12 ways to play an A chord on guitar

The A chord is one of the first chords you should know on guitar. Although this is a simple chord to learn, knowing different chord variations gives you the flexibility to play throughout the fretboard whenever needed.

We’ll first go over some basic chord theory and then cover 12 ways to play an A chord which you can start to incorporate into your playing.

Grab your guitar and let’s get started!

A chord theory intro

Major triad chords are built upon the chord tones 1, 3, and 5. These chord tones can also be thought of as the scale degrees related to one Major scale

For example, the A Major chord has the chord tones A, C#, and E.

Here is the formula for Major chords below.

In contrast, minor triad chords contain the chord tones 1, b3, and 5. For example, an A minor chord would contain the chord tones A, C, and E. However, we will only be covering the different Major chord variations in this lesson.

Now that you know what notes belong to the chord structure let’s look at how to read the chord charts.

How to read the chord charts

For the charts below:

  • The top horizontal line of the chord chart represents the high E string and the bottom horizontal line represents the low E string.
  • The vertical lines separate each fret. 
  • The numbers in the blue dots tell you which fingers to use on the fretting hand. 
  • The letters on the right of the charts tell you what notes you are playing on each string.
  • Circles on the left represent open strings.
  • Red X means to avoid that string.

You can check this link for more on how to read guitar notation symbols.

A open chord

This is the first way I recommend learning an A chord. This is considered an open chord, meaning that there are open strings included in the shape. One fingering option for this chord is to use fingers 1, 2, and 3. The second option is fingers 2, 3, and 4. Choose the option that feels most comfortable for you.

A chord triad

Another easy way I recommend learning this chord is by playing this other simple triad shape. This is very similar to an open C Major chord shape but you move your ring and middle finger down one string and shift the root note to the 7th fret on the 4th string.

The shape looks like this:

A chord triad with E in the bass (A/E)

Technically, this chord can be called an A chord in 2nd inversion. This means that the 5th degree of the chord is in the bass. This makes the chord sound fuller compared to the last chord we looked at. You can play it like this:

You can also check out this other lesson for more on how to play chord inversions on the guitar. 

A chord with a mini barre

Another step you can take to make the A chord sound fuller is to play a mini barre on the 1st and 2nd strings. The mini barre can be hard at first but it will get easier as you continue to review this shape. The chord looks like this:

A chord with a mini barre (E in the bass)

This shape is similar to the previous chord except you add the E, which is the 5th degree in the bass. However, you have to rearrange some of your fingers like this:

A chord barre on the 6th string

At this point, we’ve worked on different steps to take before getting to this chord because it requires more strength in your fretting hand.

This shape comes from the open E Major chord except you have to rearrange your fingers as you barre the 5th fret with your 1st finger.

Here is the chord:

Tip* If this chord is difficult to play, start the shape higher up on the fretboard. The tension of the strings is lighter as you press down on chords higher up the fretboard. Then you can gradually shift the shape down as you develop more strength in your hand.

You may also want to check out 5 tips to get better at playing barre chords on guitar.

Easily look up guitar chords with the Essential Guitar Chords Chart!

This chart covers how to play:

  • Major chords
  • Minor chords
  • Major 7 chords
  • Minor 7 chords
  • Dominant chords
  • Half diminished chords
  • Diminished chords
  • Chords starting on all (12) root notes
  • Over 80+ chords!

👉 Get it here!

A chord on the 4th string

This shape comes from the open D Major chord except you have to rearrange your fingers as you add your 1st finger. This shape can feel uncomfortable when first learning it but you will get better at it as you keep reviewing it.

A chord 5th string variation

Some guitars may not be suitable to play comfortably past the 12th fret but if your guitar has that extra space higher up on the fretboard, here are some other variations you can use for an A chord starting on the 5th string, 13th fret.

This shape uses your pinky so if you’re not used to using it, it can feel awkward at first. This shape comes from the open C Major chord except you have to rearrange your fingers when you add your pinky (4th finger).

It looks like this:

A chord 5th string variation with a mini barre

This is similar to the previous chord except you can use your first finger to barre the 1st string as well. It looks like this:

A chord spread shapes

The following chords are called spread shapes because of the wider space between some of the notes within the chord shape. Because these chord shapes skip a string, they are more suitable for a finger picking style of playing. You might also hear these chords in a more classical music context.

To go more in-depth, check out this lesson on how to play spread triad chords on the guitar.

A spread chord on the 6th string

A spread chord on the 5th string

A spread chord on the 4th string

Wrapping up

All these chords were mostly in root position, meaning the root note is in the bass. However, you have even more variations if you use different chord inversions. This is when you play a chord with notes other than the root in the bass.

It’s good to know many possibilities of playing the same chord because you have more flexibility to move around the fretboard. Also, you can use different chord variations when you need a certain note at the top to help define a melody that you are playing over.

I hope this helped you understand how to play an A Major guitar chord or learn new ways of playing it. You can also try shifting the shapes that have all fretted notes to play other Major chords on the same string.

To learn more advanced chords, check out how to play an A Major 7, A 7, or A minor 7 chord on guitar.

📘 Get the free guitar practice guide here!

All the best,

JG Music Lessons

This page includes some Amazon affiliate links to products I’ve used and recommend. This means I earn a commission if you click the link and purchase the item, at no additional cost to you!

📕 Kickstart your guitar playing with our step by step guide: Guitar Essentials.

🎸 Don't have a guitar yet? I recommend this one.

🛠 See my other music recommendations.

🤝 Support the site to help us to create better content for you!

Level up with the free guitar practice guide to effectively improve your playing!

Get it sent to your email!

Leave a Comment