Master the basic chords on guitar: A beginners guide

Want to learn guitar but not sure where to begin? By focusing on just a few basic chords, you’ll be surprised at how many songs you can start playing. In this guide, you’ll learn the 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, D minor and F Major. All of the chords we’re covering (except for F) are known as open chords because they include one or more open strings that don’t need to be pressed down.

Grab your guitar and let’s get started!

How to read the guitar chord charts

For the charts below:

  • The lowest horizontal line represents the thickest string (Low E). The top horizontal line represents the thinnest string (high E). 
  • The vertical lines represent the frets on the guitar (thin metal lines on your guitar fretboard)
  • The numbers inside the circles tell you what fingers to use to press down on your fretting hand (see the fingering chart in the following section)

Take a look at the image below to better understand the chord charts in this lesson.

Guide for reading guitar chord charts

Fretting hand fingering chart

The chart below shows you what numbers are used to represent your fingers for the fretting hand (the one used to press down on notes).

Fretting hand fingering guitar chart

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

Now, let’s start going through each guitar chord.

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:

E minor chord basic - open strings

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:

E Major chord basic

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.

A minor chord basic

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.

A Major chord basic

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:

C Major chord basic

*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:

G Major chord basic
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 chord basic

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

F Major chord

As I mentioned earlier, this last chord is the only one here that doesn’t use open strings. The first string shows an X here because that would technically make it an F Major 7 chord. Adding the first string may work on some songs but other times you might want to avoid it. Try experimenting and use what sounds best to you.

The second chord option on the right can also be referred to as F/C (F over C).

To learn other chord variations, check out 13 ways to play an F chord on guitar. You can also learn more about slash chords here.

Wrapping up

With just a few basic chords, you can play dozens of songs across many different genres such as pop, rock, or folk music. For example, check out these beginner level songs.

With some time and practice, you’ll also get better at get better at switching between chords.

Once you feel confident playing these chords, try using them with these easy guitar strumming patterns.

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.

📘 Get the free guitar practice guide here!

All the best,

JG Music Lessons

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