Many guitar players got their first ambition to play by watching and/or hearing a great player (in their preferred style) really cranking out a cool guitar solo. For example, Van Halen’s ‘Eruption’ for rock players is a staple, ‘Besame Mucho’ by Wes Montgomery is for the hippest of all jazz cats, and just about anything from Chet Atkins would make a country player drool with envy…
We do have a piece of advice for beginner guitar players though – you need to learn to walk before you can run. In ‘guitar-speak’ that means you need to learn a number of basic chords before you venture off into solo-land. Sit back and think about it for a minute – chords really are the main backbone and structure of any song…solos are just icing on the cake.
Chords are simply a few notes played at the same time, and the two most common types of chords are ‘major’ and ‘minor’ . A good way to tell the difference between the two types is to look at the chord names themselves – major chords are noted by just a single letter (e.g. A), and minor chords have a lowercase ‘m’ after the name (e.g. Am). Another thing to note is how each type sounds: major chords are ‘happy’, and minor ones sound ‘sad’. Don’t be intimidated by the idea of learning a bunch of them though – we have you covered!
Let’s take a look at nine of the best basic guitar chords for beginners to learn, regardless of what type of music you prefer. These are often called the ‘cowboy chords’ – they’re the ones all guitarists need to know when jamming around a campfire!
Your First Three Basic Chords
E Major Chord
Playing an E chord is one of the easiest to learn at first, partly because you don’t have to worry about strumming strings that aren’t part of the chord – you play all of them! As with all of the chords that we will look at, always make sure that your form is correct. Make sure your fingers are slightly curved as they come around the neck; this will make your fingering patterns much more comfortable and also will let your fretted notes ring out as they should.
E Minor Chord
Em chord is even more simple than an E chord. You use the same two fingers on the A and D strings, but you take your finger off the G string to let it ring open. It doesn’t get much easier than that!
A Minor Chord
The trick to playing Am correctly is to take a look at the fingering pattern. It’s really the same exact thing as the E chord you just learned, but everything is moved up one string. Same shape – different strings – got it?
Time for a public service announcement here – as you are learning these first chords, it’s important that you take the time to make sure all of the notes are sounding as they should. We’d suggest placing your fingers in the right positions (as the Yousician app shows you) and playing one string at a time.
The Rest of the Cowboy Chords
The next basic chords we are going to look at are among the most common ones you’ll play.
C Major Chord
The fingering pattern for a C chord should be fairly comfortable to play as the finger spacing naturally follows how your first three fingers would touch the guitar. The big trick here is to not let your 2nd finger keep the open G string from ringing out.
G Major Chord
An G chord can be challenging and takes some getting used to!. Using your 2nd finger on the low E string (3rd fret) and then your third finger on the high E string (also on the 3rd fret) may seem to be a bit of a stretch (no pun intended), but once you get the hang of it you’ll be able to switch between chords with ease.
D Major Chord
An open D major chord is bright and happy sounding. Getting the fingering right means paying close attention to how your third finger is fretting the B string on the 3rd fret – it’s a common beginner’s issue to have the bottom of that finger touch the high E string and keep it from vibrating in the right way. Also, keep in mind that the low E and low A strings aren’t to be played at all.
A Major Chord
When playing the A major chord, the biggest thing to get the hang of here is that all three of your fingers are kind of squeezed together in a tight area, thanks to all of them being on the 2nd fret of different strings. You can try using the index-middle-ring fingers as shown, or experiment with other possibilities, like using your middle-ring-pinky instead.
F Major Chord
This fingering for an F chord is a bit different than many other resources will teach, but it’s actually an ingenious way to play it without having to resort to barre chord formations (which are a little more advanced). The key here is to not let either of the E strings (low or high) ring out at all as you play.
D Minor Chord
We’ll finish off with a Dm chord. This is close to the same as a D chord, but instead of playing the note on the high E string on the 2nd fret, it’s played on the 1st fret instead. That means you’ll have to switch your fingers around a little, with your second finger playing the note on the 2nd fret of the G string instead of your index finger. If it feels like a big stretch, try using your pinky instead of your ring finger.
Songs That Use Cowboy Chords
One thing that is very important to keep in mind when learning the guitar is that it’s awesome to actually take the stuff you’ve learned and put it to good use! Taking a deep dive into the numerous songs that Yousician has, you’ll see that you can play a tremendous amount of songs just with what you’ve learned. Here are just a few to kick things off with:
- Breakdown by Tom Petty (Am & G)
- Fast Car by Tracy Chapman (C, G, Em, and D)
- I’m Yours by Jason Mraz (G, D, Em, and C)
- Everybody Wants To Rule The World by Tears For Fears (C, G, and F)
- Hurt by Johnny Cash (Am, C, D, G, F)
Let’s move on to the next one.
It’s Only The Beginning
These nine basic chords are just the beginning of your guitar playing journey. It truly is amazing how many songs can be played with them, and as you progress through the different levels of the Yousician app you’ll learn many others that will round out your chord vocabulary. Taking the time to learn the basics will really pay off as your skills improve and your knowledge expands!
To your success!