Easy Guitar Chords for Beginners

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When first learning how to play the guitar, it’s important to learn actual songs as early on as possible. This keeps the learning experience fun and exciting. For this reason, you want to learn some easy guitar chords for beginners that will jumpstart that process.

In this lesson, we’ll touch on the basics of chords, how to read chord diagrams, playing chords properly and incorporating them into a progression. By the end of this lesson you’ll be armed with the essentials to start playing your favorite tunes.

Chord Basics for Beginners

Guitar chords are when three or more notes are played together at the same time. A chord may have multiple occurrences of a given note. For instance, the open G major chord contains three G notes (3rd fret of the 6th string, 3rd string open, and the 3rd fret of the 1st string).

The notes that make up a chord come from the scale from which the chord is derived. Chords are derived from the root, 3rd, and 5th degrees of a scale. To learn more about building chords and chord formulas, check out the following lessons:

With a basic understanding of chord structure, let’s take a look at how to read chord diagrams.

Reading Chord Diagrams

Chord diagrams are visual representations of the guitar fretboard and notes to be played for a given chord. They have six lines representing each of the six strings of the guitar and are usually oriented in a vertical fashion as to view the fretboard straight up and down.

Typically, circles (known as note markers) or sometimes other shapes are located on top of the string and fret to represent each note of the chord, while Xs are sometimes used to indicate strings/notes that are not played. Otherwise, strings that are not to be played typically are just left without a note marker.

Chord diagram explanation

Note markers often contain a number, a number with symbols, or letters.

  • Number – typically represents the fingering for the chord
    • 1 = Index finger
    • 2 = Middle finger
    • 3 = Ring finger
    • 4 = Pinky finger
    • T = Thumb
  • Number and Symbols – this represents the intervals for the chord
    • R = root (orange marker)
    • ▵ = major
    • ♭ = flat or minor
    • p = perfect
  • Letter – letters on the note markers represent the actual notes of the chord

This covers the basic of reading chord diagrams, so let’s dive into the easy guitar chords beginners should be learning.

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Beginner Guitar Chords

There are 8 easy guitar chords that beginners need to learn: G, A, Am, C, D, Dm, E, Em

8 easy guitar chords for beginners

If the notation is unfamiliar to you, the naming convention is as follows:

  • Single capital letter = Major chord
  • Capital letter followed by a lowercase m = Minor chord

There are far more conventions than this, but for the purpose of this lesson these will do.

When played in the open position, these 8 chords are the easiest guitar chords to play and perfect for the beginner guitarist who has yet to build up strength in his/her fretting hand. These chords are also used in a ton of songs, so they’re perfect

The diagrams for each chord give you the notes of the chord, the intervals of the chord, and the recommended fingering for each chord. If you’re not familiar with intervals, check out this lesson to get up to speed: Intervals on Guitar

G Major Chord

The G major chord is made up of the following notes and intervals:

Notes: G – B – D
Intervals: 1 – 3 – 5

G major open chord - notes, intervals, fingering

The G major chord in the open position is typically fingered with the 2nd finger on the 3rd fret of the 6th string, index finger on the 2nd fret of the 5th string, and pinky on the 3rd fret of the 1st string. The 2nd, 3rd and 4th strings are played open.

You may also see variations that have the 3rd finger on the 3rd fret of the 2nd string instead of playing the 2nd string open. This is still a G major chord. The only difference is this version contains two D notes instead of two B notes. In this case, only the 3rd and 4th strings are played open.

A Major Chord

The A major chord is made up of the following notes and interval:

Notes: A – C# – E
Intervals: 1 – 3 – 5

A major open chord - notes, intervals, fingering

To play all of the notes cleanly, you finger the A major chord with the index finger on the 2nd fret of the 4th string, the middle finger on the 2nd fret of the 3rd string, and the ring finger on the 2nd fret of the 2nd string. The 1st and 5th strings are played open.

However, a really common alternative is to use the index finger to barre across the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th strings and omit the open 1st string from the chord.

Am Chord

The A minor chord is made up of the following notes and intervals:

Notes: A – C – E
Intervals: 1 – ♭3 – 5

A minor open chord - notes, intervals, fingering

The Am chord is fingered with the 2nd finger on the 2nd fret of the 4th string, the 3rd finger on the 2nd fret of the 3rd string and the index finger on the 1st fret of the 2nd string. Strings 1 and 5 are played open.

C Major Chord

The C major chord is made up of the following notes and intervals:

Notes: C – E – G
Intervals: 1 – 3 – 5

C major open chord - notes, intervals, fingering

The fingering for the C major chord is the ring finger on the 3rd fret of the 5th string, middle finger on the 2nd fret of the 4th string, and the index finger on the 1st fret of the 2nd string. Strings 1 and 3 are played open.

D Major Chord

The D major chord is made up of the following notes and intervals:

Notes: D – F# – A
Intervals: 1 – 3 – 5

D major open chord - notes, intervals, fingering

This one can be a little strange to play at first. The D major chord is fingered with the index finger on the 2nd fret of the 3rd string, ring finger on the 3rd fret of the 2nd string, and the middle finger on the 2nd fret of the 1st string. The 4th string is played open.

Dm Chord

The Dm chord is made up of the following notes and intervals:

Notes: D – F – A
Intervals: 1 – ♭3 – 5

D minor open chord - notes, intervals, fingering

The Dm chord is fingered with the middle finger on the 2nd fret of the 3rd string, ring finger on the 3rd fret of the 2nd string, and index finger on the 1st fret of the 1st string. The

E Major Chord

The E major chord is made up of the following notes and intervals:

Notes: E – G# – B
Intervals: 1 – 3 – 5

E major open chord - notes, intervals, fingering

The E major chord is fingered similarly to the Am chord, only it’s moved over one string. The fingering for this chord is the middle finger on the 2nd fret of the 5th string, ring finger on the 2nd fret of the 4th string, and index finger on the 1st fret of the 3rd string. The 1st, 2nd, and 6th strings are played open.

Em Chord

The E minor chord is made up of the following notes and intervals:

Notes: E – G – B
Intervals: 1 – ♭3 – 5

E minor open chord - notes, intervals, fingering

To finger the Em chord, you only need to remove your index finger from the E major chord fingering. The Em chord is fingered with the middle finger on the 2nd fret of the 5th string and ring finger on the 2nd fret of the 4th string. All other strings are played open.

Practice Tips for Learning to Play Chords

When first starting out, trying to get your fingers to go where you want them can be a little frustrating. It feels awkward and you really have to concentrate to get your fingers in position. Over time, however, it’ll smoothen out and you won’t have to think about where your fingers are going, they’ll just go there. But here are a few practice tips to help you get there:

  • In order to play the chords cleanly, focus on using your finger tips only to fret the notes. Using anything but your finger tips will cause your fingers to flatten across the strings and end up touching other strings and prevent them from vibrating cleanly.
  • When practicing fingering, hold the chord position for a few seconds, remove your hand from the fretboard and repeat the process. This will help you learn to fret the chord a bit quicker than holding the position for longer periods of time.
  • Once you have a couple of chords down, practice moving between them. Strum one chord a couple of times then move to the second chord and do the same. Then move back to the first chord and repeat the process. When you’re comfortable with two chords, switch it up and play through three or four chords. The point of this exercise is to get used to finding the fingering for the chord and get comfortable with switching between chords.

Once you have some chords down, head on over to the 52 Easy Songs for Guitar lesson and start learning some songs. There are more than a handful of songs in that lesson that use these essential open beginner chords.

Wrap Up

When starting out on the guitar, I’m a big believer in easy wins to help keep you motivated while learning. Focusing on these easy guitar chords for beginners helps lay the foundation and gives you plenty to work with in terms of learning real songs.

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