By: Peter Bussey
One of the first challenges faced by the advancing guitar player
is learning a core group of basic guitar chords. Why is it so
important to learn these basic chords? Chords form the
backbone of most rock and pop songs, and provide the harmonic
accompaniment to the melody and instrumental solos.
Rhythm guitar based on basic chords provides many of the most
memorable rock riffs... think AC/DC's "Back in Black" or The
Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again". What's really amazing is that by
learning no more than 10 to 15 basic guitar chords, you will be
equipped to play thousands of rock and pop songs!
What is a Guitar Chord?
First let's establish the definition of a chord. A chord is
three or more different musical notes played together. In the
case of the guitar, this means that at least three strings are
strummed or plucked simultaneously to sound three or more notes.
Since the guitar has six strings, the maximum numbers of notes
in a guitar chord is six. All chords can be placed in one of
three groups based on the musical structure of the chord: Major,
Minor, or Seventh. Each of these chord groups has its own
"sound" or "feel". Major chords sound stable and complete. Minor
chords can evoke a more somber or pensive mood, and Seventh
chords are jazzy and somewhat incomplete sounding.
There is no standard list of "basic guitar chords" that every
one agrees to. However, there is general agreement that there is
a list of somewhere between 8 and 18 basic guitar chords (open
string) that every guitarist must know cold. These chords are
used in all musical styles from rock and pop to country, jazz,
and classical. No matter where you are on your guitar-playing
path, you should take the time to learn and master the basic
chords. Getting these right will ensure you have the basic tools
and skills to learn many songs and increase your playing
The List of Basic Guitar Chords
So what are the basic guitar chords? Our basic stable includes
the major and minor chords from four common musical keys, A,G,C,
and D. They are played as "open chords", that is at least one
string in the chord is not fretted (pressed down with a finger).
Open chords are easier to learn and play than more advanced
chords such as Barre chords, or complex chords further up the
guitar neck. Our list of basic major and minor chords is:
A Major (or A), A Minor (or Am), C, D, Dm, E, Em, F, G
These chords can be best learned as chord "families" (by key)
that can be combined into great-sounding chord sequences that
make up lots of popular songs. Using this chord family approach
is much more interesting and useful than just memorizing a bunch
of chords in random order!
These chords grouped by chord family (key) are as follows:
A Family (Key of A): A, D, E
D Family (Key of D): D, Em, G,
G Family (Key of G): G, Am, C, D, Em
C Family (Key
of C): C, Dm, Em, F, G
Tips for Learning the Basic Chords:
1. Pick a Chord Family and master it. This will give you
quick success and let you play great sounding progressions right
2. Use a Guitar Chord Chart as a reference tool. A
chord chart shows each chord as an easy to read "chord diagram"
with exact finger positions. See this example of a chart of basic guitar chords.
3. Find the chords and lyrics for an easy song that is
based on the chord family so you can apply your skills. Many
great songs are based on only three chords!
4. Ensure each string sounds right. Take care to make
sure that each string is sounding clearly, and that only the
strings that should be played are played.
5. Practice, practice, practice! Every day, practice
continually change from one chord to another until you can do it
rapidly. Learn the chord families one at a time.
6. Master all the basic chords first. Only then move on
to Barre chords and other more complex chords. First things
7. Expand with 7th chords. As a next step you can easily
expand on your basic chord knowledge by adding 7th and minor 7th
chords based on the nine basic major and minor chords.
8. Have fun using your new skills! Enjoy your musical
ability by applying it to learning a small set of 5-10 songs you
know really well and can confidently play at any time.
About the author:
Peter Bussey has been an avid guitar player for over 10 years.
In 2004 he became Editor of The Guitar Players Toolbox, a
website dedicated to helping advancing guitar players improve
with practical tools, tips, and information. Visit
http://www.guitar-players-toolbox.com for a variety of free,
practical resources such as guitar chords, guitar chord charts,
song chords, and much more.