If you want to learn to play guitar well, then getting a few chords under your belt should be a top priority. These "building blocks" of rhythms and harmonies are an integral part of the language of music, so the more you can pick up, the more you're expanding your proverbial vocabulary (and your ability to "speak" through your instrument).
There's a rub beginner players often encounter, though. Both chords and the ways they are commonly written can be confusing. In the interest of giving you a leg up in your guitar studies, we've put together this guide to lead you through everything you'll need to know if you want to jump in and start learning chords effectively.
Follow these tips, and you'll not only be able to understand what all those dots, numbers, and symbols mean -- you'll be able to translate that into playing any chord you want on your guitar. If you're lost on what a chord is, you'll also want to read this guide, as we'll be laying out all that tricky music jargon in easy to grasp terms.
Before diving into how you can play chords on your guitar, it might help if you understood what a chord is, no? Feel free to skip ahead if you already have a basic understanding of how chords are defined. If not, though, keep reading.
You probably already understand what a note is. A chord is any grouping of three or more notes. You can play them melodically, one note at a time, or harmonically, with all the notes sounding together, but they're chords all the same. The notes you group together will change the sound of a chord, obviously, and will also change the name of the chord you are playing.
If you were to play the notes "C," "E," and "G" together, for instance, you would be playing a C Major Chord. Alternatively, if you strung "A," "C," and "E," together, you'd be playing an A Minor Chord. There are hundreds of combinations, and on the guitar, the most common method for learning these combinations is through chord diagrams, which are also referred to as chord charts.
When you look at a chord chart, you'll see 6 horizontal lines and 6 vertical lines. This is no coincidence. Take a quick look at your guitar, and you'll notice that your chord diagrams represent the strings and frets on your guitar. The horizontal lines on your chart serve as your "strings," while the spaces between the horizontal lines serve as your "frets." Unless otherwise noted, chord charts are written in standard tuning, so from left to right, those lines will represent your strings when played open: E, A, D, G, B, and E.
The numbered black dots you see on the chord chart show you where you should press down and what finger you should use. If you see a "1" you'll use your first finger (index finger) to press the string on the fret represented. If you see a "2," you'll use your second finger (middle finger), etc. If you see a string with no dot, you'll play that string open, and if you see a dotted string (or just an x at the top of the chart over a string) you'll have to mute or not play that particular string.
Is everything making sense so far? Let's take a look at some example chords to help you get the hang of it, starting with C Major.
Simple, no? Let's try another one, A Minor this time.
Here's how to go about it:
And so it goes for every chord chart you encounter. Place your fingers on the dots in the positions denoted, stay mindful of your open and muted strings, then strum away.
Now, during the course of your guitar studies, you might also encounter chords written as a series of numbers, like this: X32010. It looks confusing at first, but if you think about your guitar strings, the meaning becomes clear. In these cases, you read the numbers, from left to right, as the frets you should press. A "0" means you should play the string open, while an "X" means you should mute the string. The order of the numbers represents your strings, with the first number being your 6th string, and the last number being your first.
So, our example in the previous paragraph (X32010), you'll be doing this:
Look familiar? It's your C Major Chord. The A Minor Chord we covered would be written thusly: X02210.
You should now know enough to start picking up charts and learning to play some new chords. Remember what we mentioned about the strings and frets, your finger numbers, and playing strings open/muting strings. Take all of this into account when reading your diagrams, and the chords should come to you with no trouble at all!
Download and print out your own blank chordboxes with this cool PDF.
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