How to play the C chord on guitar

Yousician team 7 min read

The C guitar chord is one of the essential chords to learn as you start off as a beginner. It’s one of the most commonly used open chords in music from all genres. Just learn the C major chord and a handful of other basic guitar chords to play a surprising number of popular songs. Keep reading to find out how to play the C chord and some recommendations for songs that use it.

How to play the C major chord?

The C chord is one of the so-called cowboy chords that beginners tend to learn when they start playing. You need three fingers to play the C major guitar chord: the index, middle, and ring fingers. Once you have the correct chord shape, the C chord is pretty easy. However, one challenge is to play only the necessary strings as the low E string isn’t played at all.

Here’s how to position your fingers:

  • First finger (index finger): Press down the first fret of the B string.
  • Second finger (middle finger): Press down the second fret of the D string.
  • Third finger (ring finger): Press down the third fret of the A string.

This is the C major guitar chord shape, also known as the open C chord. To play the chord after forming the right chord shape, strum down all strings except the low E string. To make sure that each string is ringing as it should, play the chord slowly at first.

One common problem with the C chord is accidentally blocking the open G string with one of your fingers and stopping it from ringing. To prevent this from happening, make sure your fingers are positioned correctly just above the fret and not directly on top of it. Curl the fingers of your fretting hands more if you notice yourself accidentally muting strings that should be played open.

C chord

What are good C major chord variations?

In addition to the normal open C chord, there are some variations to try and add to your arsenal of guitar chords. One way to change things up is by playing C major as a barre or bar chord. This allows you to transition easily to other barre chords with very few changes to the chord shape.

To play a barre chord, you need to lay your index finger across the entire guitar fretboard in order to press down multiple strings. To play the C major as a barre chord, leave out the low E string once again and press down all other strings on the third fret with your index finger. Use the other three fingers (middle, ring, and pinky) to press down the D, G, and B strings on the fifth fret.

C barre chord

What makes this barre chord variation of the C major so great is that you can easily transition to the C minor chord from the same position on the fretboard.

  • Leave your index finger across the third fret.
  • Press down the fifth fret of the D string with your ring finger.
  • Press down the fifth fret of the G string with your pinky finger.
  • Press down the fourth fret of the B string with your middle finger.

C minor chord

In case you want to simplify the regular open C chord, try playing a power chord variation instead, or the C5 chord. This requires only two strings, the A and D. Use your index finger to press down the third fret of the A string and the pinky finger on the fifth fret of the D string. To add some more kick to the chord, include your ring finger on the fifth fret of the G string as well. There are no open strings in this power chord.

C power chord

To make the C guitar chord a bit easier, you can also try leaving out the highest string to create the C major 7th chord, also known as Cmaj7. You can use Cmaj7 as an alternative to the C chord if you’re having trouble with accidentally muting the open G string with your finger.

Cmaj7 chord

Songs on guitar using the C major chord

As mentioned, the C major chord is used in numerous popular songs across genres. That’s why you’ll likely get plenty of practice, no matter the song you choose. Here are just a few good songs that use the C chord on the guitar.

  1. House of the Rising Sun” (Traditional)
  2. Scarborough Fair” (Traditional)
  3. Sweet Home Alabama” by Lynyrd Skynyrd
  4. I’m Yours” by Jason Mraz
  5. Brown Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison
  6. Zombie” by The Cranberries

You can find plenty of songs to learn from Yousician’s full song library which has something for everyone. With genres ranging from rock to pop and beyond, you can find your favorites for practicing the open C chord and more. Make sure to check out our full guide with 20 easy songs to learn on guitar.

Learn the C chord and more on guitar with Yousician

To learn more major chords on the guitar, check out Yousician’s full library of guitar chords. To learn more about playing chords, make sure to read our beginner’s guide to guitar chords, great for both electric and acoustic players.

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