Learn all about how to play guitar chords

In this guide you will learn how to play guitar chords that is one of the first things a beginner should look into.

Playing a guitar chord is essentially to play several strings on the guitar with one hand at the same time you have some fingers pressed down with the other hand. So in other words, first position your left-hand fingers according to a certain chord shapes (more about actual shapes later) and when play one or many strings with your right hand. There are two main options: you can strum – you play over many strings – or you can pick – you play one string at a time.

That you need to know about playing guitar chords are partly covered in other articles. First of all you must know how to read chord charts. After you know how to understand chord chart and after you learn the fingerings of some easy chords.

Techniques and strength

Start by playing one chord only and strive to achieve a clean sound.

In the beginning you will only be able to position your fingers slowly. This is fully natural since your fingers haven’t been used to the movements and besides that lacks strength. Some tips in this area can be found in the article about finger placements and how to avoid muting adjacent strings.

When you succeed in playing one chord with clean sound the next step is to begin moving from chord to chord. This will go slowly at first. It is important you do this in the most efficient way, see tips on how to practice on chords.

Mute strings in chords

In chords like A and C major you should only play at five of the strings, in both cases the low E-string should be left out. The problem with this kind of chords (in diagrams it will be indicated with an “x”) is that it can be hard to play the right string with precision. For the example will it often happen that you also play the low E-string in a C major chord. This means the root of the chord no longer being C and instead E.

Since you focus more on rhythm than precision when strumming chords you should learn the typical method guitarist’s use. The method is to mute the string either by touching it with the thumb or with a finger position on an adjacent string.

The important thing is that you only mute the string and not pressing it down. You should not hear a tone from it, just a low muted sound that will drown in the sound from the other strings.

When there is two strings, like in D major, that should be excluded, the best way is probably by muting both with your thumb. It can however sometimes be hard to reach over and reach both strings with your thumb (in that case it's not a distaser if you strum over the second lowest strings because the open string A note belong to the D major.

Chord diagrams with muted strings

Arrows showing strings that should be muted/not played


There is also chord that there is muted strings in the middle of strings that should be played. In these cases you should touch the string with some part of the finger and by that mute it.

Chord progressions

When you are able to move from chord to chord without much difficulty you should learn chord progressions. A progression is a collection of chord that will sound great played in a subsequent order. The basics are to choose chords that belong to certain key and mix right categories of chord together. See examples of progressions.

By now should the fundamentals of how to play guitar chords. Follow these instructions step by step and you will gradually gain the needed skills.

Voicings

Music is full of opportunities and besides from playing the most standard versions you could also find alternative versions and these are commonly referred to as voicings.

Let's take a common C major chord as an example:

C chord

This is a C chord in its typical open chord shape. But there are many ways to enrich our sound and find new expressions by trying other versions of the same chord:

C chord voicings

It's the same notes but the result doesn’t sound exactly the same because of the different tone order and in some cases different pitch – and that's the reason for using them. Nobody will force you to play alternative chord versions, but are you interested in further explore your instrument, voicings can lead to an interesting journey. Especially in jazz, lots of voicings are used, a recommended in-depth handbook is Jazz Guitar Chord Voicings.


To be accurate C/B and C/E are not voicings but slash chords. The strict definition of voicings is that the root in the chord remains the same while the other notes shifting order.


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