Open Chords on Guitar

How to play open strings chords

By now you should know the parts of your guitar, how to tune it, change strings and do light maintenance, and make clean single notes. You should also have a basic understanding of time signatures, notes, and scales. Now it’s time for you to learn the single thing you will be doing on your guitar most of the time…playing chords. Even if you gravitate towards playing lead, or bass guitar, you will still need to have an understanding of chords, and keys. Chords are what makes all the other music parts come together. They are the glue that binds the different parts into music, rather than an unorganized cacophony.

To get you started on the right track, we’ll start with some easy chords that will allow you to learn a few songs that you may enjoy. Practice should not seem like work. It should be fun. If it’s not, you’re not going to practice as much as you should. In the video above, Lisa Pursell, teacher at Jamplay, will guide you through the process of making your first chords, and briefly explain a little about chord structure and theory.

What's a chords

A Chord is three or more notes played simultaneously at specific intervals (remember, an interval is a note in a scale…) that work together to create the desired sound. One of the attributes that makes guitars (and pianos) so popular is that they are multi-timbral instruments, which means they can play more than one note simultaneously. Woodwinds, brass, and similar instruments can only play one note at a time. To make a chord, they have to have a minimum of 3 players playing a single note in the chord at the same time. As you can imagine, this requires excellent timing and coordination between the players to make a clean chord. This is why orchestras have to have a Conductor to direct the music. With a guitar, you are the Conductor, and can make any kind of music you want, all by yourself.

Chords progressions and chord kinds

beginner open chords

Chords in a song are arranged according to chord progressions, which are chord intervals that work pretty much the same as single notes in a scale. It’s very important for you to learn chord progressions for the various keys, because then, as long as you know what key the song is in, you can figure out the chords in it very easily. There may be times when you want to change the key of a song to one you can sing or play in better, and for this, knowledge of chord professions is critical.

There are all kinds of chords. The ones you will be dealing with most of the time are Major chords, and Minor chords. There are also 7th chords, Major 7th chords, Minor 7th Chords, Diminished Chords, Augmented Chords, and there is nothing stopping you from creating your own chords (but chances are, someone has probably done it before you….). Theoretically, there is an unlimited number of possible chords. In actual play, you can get along just fine for quite a while with only around 30 chords in your repertoire, and maybe even less depending on what type of music you want to play. There are bluegrass guitar players that have gone through entire careers never playing more than a dozen or so chords;

Learning chords: the easy way

beginner open chords

A few things to note. I would do a few things a little different. That is not to say that Lisa is doing anything wrong. In music (as in most other art forms) there is no absolute right or wrong. As musicians, we are all fiercely individualistic, and we all have our own way of doing things, and you will, too…in time. The first thing I advise is not to learn on an electric guitar. Electric guitars have a lot more parts and things that have to be adjusted, such as pickups, trem bridges (also known as ‘whammy bars”), tone and volume controls, cords, amplifiers, with their own tone, volume and effects knobs, EQs, and the issues of feedback, etc….You have enough to learn at first without having to deal with all of that. If you are going to learn to fly, you don’t start out climbing into the cockpit of a 737, or an FA-18 fighter. Get yourself a good, name-brand, mid-grade acoustic. Don’t get a cheap one on the premise that, “If I don’t like it, I am not out much money.” The reality is you will be out all of your money, because a cheap guitar has no resale value, you won’t like the way it plays or sounds, you won’t practice on it enough, and you will probably never learn to play guitar. Good guitars can be had for under $250.00, and used ones even cheaper. And don’t start out on a nylon string guitar, thinking that it won’t hurt your fingers as much. It will, and they are more difficult to play, have a wider string-spacing, more finicky, and do not sound good on all types of music.

The next thing I would advise is not to learn to make a ‘G’ chord using the 2nd finger, ring finger, and pinky. That is an advanced position, used mostly for embellishments and finger-style guitar. You’re not ready for that, yet, and it can mess you up in some instances. Learn the chords the right way at first. You can modify them later. A correct ‘G’ chord fingering is done with the pointer, 2nd, and ring fingers.

Strumming

beginner open chords

Don’t worry about getting the strumming patterns down perfect. You will develop your own strumming style in time. Just try to stay in time. If you have to strum open strings in-between chords, while you switch from one to the other, that’s OK, too. In fact, sometimes, it’s even desirable. It’s what we call ‘style’. You’re main objective right now is learning the chord fingerings, and getting your changes smooth.

Fingers pain?

Your fingers may start to hurt after a bit, but this is normal for beginners. In a short time, you will build callouses on your finger tips, and they won’t hurt any more. If the pain gets too much, then stop, and rest for a day or two…maybe study chord theory, scales and listen to some good guitar music. Don’t overdo practicing at first, or you may be ‘burned-out’ and not want to play anymore. It’s not a race, and there is no time limit on learning guitar. It takes however long it takes.

Useful links:

Now that you know a good number of chords, it's time to put them together with chords progressions

Here are the diagrams for the chords Lisa is showing you. Chord diagrams are important. They are like maps, that show you how the fingering for the chords should be.

guitar beginners open chords
first open chords

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