Welcome to Part 1 of a series dedicated specifically to beginner guitar chords. These are the first chords that every beginner guitar player should learn. Even if you know that you will one day be a great blues legend, you need to start with the same three chords as nearly anyone picking up the guitar for the first time.
‘Must Know’ Beginner Guitar Chords
The G, C and D major chords.
These chords are iconic, timeless and yes, a little plain vanilla. As I type that last adjective… (that is an adjective, right? I was busy reading the latest Guitar World issue during English class) Anyway, plain vanilla might translate immediately to boring for most folks. I prefer to look at it another way: simple. solid. complete.
These chords are foundational. Locked neatly in them, they contain deep roots of western modern music. Of course, by ‘modern music’ I mean most music made in the last 100 years, excluding anything made by a synthesizer!
Each of these chords are major chords and they fit nicely when played together. There’s a good reason for that. Particularly when you play a progression that begins or ends on the G chord. This because they all belong to the key of G Major. More on that later.
What makes these chords so special?
These three chords were the part of the foundation of early Rock and Roll, the rebellious child of blues music. G, C and D major also show up in about nine thousand country songs. If Rock and Roll is the child of blues, then Country music is the slow-talkin’ Southern cousin. Suffice it to say, these three American music forms are very closely related and these three chords are a great way to begin learning these musical styles.
These basic chords are called by many different names – open chords, cowboy chords and most musically correct, major chords. I personally tend to call them cowboy chords because when you play these in the full form, you can almost see Roy Rogers fading into the sunset on the back of his trusty steed strumming and singing. Happy Trails, anyone?
Learning the Chords
I recommend starting with the G chord and using the chord chart above to get your fingers in the correct position on the fretboard. Once you can strum all six strings and have each one ring clearly with no buzzing or dead sounding notes, learn the C chord in the same way. At this point, don’t worry about changing from one chord to the next, just focus on getting a good clean sound from each chord. Here’s a quick list of things to keep in mind while working on each chord:
- Press your fingers down just enough to get a clean sound, no extra points for squeezing the neck to death!
- Place your finger just behind the fret to get the best sound with the least amount of effort
- Arch each finger on your fret-hand to make sure that you only touch the string you are fretting
It is incredibly important to get each note to ring clearly. If it is hard to tell whether each note (string) is ringing properly, pluck each string individually starting with the low E string (lowest note and fattest string) and pick each string independently and listen for a good clean tone. Doing this, you should be able to spot the string that is giving you trouble.
Practice Changing Chords
Once you can confidently get a good sounding G, C and D when played by themselves, it’s time to shake things up a bit.
Try strumming the G chord four times and then changing on the fifth strum to the C chord. Strum it four times and then go back to the G chord. Do this until your transition between the two chords is flawless. Then repeat until you are 100% sick of these two chords! Then work on changing to the D chord in a similar manner. Eventually try moving from G to D and back and C to D and back. Be sure you can play any combination of these three chords while keeping that good clean sound you worked so hard for earlier.
If this is your first time with a guitar, this will be difficult…incredibly difficult! But, stick with it and soon you will move in and out of each chord with absolute ease. I still have bad habits in my playing that haunt me every time I play because I didn’t pay as much attention to fundamentals as I should have.
Next in our basic guitar chord lineup will be a few more major chords followed by a couple of minor chords. With just a few chords in your arsenal, you will be amazed at the number of songs you will be able to play.
If these chords don’t sound bluesy enough for you, stay tuned. The cool thing about the basic chords is that once you have them and a few others down, you can start adding extra notes or even taking away certain notes, opening up a whole new world of chords. You will be surprised to find that some of the most bluesy chords are super easy to nail. But getting the basics down, well, that’s the absolute most important thing for a new blues-man or woman to do first.