Guitar Chords | The Complete Guide
Learn What Chords Are, How To Play Them, How They Are Made
This page will help you gain a deeper understanding of guitar chords.
We're going to learn the most common shapes, then we'll deal with chords theory and we'll see how to create chords of any quality across the entire fretboard.
Here you can also find a complete chords library with voicings of all kinds.
So let's get started!
Guitar Chords Library
Learn Note Names, Finger Positions and Chord Tones
On the web, you can find lots of chord diagrams, but this guitar chords library is different:
It shows you how the proper way to place your fingers to play a given chord, but also tells you the name of the notes that compose that chord, and even the intervals in the chord:
C Major Voicing
C Major Voicing
C Major Voicing
C Major Voicing
Here are the links that will take you to the chord diagram pages:
Having all the chord information laid out in a single diagram is incredibly helpful for learning how to build chords, how to create your own shapes, understanding chord substitution, and mastering music theory.
This complete guitar chord chart is perfect for guitar beginners that are looking for easy fingerings, like open chords.
Still, it's also useful for more advanced guitar players, as it contains challenging fingerings with stretches and barre chords, as well as shapes upper the 12th fret.
All the shapes and diagrams are for standard tuning, and for most of the chord, an animated video is also available:
Animated video showing how to play C7 chord
Apart the aforementioned chords library, this page is also designed to be a comprehensive resource designed to help you with everything about guitar chords.
We're going to start from the basic chords and will go through all the aspects you need to know to define yourself as a chord master.
It will be fun, I promise!
Basic Guitar Chord for Beginners
This section shows the first chords that a beginner should learn, as well as a detailed description of chord diagrams and the information they show.
How To Read Chord Diagrams
Left hand finger numbers
To show you how to read the chords diagrams above, let's use the A chord as an example. For the purposes of chord diagrams, here is how your left-hand fingers are numbered.
As you will notice:
- The index finger is denoted with number 1
- The middle with 2
- The ring finger with 3
- The pinky with 4.
These numbers are used on the diagrams to show you what fingers use for pressing the frets composing the chords.
Example: A Major chord
The diagram on the left shows you the fretboard on the guitar, with the thickest string on the left, and the E high string on the right.
The numbers over the frets tell you where to press the string. At the top of the chart, you see an X or a 0 in near the strings.
The X tells you to mute the string (not play it at all), the 0 tells you to play it open, without pressing any frets. So, in order to play the A chord as shown in the diagram, you should:
- Do not play the E lowest string (as stated by the X above the E low string)
- Play the 5th string (A string) open, without pressing any fret (see the 0 above the A string?)
- Press the fret n.2 of the 4th string (D string) with the index finger
- Press the fret n.2 of the 3rd string (G string) with the middle finger
- Press the fret n.2 of the 2nd string (B string) with the ring finger
- Let resonate the 1st string (E high string) open, without pressing any fret
Remember: fingers positions are just a suggestion!
A Major chord with bar fingering
Sometimes, you'll find somewhere a chord diagram that does not show you the finger numbers.
They will leave that up to you because different people sometimes play chords differently.
Some people cannot play an A chord like this, because their fingers are too big, and this fingering is very cramped for them.
Instead, they play an A with a mini-barre, using the same finger for more frets.
For example, I could bar my 1st finger across the 4th, and 3rd strings at the second fret, then place my 2nd finger on the 2nd string, second fret (see image on the left).
This gives me more room between the frets, and also frees up my 3rd and fourth fingers to pick out melody and bass notes. It's just a preference, you can play the chord how you prefer.
If you start thinking about chords as shapes, or forms, it makes it easier later on when you want to play the same shapes up and down the neck for different chords, as well as for finger-style techniques.
Some "shapes" lend themselves better for some techniques, such as flat-picking, finger-style, and other applications.
And if you stumble upon a shape that sounds good, but you don't know which chord is, figure it out with my reverse chord namer tool.
What are the circles at the bottom of the diagrams?
At the bottom of the diagrams you can see the name of the note on the corresponding string, and some colorful circles
The letters inside the circle tell you what are the intervals in the chord (root, major third, minor third, and so forth)
The colors change according to the type of interval. For example, the root is always yellow.
Intervals are an intermediate topic that belongs to chords theory, you find a complete tutorial on chord construction here.
In our Online Chord Charts, all the chord comes with a diagram similar to the one below, which shows you exactly the intervals in the chord.
In the example below, we see a structure with the Root, a Major Third, and a Perfect Fifth; thus we are talking of a major chord.
Chord Note Names
The name of the notes are shown and color coded (the root is always yellow, the Major Third is blue, the Fifth is purple, and so forth). This helps you internalize music intervals.
Chords Names Symbols and Notation
Guitar chords are usually represented by the name of the root note, and the scale it is based on, such as A Major, written as simply A.
An A chord built on a minor scale is called A Minor, and written as Am. An A chord built with a 7th is called A7, and so on...
Diagrams are used to show how the chord is actually to be played on the guitar, with finger positions mapped out.
For a complete overview about chord structure, check this guitar chords formula chart.
Your First 6 Guitar Chords
Chords are the heart and soul of playing guitar. Many guitar players seldom do anything else, other than strumming chords.
The chord is the basic building block of learning how to play the guitar. A chord is simply a combination of two of more notes played simultaneously.
Different combinations give you different chords. There are different classes of chords, such as Major Chords, Minor Chords, Dominant chords, and many other chord types.
Beginners should focus on these first 6 shapes, which are great open strings chords to learn and play (but beware, they'll become boring after some time)
How To Play Chords: Exercises and Common Problems
Here below are some common problems that beginners face when learning guitar chords.
Remember that with patience and practice you'll overcome any kind of problem, so take your time and practice. With time your chord change skills will get better and better. And have fun!
Why do my fingers hurt playing the guitar?
It's pretty common that your fingers hurting at first.
We all went through it. It does not matter what kind of strings you use. You will pay the price
Think of it as a Right-Of Passage, or an initiation of sorts.
If you think about it, everything in life that is pleasurable comes with a certain amount of pain that must be endured, whether it is financial, such as buying something you really want, emotional, as in love, or physical, such as building your muscles and playing sports.
One thing is for certain, you will find few, if any, guitar players that will tell you the sore fingers weren't worth it.
A little temporary pain is a small price to pay for a lifetime of pleasure that goes right to your soul.
Of course, if the pain is too much, be sure to use the right approach to prevent muscle and tendon issues.
Guitarist's finger pain Sorcery
There are a few things you can do to ease the pain somewhat:
- Soaking your finger-tips in apple cider vinegar after playing will help build callouses faster, and ease the pain considerably.
- Putting your fingertips in ice after playing also helps a lot.
- You can also put analgesic balms and sprays on your fingertips after playing. Good ones are Bio-Freeze, Ben-Gay, and Aspercreme.
- Tincture of Arnica is great for building callouses fast, and arnica tablets, or tea will help with the soreness.
In a short time, you will build callouses on your fingertips, and they won't hurt anymore. If the pain gets too much, then stop, and rest for a day or two...
Maybe study fretboard 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.
Thumb Position: what's the right approach?
Thumb position is a little quirky.
The traditional method is to have the tip of your thumb near the center of the back of the neck, giving you the most flexibility in your other fingers.
This is great for classical, flamenco, and finger-style players, but it can be a little tiresome for someone who mostly strums chords.
For chords, you may want to use the ball of your thumb a little above the center, which allows you to use more of the muscles in your wrist (yes, your wrist muscles is what powers your grip strength, not the muscles in your fingers.
Those muscles are just for curling fingers), and give you a bit more leverage, especially useful for bar chords.
Many modern players use the first joint of the thumb against the back of the neck, and almost on the upper binding, sort of like gripping a baseball bat so that they can reach over the neck with their thumb tip to play bass notes on the E and A strings while picking melodies out with the other fingers.
Tommy Emmanuel, and Andy McKee are particularly adept at this. You'll need to experiment with some to find what works best for you.
Your wrist should just curl naturally as you play. Too much, or too little will cause forearm soreness.
It should feel good and natural, not strained. Your upper arm should just hang naturally, not cocked out laterally, nor forced inward towards your ribs
Should I use a pick?
On electric guitar, I highly recommend using a pick.
Even pro fingerstyle players use a thumb pick, and their fingernails to play with. Using your fingers is bad for two reasons:
- It puts more salt and acid from your fingers on the strings….not a good thing.
- You will get blisters that will keep you from playing if you play as much as you should. The ball of your thumb is not as tough as your fingertips. In a contest between flesh, and the metal of guitar strings, your flesh will lose. Picks also give you cleaner-sounding notes and chords.
There are a few people who play with their fingers exclusively, but they mostly play on nylon stringed guitars. Even they use their fingernails much of the time.
By the way, if you have long nails, be aware that it's possible to play guitar regardless of nail length (do you remember Dolly Parton?).
How many chords should I learn?
Theoretically, there is an unlimited number of possible chords.
You could start from open chords, and move them up the fretboard and find hundreds of different shapes.
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.
Many guitar players are used to transpose songs to a more familiar key (often with the help of a guitar capo).
However, if you are willing to go deeper into music theory and learn how to construct chords by combining intervals all along the fretboard, check the section below...
How To Strum 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.
A simple song with 1 chord
Let's play a simple song with only one chord, A major. You should already know the fingering for this chord, shown in the charts above on this page.
The song is in 4/4 time, which means the count is 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4, etc..
To develop proper strumming technique from first, do this:
- On 1, just hit the open A string, and let it ring.
- On 2, strum down from the A string.
- On 3, just hit the E string and let it ring.
- On 4, strum down from the A string.
- Repeat for every measure.
This gives you a wonderful bass line, and will dramatically improve your sound, as well as helping you to develop a good rhythmic strumming style right from the first.
Singing the song is a matter of timing. Listen to the song a few times and you'll get it.
It's easier than trying to explain time signatures, and timing. You'll know when you get it right. Just keep listening.
How To Put Chords Together: Chord Progressions
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.
At the following link you find a complete guide on chord progressions
I even published a complete ebook about chord progressions, that shows 52 chord sequences embedded in many songs. Check 52 Chord Progressions | Learn How To Connect Chords and Create Great Songs
Exploring More Chords Types
Electric Guitar Chords: The Power Chord
Example C Powerchord
Introducing the King of electric guitar chords: the Power Chord.
The power chord is a common element in rock and blues, however, it is not technically a chord, but a dyad (two notes played together).
A basic major chord consists of the root note, the 3rd, and the 5th, so a G chord would be made up of the notes G-B-D.
A power chord is only made up of the first and the fifth, so a G power chord would be the notes G and D.
Power chords are often played on the 3 lowest strings of the electric guitar (E low, A and D), most often ignoring the treble strings (Max Cavalera, a former member of the Death Metal band Sepultura, plays a 4-strings-only guitar because he uses mostly power chords)
While this method has existed for many years, it was a very common style of playing throughout the 90’s.
It is sometimes considered a way of cheating when it comes to guitar playing.
After all you are not dealing with full chords and you often only need to learn to play 3 strings at a time when you play a song heavy in power chords.
However, this method gives a very distinct sound for a lot of metal and rock music and as the name says, it can give a song a lot of "power", especially on a distorted electric guitar.
Some of the more popular songs using power chords are The Kinks "You Really Got Me" and Deep Purple's "Smoke On The Water".
Notice these songs have a real driving force to them.
So while power chords may seem overly simple never underestimate the powerful and rocking sound of the root and fifth played on the bass strings of the guitar!
Remember some of the most memorable rockin' guitar songs in history were honestly nothing complicated.
The Power Chord is denoted with the number 5 near to the chord root: C5, A5, D5, and so forth.
Major, Minor, Augmented and Diminished Triads
The most basic chord type is the triad, a set of 3 notes played together. Depending on these notes, we can have four different types of triads. Here you find a detailed tutorial on guitar triads
Seventh and Dominant Guitar Chords
There exist many types of seventh chords, that, unlike basic triads, are composed of 4 tones. The most important type to know is the dominant chord, but you should practice all the types of seventh chord.
Sixth Guitar Chords
If you want to be casual and chill in your music, we need to use the 6th chord.
Diminished Guitar Chords
Diminished chords are used to create dissonance and anticipation, that usually are resolved to more relaxed chords. Learn all the types of diminished chords.
Ninth Guitar Chords
Adding another tone to our seventh chords opens up a new world of sound nuances. Learn more about ninth chords.
Suspended Guitar Chords
Suspended chords are a particular kind of chord that is neither major neither minor. They are often used to create tension and are a great weapon to have in your songwriting arsenal. Learn suspended chords for guitar.
Going Deeper: Learn How Chords Are Made
You may wondering how all these chord shapes has been constructed.
For now, you just need to know that a chord is based on the notes of a simple scale, which has 7 notes, and you finish on the original note, one octave up, for a total of 8 notes.
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.
A basic Major chord is made up of the 1st note in the scale of whatever key you are playing in, also called the root note, the 3th note, and the 5th note.
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.
To learn the foundation theory of chords building, so that you can create your own shapes, go to our guitar music theory tutorial.
Guitar Chords: Some More Resources
That's all! To stay updated on new tutorials, subscribe to the free newsletter (you'll also get access to the download area with lots of free printable resources).
If you want to deepen your chord knowledge, be sure to check the tutorials and resources listed below:
Chord Substitution Made Simple
Chord substitution is a daunting topic that requires music theory. This guide tries to simplify the process of swapping chords to create creative variations.
Creative Variations Of The C Chord
A practical guide that shows you how to change chord quality, moving one finger at a time. We're going to use our beloved C major chord as a starting point.
Interactive Chord Explorer
Did you come out with a shape that sounds pleasant, but you don't know how to name it? This tool will help you analyze any chord you create.
How To Change Chord Smoothly
A focused tutorial to help you improve your chord change abilities. You'll move across chord shapes smoothly and quickly.
7 Tips To Make Bar Chords Easier
Bar chords are a big difficulties for beginners. In this guide I'll provide you with some tips that will make your life easier.
How To Use Octaves to Create Chord Inversions
This article will show you how to use octave intervals to find any chord inversion on the fly.
How To Move Chords Up and Down The Fretboard
Related to the previous tutorial, this time you'll learn how to play chords while moving horizontally on the fretboard.
How To Transpose Guitar Chords
Transposing chords is a skill that comes handy in many situations, be sure to master it.
Shell Chords For Guitar
Shell chords are 3 tones chord, used often in Jazz, that gives you great speed and agility while playing multiple notes at the same time.
Chords Domination | Play Any Chord You Want Across All The Fretboard
A comprehensive chord resource packed-full with color-coded diagrams that show chord tones, note names, and finger positions, a handy visual chord formula table, and the tones fretboard maps of 44 different chord types.
This ebook will skyrocket your chords knowledge.