Basic Guitar Chords

One of the most exciting things about playing guitar is learning new chords. Even one uncommon chord can add new life to your playing. In this list, we’ll focus on some of the basic guitar chords to know — both old favorites and some you may not have seen before.

The Best Basic Guitar Chords to Learn Today

Before you get started, make sure that your guitar is in tune. If it isn’t, you’ll have a hard time telling whether or not you’re playing each chord properly. Once you’re all tuned up, you’ll be ready to go!

C Major

Many guitar instructors will tell you that C major is the first chord they ask their students to learn. Many, many songs are written in the key of C major, so it’s a chord that you’re likely to be able to use early on.

C major’s most common chord voicing is played in the first position. Place your index finger at the first fret on the B string and your middle finger at the second fret on the D string.

Then, place your ring finger at the third fret of the A string. You may notice an X above the low E string on the chord diagram for C major. This means that you don’t play the low E string when you strum the chord. This video gives you a great visual and lets you hear the C chord being played.

Before we move on, let’s take a minute to look at the theory of major chords. A major chord contains a root note, a third, and a fifth. For C major, the root would be C. That’s the note you play on the B string, and you also play it on the A string.

The third is so named because in a scale with the root note as the first note, the third would be the third on the scale. In a C major chord, the third is E. This is the note you play with your middle finger. You also play it when you strum the open high E string. Lastly, the fifth is G — if C is the first note on the C major scale, the fifth note is G. You play this one when you strum through the open G string.

G Major

G major (usually just written as “G” on chord diagrams) is a highly versatile chord that’s another one beginning players often learn. G major has a bright sound, and you can often find it as a resolution to chord progressions. And while a standard open G major chord can be tough for new guitarists to play, it has several different variations.

The first variation isn’t a true G major chord — it’s more like part of one. To play this partial G, first, place your index finger at the second fret on the A string. Then, place your middle finger on the low E string at the third fret.

A true open G chord requires you to fret notes on the B string and high E string. But if you only strum from the low E string to the G string, you have a decent approximation of a G chord that you can use until you’ve mastered the more complex version. You can play the open G major chord using either three fingers or four fingers.

In both of these, you’re playing the same notes that make up the G major chord — G, B, and D. G is the root, B is the third, and D is the fifth. For the three-finger version, repeat the partial G chord fingering mentioned above. You just need to add your ring finger to the high E string at the third fret. This video shows you how to play it.

The four-finger version isn’t that much more complicated. Keep your index and middle fingers in place. Then, place your ring finger at the third fret of the B string and your pinky finger at the third fret on the high E string. Which you choose to play is really a matter of taste. But many players say that this version sounds more energetic.

E Minor

Most guitarists and guitar teachers agree that, in addition to major chords, minor guitar chords are one of the most important chords to learn. Minor chords sound like darker, sadder versions of major chords. Even simple chord progressions typically include at least one minor chord. So if you’re a beginner, chances are good that your first chord progression will include at least one minor chord.

The theory of minor chords helps explain how they get their sound. You just take the root, third, and fifth notes of the major version of the chord. You keep the root and the fifth the same, but you flatten (or lower) the third. In practical terms, that means taking the third of the major version of the chord and moving it down the fretboard (toward the headstock) by one fret.

The notes in an E major chord are E, G#, and B. Flattening the third gives you a G note. So the notes in an E minor chord are E, G, and B.

E minor (typically just written as “Em”) is also often one of the first minor chords to learn. It’s also very easy to play. Like all chords, it has several variations. But the easiest, most straightforward way to play it is by placing your index finger on the A string at the second fret and the middle finger on the D string at the second fret. Check out this video demo to see and hear this chord for yourself.

A Minor

A minor is another very commonly learned beginner chord. But that doesn’t mean it’s just for beginners. Since A minor is one of the chords in the key of C major, it tends to sound good played with C and many other common chords for beginners. A minor contains the notes A, C, and E where A is the root, C is the third, and E is the fifth.

A minor is also a relatively easy chord to play — it’s only slightly more difficult than Em. To play it, place your index finger on the first fret of the B string. Then, place your middle finger at the second fret of the D string and your ring finger at the second fret of the G string.

Just like when you play C major, when you play an A minor chord, you don’t strum the low E string. If you have large enough hands to do so, you might find that you can wrap your thumb around the neck and mute the low E string from above. Don’t worry if you can’t do so — with some practice, skipping the low E string will be second nature. Check out this helpful video to see and hear this beautiful and highly useful chord.

F Major

For many guitarists, learning to play F major is a transition. It serves as an introduction to playing barre chords. It contains notes F, A, and C, so it fits in well with the key of C major. F major is remarkable in that you can play it as a partially barred chord or as a fully barred chord.

For the partially barred version, you use your first finger to press down the B and high E strings at the first fret. If you’re new to barre chords, this might take some practice.

The fully barred version is useful because the same formation can be used to play other major chords. To play this one, bar your first finger across the whole fretboard at the first fret. Then place your middle finger at the second fret of the G string, your ring finger at the third fret of the A string, and your pinky at the third fret of the D string.

The great thing about this major chord shape is that you can use it all down the fretboard. Use the E string to tell you which chord you’re playing — at the third fret, it’s a G major chord, at the fourth fret it’s a G# major chord, etc. To see how to play the barred F chord and for some tips on mastering it, check out this useful video.

F# Minor 7

This might seem like a big jump from looking at major and minor chords. But lots of guitarists seek out new chords to learn because they’re looking to add fresh emotion to their songs.

F#m7 is an emotion-packed chord. You can feel a yearning, hope, & resignation all in one strum. This video lets you see & hear it. This is also a logical chord to learn right after F. Like the barred major chord shape, learning F#m7 opens the door for playing many other minor seventh chords. Building a minor seventh chord is a lot like building a minor chord.

You have a root note, a flattened third (like you do with minor chords), a fifth, and a flattened seventh. This chord is made up of G flat, A, and D flat.

Even if you don’t want to get into the theory behind it, the F#m7 chord is very easy to play (provided you have mastered barre chords). For this chord, barre the fretboard at the second fret. (Remember that barring at the first fret gives you F, so one fret down gives you F#.) Then, place your index finger on the A string at the fourth fret. If you move down and barre at the third fret, you get a Gm7, etc.

A Dominant Seventh

The bluesy ring of dominant seventh (often just called “seventh”) chords can be heard in plenty of blues and rock songs. And among them, A seventh (usually just written as A7) is very commonly included. As a bonus, there are two voicings you can do close to the headstock. The first voicing is easy to master and commonly taught to beginners.

You just put your index finger on the second fret of the D string and your middle finger on the second fret of the B string. Make sure you don’t strum the low E string. This video (below – left) takes you through this voicing.

Another voicing asks you to barre the D, G, and B strings with your index finger. Then, you just need to fret the high E string at the third fret. Of course, you may already know that many chords have several different voicings. If you’re feeling adventurous, this video guide (above right) takes you through this voicing and others.

Usually, those new to the guitar will get a least a decent grasp on major and minor chords before adding in some dominant seventh. If you’ve been focusing on majors and minors and want to mix it up, diving into dominant sevenths is a great way to do so.

E Suspended Fourth

This chord is more commonly written as Esus4. The “suspended” part just means that the third is replaced by a fourth. That replacement gives the chord some tension. And as this video demo mentions, suspended chords sound like “they need to go somewhere.” This isn’t the type of chord you’d use in every single song, but it does add some variety if you mix it with E major, E minor, and other forms of the E chord.

Luckily, Esus4 makes it easy to add some variety to your songs. It can be played with three fingers. You just need to fret the A, D, and G strings at the second fret. Which fingers you use is up to you — some guides suggest using your middle finger on the A string, your ring finger on the D string, and the pinky finger on the G string.

You might find it interesting to know that suspended chords are neither major nor minor. That’s because there is no third included.

C Major 7

This wistful, dreamy-sounding chord is easy to work in, especially in a song that’s already in the key of C. But before you learn it, it’s important to realize that Cmaj7 is different from C7 (a dominant seventh chord). And interestingly enough, although only one note separates the dominant seventh chord from a major seventh, the sounds are drastically different.

Making a major seventh chord is a lot like making a seventh chord. You include the root note, the third, the fifth, and the seventh. But unlike with a dominant seventh chord, you don’t flatten the seventh. If you want to hear the difference between a C7 and a Cmaj7 and want to learn a bit about music theory, too, check out this brief video.

The Cmaj7 chord contains C, E, G, and B. C is the root, E is the third, G is the fifth, and B is the seventh. But despite being a four-note chord, Cmaj7 is actually easy to play. You just need to fret the D string at the second fret and the A string at the third fret.

A Minor Eleventh

The music theory behind minor eleventh chords gets a bit complicated. These chords are made up of a root, a minor third, a perfect fifth, minor seventh, major ninth, and perfect eleventh. But despite their relative complexity, minor 11th chords give off an air of simple beauty that can add a dreamlike quality to any song.

To hear some minor eleventh chords in action and learn a little more about the theory behind them, check out this helpful video. As the guitar instructor in the video mentions, minor eleventh chords have a similar tonality to major seventh chords. To play Am11, place your index finger at the first fret on the B string.

Then, put your index finger at the third fret on the high E string. However, you can play a simplified version with just your index finger. And just like with a regular A minor chord, make sure you don’t strike the low E string as you play.

Want to Get Started?

Whether you’ve just picked up a guitar to learn or have been playing for years, you probably are always looking to improve. But looking up different tutorials online isn’t the best way to do so — many guitarists find that they just don’t know what to learn next.

Taking an online guitar course is a great way to receive professional guidance while still learning and practicing on your own schedule. Plus, it only costs a fraction of what in-person lessons do.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully, you enjoyed this list and learned a new chord or two. What do you think? Did we leave out any must-know chords? Or do you know an unusual guitar chord you want to share? Please let us know in the comments — and don’t forget to share!

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