Essential Guitar Chords for Beginners

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When starting out on the guitar, or any instrument for that matter, it’s important to build a strong foundation. Seems like a pretty common sense principle, but we all can agree that we’ve had to fight the urge to tackle more advanced concepts and techniques before we were ready for them. So with this lesson I’d like to hit on the essential guitar chords for beginners to learn. These chords will be the building blocks for more advanced chord concepts, forms, and voicings.

Once you’ve read this lesson, you may want to check out Chord Formula Basics for more in depth information on how chords are made.

Reading Chord Diagrams

In case you’ve never seen a chord diagram, here’s how to read it:

Chord diagram explanation

Open Chords – The Guitar Chords for Beginners

Open chords are chords that contain at least one note that is played opened, meaning the note isn’t fretted by the fretting hand. It is typically recommended that beginner guitar players start with these chords because they’re easier to play. I also think they’re great because there are so many songs that can be played using just open chords. This will allow you to learn songs and chords together, which will in turn keep your motivation up.

There are 8 open chords essential for beginners: G, A, Am, C, D, Dm, E, Em

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: G – B – D
Intervals: 1 – 3 – 5

G major open chord - notes, intervals, fingering

A Major Chord

The A major chord is made up of the following:

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

A major open chord - notes, intervals, fingering

Am Chord

The A minor chord is made up of the following:

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

A minor open chord - notes, intervals, fingering

C Major Chord

The C major chord is made up of the following:

Notes: C – E – G
Intervals: 1 – 3 – 5

C major open chord - notes, intervals, fingering

D Major Chord

The D major chord is made up of the following:

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

D major open chord - notes, intervals, fingering

Dm Chord

The Dm chord is made up of the following:

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

D minor open chord - notes, intervals, fingering

E Major Chord

The E major chord is made up of the following:

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

E major open chord - notes, intervals, fingering

Em Chord

The E minor chord is made up of the following:

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

E minor open chord - notes, intervals, fingering

Practice Tip

Go through each chord and practice getting the fingering down. Once you’re able finger the chords properly, practice switching between them. Pick two chords and move back and forth between them while strumming. You can use any strumming pattern, just keep it consistent and slow enough that you can smoothly switch between chords without having to stop. Once you get used to moving between two chords, add a third chord, fourth chord, etc. The point of this exercise is to get used to finding the fingering for the chord and get comfortable with switching between 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 open chords in the beginning helps lay the foundation, but also gives you plenty to work with in terms of learning real songs.

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