Guitar chords are one of the essential building blocks when learning to play guitar. Chords are extremely helpful in building dexterity, rhythm, strumming and are just plain fun to play. In this lesson you I will teach you which 6 main guitar chords beginners should learn first.
What Is a Guitar Chord?
A guitar chord is a series of notes played together to create one unified tone.
By choosing specific intervals from the root note a "chord" is created, which replicates the pitch of the tonic (root note).
For example, a C chord is built from the notes C, E and G.
However when played in unison, you hear C.
More on Intervals & Music Theory
Now that you understand what a guitar chord is, let's jump right in to some easy guitar chords for beginners to learn first.
6 Main Guitar Chords Beginners Should Know
After learning these chords you'll have mastered the "Cowboy Chords", and will also have a few more chords to string along with them. These are easy guitar chords for beginners to learn, so if you're just starting out - make these your go-to chords.
These are essential guitar chords for you to learn for several reasons:
First, thousands of songs are built around these easy guitar chords.
Second, these chords are the foundation of the CAGED guitar system.
Third, they are essential chords for you to know if you want to learn how to strum on guitar.
The D Major Chord
How to Play the D Major Chord Step by Step:
1. Place your ring (third) finger on the third fret of the B string
2. Place your middle (second) finger on the second fret of the High E string
3. Place your first finger on the second fret of the G string
4. Strum strings 4-1
I find it easiest to place the ring finger down for my D major chord. You can place your fingers down in any order, there is no wrong order. This order is how I recommend learning the finger placement.
The E Minor Chord
How to Play the E Minor Chord Step by Step:
1. Place your middle (second) finger on the second fret of the A string
2. Place your ring (third) finger on the second fret of the D string
3. Strum all 6 strings
The E minor chord is the first chord I teach most of my students because of its simplicity. It only takes 2 fingers and you don't have to worry about skipping or missing any strings.
If you've messed around with power chords at all yet, you may notice the top 3 strings of this chord are an E5 power chord.
For more on power chords and power chord theory, check out my lesson on How to Play Power Chords On Guitar.
The G Major Chord
How to Play the G Major Chord Step by Step:
1. Place your ring (third) finger on the third fret of the high E string
2. Place your middle (second) finger on the third fret of the low E string
3. Place your index (first) finger on the second fret of the A string
4. Strum all 6 strings
The G chord is one of my favorite chords and a great one for working on your guitar strumming.
It's also good to note an alternative fingering for this chord:
1. Keep your middle and index fingers where they are
2. Move your ring finger up a string to the B string, third fret
3. Place your pinky on the third fret, high E string
4. Strum all 6 strings
This variation of the G major chord is no better or worse than the G chord with only 3 fingers. I like the 4 finger G chord because it works the muscles of all 4 fingers, and because it's great for chord transitions.
If you want to learn more about different chord fingerings for better transitions, check out my lesson on Guitar Chord Transition Exercises.
The A Major Chord
How to Play the A Major Chord Step by Step:
1. Place your first (index) finger on the 2nd fret of the D string
2. Place your second (middle) finger on the 2nd fret of the G string
3. Place your third (ring) finger on the 2nd fret of the B string
4. Strum the top 5 strings, skipping the low E string.
The A Major guitar chord is one of the trickiest chords for beginners to learn.
It can be rather difficult to bunch 3 fingers that closely together if you aren't used to it. This chord just takes time and patience. Try the "press & release" technique that we discussed in the lesson: Easy Ways to Learn Guitar Chords.
Whatever your struggle is with learning the A chord, or any other open major guitar chords, here's a video to fill in any gaps.
If you still have any questions after please leave them in the comment box at the bottom of this post. I'll get back to you quickly and you'll be helping everyone else out too!
If you're still pausing while trying to string chords together, don't worry.
This is okay.
When you're first learning chords you're still thinking about them. Middle finger here.. Pinky there.. This is okay to start, but will slow you down later.
Eventually you'll develop muscle memory. By practicing these chords every day as well as using a few advanced techniques, you'll have them hard wired in your brain in no time!
It's also important to notice similarities between chords.
For example, to transition from a G to C chord, you move your 3rd and 2nd finger down 1 string and place your index finger on the B string, 1st fret.
The shape of your hand should barely change.
By finding common shapes and positions like this, you'll speed up the process dramatically.
More on Guitar Chord Transitions
Now that you know the main guitar chords let's start making some music!
Once transitioning between chords is easy, it's time to look at chord progressions for inspiration.
Common Chord Progressions to Get You Going:
Chord Progression Charts Generated on JamPlay.com.
Custom Chord Progression Generator
How to Play Guitar Chords Wiki
Find Songs Based on the Chords You Know
I hope you found this lesson helpful. Get used to these chords, you'll be playing them the rest of your guitar-playing career!
Beginning guitar is confusing and can be intimidating. If you have any questions, concerns or comments please leave them in the box below. I'll get back to you within 24 hours, typically much faster.
Wow, this is extremely useful article. Im just started my adventure with guitar and I already learned that its not easy to start only with online lessons. But your post is so clear and transparent that everything is clear even for complete beginners like myself. Definitely I will go through your advices and recommendations and hope I improve my skills quickly. Looking forward for more lessons like this!
Thanks for the comment! You’re right, it can be difficult starting to learn guitar and guitar chords just online. It’s really important to find lessons and material that best fits your learning style. I actually just wrote a whole post about it that may help you out. Check it out and let me know what you think: What is the Best Way to Learn How to Play the Guitar?
I last played the guitar a long time ago in a high school musical called “Joseph and his amazing Technicolour Coat”.
I enjoyed the refresher course in how to do the most popular or useful chords for beginners.
My son has a guitar that he has not learnt how to play yet and so I will ask him to have a look at your website and try to learn the basic chords from there.
I also listened to the YouTube tutorial and that was great.
Thanks for the comment! I’m glad you found the lesson helpful. YouTube is definitely a great resource for learning guitar chords.
Is there anyway that you can break this down further or write a second article in the chords?
What makes you passionate about playing and teaching the guitar?
I have never taken guitar lessons, but I was a percussionist so I have experience with scales, or in this case, chords. I think that you do a great job with explaining the essence of chords and more importantly why they matter. Above all, this is a very effective, thorough synthesis of what to know in regard to guitar chord and the acoustics of guitar.
Thanks so much for the comment! I appreciate the kind words. Is there something specific from the lesson that has you confused that I can elaborate on for you? I’d be happy to provide further insights with a little more info.
Felix thanks for the lessons .Only been learning guitar 4 months. Should you practice scales first to warm up or practice your chords first.
O.o This…is totally not the way I had the chords fingered
…start from beginning again pffff
Sometimes it is best to start from scratch with proper technique soon before getting the old, more challenging ways too hard wired into your playing style. Let me know if any of the chords are giving you a tough time. I’m happy to help!
Thanks for the comment!
Yep this is certainly correct, I can remember when first starting out and I found it really hard just learning the first few basic chords, didn’t give up though! 🙂
Hi Charlie, thank you for stopping by. It’s definitely a problem we all face. I remember as a beginner basic guitar chords gave me the hardest time. G major was about the only chord I could really play because my hands are so big. All the other chords gave me trouble, like D or A.. I’m glad you didn’t give up, that’s very important! With time all of these chords will be second nature.
You know its funny… The first video there. Two nights ago, when I got home my son’s guitar was left sitting on the couch. I picked it up and almost did exactly what she was showing there. That at least explains why it sounded pretty good at the time. I need to find a way to better bond with him right now, so maybe it is finally time to look into this more seriously now. I will definitely be referencing this site more as I do that. Thanks much.
Hi James, thank you for the comment. Learning an instrument is a great way to bond with your son! I actually started out with a hand-me-down guitar from my step-father. He’s been playing since the 70’s and that’s actually when that guitar was from! We definitely bonded in a way I don’t think we would have if I hadn’t learned guitar. Good luck and thanks again for the great feedback!
I’ve always wanted to learn the guitar, but one of those things I never got around to. You make it sound relatively easy, but I’m sure it takes many hours of practice.
Hi Micky, thank you for your comment. Learning guitar certainly isn’t easy! In fact, as a beginner you’re going to feel it’s one of the hardest things you’ve ever learned how to do. However once you get there- it’s an incredible feeling and a worthwhile journey!
Very informative post. I used to play a little bit many years ago and although I am definitely no B.B. King, these tutorials definitely help build the foundation of guitar playing. Keep up the good work
Thanks Mike! I’m glad you liked the lesson. I definitely agree, your first basic chords are the foundation of everything you play for a long, looong time. Thanks again for the comment!
Very good step by step process! And it feels like you are here with me OMG! My brother will appreciate this a lot!! Thanks much! 😀
Hi McKing, thank you very much for the comment. I’m glad you found this lesson helpful and hope your brother does as well!!