Have you ever read a book on chords and become seriously overwhelmed at the amount of different chords to learn? I did when I first started playing guitar. The good news is when we analyse the vast majority of them we can relate them back to the two most significant types, major and minor.
Note: I’ve divided this section of the course into two parts. The first part is the learning of the aforementioned chords in their open forms. You must focus on these first, and they’re the only necessary chords to learn for this course. Also, I know I’ve already explained how to read diagrams, but as I wrote this section first I’ve presented the information again. I tried to re-write the lesson but found it makes more sense as is.
In the second part, I’m going to show you how these shapes create a structure covering the entire neck of the guitar. If you don’t understand this part don’t worry, it’s not vital to this course. If it’s something you want to explore, please make sure you can do everything else in the course first as these skills are the foundation upon which we build the complex stuff. The reason I’m showing you the more advanced concepts is so you can see how the basics evolve, and hopefully, to create motivation in learning the basics due to seeing (for a lack of a better phrase) the light at the end of the tunnel.
Note: These videos are old, and I refer to page numbers from my original book that won’t corelate to the ebook I’m offering with this course. I’m currently reworking these videos, but the content here is still applicable.
Part 1: Basic Guitar Chords
Figs.9 and 10
E Major Open Chord (Fingering)
E Major Open Chord (Notes)
In Appendix 1a you’ll see diagrams for all 10 of these chords. Now we must understand what these diagrams mean.
A chord diagram shows you where to place your fingers. If you look at fig.9, you’ll see numbers in the dots; these show you what fingers to use, and the dots at the top show which open strings to include. Some chords will show x, which means you leave that string out as it’s not part of the chord. Reading chord diagrams is rather simple, but the physical execution of these is trickier, and I’ll cover this better down the page and in the last lesson ‘Changing Chords on Guitar: A Beginner’s Guide to Smooth Transitions’.
You may wonder what the letters in the second diagram represent (fig.10). I don’t want to go into theory here as I cover that in ‘Guitar Chord Theory 101: A Practical Approach to Unlocking the Fretboard’. However, I want to point out that all major and minor chords only contain three notes (we call these three notes a triad). It may seem like they have more because you use multiple fingers over multiple strings, but these chords only contain three repeating notes. With the previous info in mind, we can play a chord with the same name many different ways, and we call these voicings.
Also note the red dot; this represents the root note which is the dominating note in the chord and the note giving a chord it’s name. The type of chord shown above is a major chord, and the name of the chord is E Major. Also, we call this an ‘E form’ chord, which will make sense down the line in pt.2.
With the above information, when determining what chord we’re playing we must define the ‘type’ (in this case major), the ‘name’ (in this case E), and the ‘form’ (in this case E). The form is easy to determine with open chords because it’s the same as the name.
Note: The open C and G Minor chords aren’t so common so I wouldn’t be too concerned with them for this course unless continuing to pt.2. Also, you don’t need to memorize all these chords at the moment. Just learn G, C, D and E Major for now as these are the chords we’ll use in the next and Changing Chords on Guitar lessons.
Hand Position and Execution
We have two hand positions when fingering open chords; thumb in the middle of the back of the neck (figs.11 and 12), and thumb over the neck (figs.13 and 14). The formal approach is the thumb in the middle as this allows for better angles and movement of the hand, but the thumb over the neck is still common. The advantage of thumb over the neck is that you can mute the E and A strings if they’re not part of a chord. The disadvantage is you limit your hand’s movement when bringing your wrist up. Personally I use a combination of both depending on what I need. Appendix 1b shows how I play the 10 open chords using my thumb in the middle of the neck.
When fingering chords you want to use the tips of your fingers and have them at a 90 degree angle (or close to) to the fretboard. The goal is to have every note ring cleanly and this can be difficult to start. Just like anything, being aware of this concept while practicing is the key and you’ll know if you’re doing it right because all notes will ring clean and clear.
When learning these chords, you want to take things very slow. You’re training tiny muscles to make precise movements, and I advise not trying too hard to change chords. In the beginning just take the time to memorize and get a feel for each one. In the Putting it All Together lesson, I’ll give directions on learning to change between chords.
Part 2: Barre Chords and the Big Picture
Please note this part is extra curricular and shouldn’t be tackled until you finish the rest of the course. My intention here is to show you the big picture so you can practice with a holistic end goal in mind, instead of sporadic pieces of information that don’t relate to each other.
Figs.15 and 16
F Major Barre Chord (E Form, Fingering)
F Major Barre Chord (E Form, Notes)
If you can recall I mentioned the ‘form’ of a chord in pt.1 of this lesson, well, this is we’re we put it into action.
If you look at fig.15 you’ll notice we have taken the E Major open chord from before, but now instead of playing it with our 1st, 2nd and 3rd fingers, we’re using our 2nd, 3rd and 4th and have moved the whole shape up 1 fret. We’re still playing the E form chord here; however, the name of the chord is no longer E Major. You’ll notice the letter in the red dot of fig.16 (root note) is F, making this a F Major chord. The other obvious thing you should notice is the fingering at the 1st fret. By shifting the E form away from the nut and using our 2nd, 3rd and 4th fingers, we now have to use our 1st finger to compensate and do the job of the nut. By flattening our 1st finger over all six strings, we create a barre. We now have a moveable shape (in this case an E form barre chord) that can become any major chord we want by shifting it to the appropriate position. We can now do the same thing with every one of the open chords, giving us many more possibilities for playing chords.
In Appendix 2a and b, you’ll see how I do this for the remainder of the chords you’ve learned.
Note: Just as with the open chords, C and G Minor chords aren’t so common as full barre chords, but their corresponding arpeggios (chords played one note at a time) and triad shapes are very common.
Hand Position and Execution
When fingering barre chords, the best way is thumb in the middle (figs.17 and 18). If you can play the E and A forms, you can play most popular straightforward stuff with minimal finger movement. The trick with bar chords is being able to keep the shape solid when moving up and down the neck. With the same mentality as the open chords, move one shape up and down the neck very slowly and relaxed, making sure you keep the shape at each position. Eventually you’ll be able to do this instantly, and a new world of possibilities will open up.
Mapping out the Neck
C Major CAGED Form Chords Across the Fretboard
In fig.19 if you look closely you can see all five major bar chord forms laid out in a way that covers the entire neck. You’ll also notice every chord is a C Major chord, creating the basic foundation for playing in the key of C Major. Another closer look will reveal the order of the chord forms is CAGED, which is an easy word to remember.
A Minor AGEDC Form Chords Across the Fretboard
Fig.20 shows the same concept as fig.19, but in the key of A Minor. The spelling for these forms isn’t as easy as CAGED, but it’s still easy to remember AGEDC.
I hope that wasn’t too overwhelming, and you at least have a good understanding of the concepts in pt.1, because if you do, the more advanced stuff won’t seem so out of reach. Again please make sure you understand the basics and finish the course before attempting the concepts in pt.2.