Master the basic chords on guitar: A beginners guide

Last updated on September 22nd, 2023

A great way to start learning guitar is by learning basic chords which you can use to play your first songs! If you are a beginner and don’t know your basic guitar chords yet, you may be wondering which ones you should learn first. In this post, we’ll cover 8 essential guitar chords to kickstart your playing!

In short, the first chords I recommend learning on guitar are E minor, E Major, A minor, A Major, C Major, G Major, D Major and D minor. These are known as open chords because they include one or more open strings that don’t need to be pressed down.

You will see these chords across many music genres so the great thing is that once you learn these, you can use them to play thousands of songs. Grab your guitar and let’s get started!

How to read the guitar chord charts

For the chord charts, the horizontal lines represent the 6 strings and the vertical lines divide the frets on the guitar. The top horizontal line represents the high E string and the lowest line represents the low E string.

Take a look at the image below to better understand the chord chart symbols.

Guide for reading guitar charts

Fretting hand fingering chart

This chart shows you what numbers are used to represent your fingers for the fretting hand.

Fretting hand fingering guitar chart

You can check this link for more on how to read guitar notation symbols. Let’s get started and go through each of the essential guitar chords.

E minor chord

This chord is commonly written as E min or Em in music notation. To play an E minor chord, you can either use your pointer and middle finger or middle and ring finger to press down on the 2nd fret of the 5th and 4th string. Once you have the shape down, you can strum all the strings from lowest to highest string. Here are the two ways to play this chord below:

Charts showing two ways of playing an E minor chord

For the audio of this E minor chord, you will hear the chord being played one string at a time and then all the notes together.

For more on this chord, check out 9 ways to play an E minor chord on guitar.

E Major chord

This E Major chord has one extra note added to the previous E minor chord shape. You simply need to add your 1st finger to the 3rd string, 1st fret like this:

Compare how the Major and minor chord sound different. Major chords have a bright sound as opposed to minor chords that have a darker sound.

For more on this chord, check out 12 ways to play an E chord on guitar.

A minor chord

This chord is commonly written as A min or Am in music notation. For this A minor chord, you can simply take the previous E Major chord shape and bring each finger up one string higher. Make sure to strum this chord from the 5th string down, since there is an X on the 6th string here.

For more on this chord, check out 12 ways to play an A minor chord on guitar.

A Major chord

To play this open A Major chord, you play the 2nd fret on the 2nd, 3rd and 4th string. This is an easy shape to remember since the notes are all in a row. You can play this with fingers 1, 2, and 3 or 2, 3, and 4.

Try playing both variations to see which way is more comfortable for you.

For more on this chord, check out 12 ways to play an A chord 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!

C Major chord

This chord can be a little trickier to play because you have a wider stretch between your fingers. Fingers 1 and 2 are in the same position as an A minor chord but your 3rd finger will now be placed on the 5th string, 3rd fret like this:

*Tip: Try to keep your fingers slightly arched as you press down on a chord so that you use more of the tip of your fingers to prevent certain strings from accidentally being muted.

For more on this chord, check out 14 ways to play a C chord on guitar.

G Major chord

The G Major chord is unlike the other chord shapes we looked at. This one can also take a little longer to master because of the wide stretch between some of your fingers. Here is what the G chord shape looks like:

For more on this chord, check out 15 ways to play a G chord on guitar.

D Major chord

The D Major chord should be easier to play than the last two chords because the notes that you need to press are close together. For this D chord, you will need to play from the 4th string down, being careful not to play the 5th and 6th string.

D Major guitar chord chart

For more on this chord, check out 14 ways to play a D chord on guitar.

D minor chord

Lastly, we have the minor version of the previous chord. This is commonly written as D min or Dm chord in music notation. You can keep your 3rd finger in the same position as the D Major but you have to rearrange your 1st and 2nd finger to play this chord. You are essentially just playing the 1st string, 1st fret instead of the 2nd fret.

D Major guitar chord chart
For more on this chord, check out 11 ways to play a D minor chord on guitar.

Wrapping up

With some time and practice, you’ll get better at get better at switching between chords. It will be worth learning these basic chords because you’ll soon realize how often you’ll need them to learn songs.

A fun way to practice these basic chords is to play them in a series of chords, also called a chord progression. For example, you can try these 7 easy guitar chord progressions to get started.

After learning these basic chords, I suggest learning the F chord. Although this chord can seem hard at first, you can try a chord variation that works best for you in this post: 13 ways you can play an F chord on guitar.

As you start mastering these chords, I suggest applying them with these easy guitar strumming patterns.

I hope this information gives you a good foundation to start learning songs and new chords.

Get the free guitar practice guide here!

All the best,

JG Music Lessons

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