is that when you first learn how to play the chords, and are forming them step by step, placing each finger in turn, it seems to take ages to position each finger.

With plenty of practise however, your hand gets used to forming the shapes, with a kind of 'finger memory', and it gets a lot easier. Take plenty of breaks in between practising them, and you'll find that in each practise session, forming the chords gets easier.

Link Them Together

Once you've got to the stage where you can form each of these three chords fairly easily, the next step is to try changing from one chord to another. For example, say you're playing the C major chord. Try strumming this for a few counts of 4 (ie count '1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4' aloud as you're strumming the chord), and then change to one of the other chords (G major or D major).

For example, you might come across chord progressions (sequences of different chords) written out like this:

| C / / / | C / / / | G / / / | G / / / | D / / / | D / / / |

So here, for each bar (part between the '|' symbols), there is a count of 4, and in this progression, you play C major for 2 bars ('1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4'), then G major for 2 bars, and finally D major for 2 bars.

Again, as with when you were practising forming the chords, it will seem to take a long time to change your fingers from one chord shape to another. Just keep practising though, and it will get easier, to the point where as you're counting aloud, as you count '1' when you're changing from one chord to another, your fingers will form into the next chord shape without you thinking too much about it.

Keep At It!

Well that's the end of this lesson on basic chords. Once you can get to the stage where you can play the above chord progression fairly smoothly, without too much of a delay when changing between the chords, you can try finding some simple arrangements of songs that use just these three chords. One example would be The Beatles' 'Hey Jude', a basic version can be played with these chords.

Good luck with your guitar playing!
About the Author
Chris Davies is a guitarist with many years experience. To see a version of this article with accompanying pictures and video, and also see reviews on the best online guitar lessons and get FREE sample lessons from them, visit this site now: http://www.TheGuitarLessonReview.com
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