Playing Some Basic Chords

Guitar Lesson 1 Basic Chords


So you have just unwrapped your guitar and have it sitting on your lap but now it seems like becoming a rock star may be a bit further away than you thought! Don’t worry – it’s a fact that it feels difficult for everyone to play even a simple song for the first time – this is because it requires you stretch and twist all sorts of muscles in unnatural directions. These will quickly get used to the extra work and with practice holding the guitar becomes second nature with no conscious effort needed!

Ok –first of all you need to get the guitar in tune and the quickest way to do this is using an electronic tuner. Starting from the lowest (fattest) string and working up, tune the strings to E, A, D, G, B and E respectively. One way of remembering this is the acronym Every Alsatian Dog Got Big Ears. It may sound ridiculous but that’s the point – you will remember it!

Before attempting to play a song it is necessary to understand some simple chord diagrams and how they relate to the guitar’s fretboard. This way you won’t have to read descriptions of where to put your fingers each time- it is all laid out in picture form. After a bit of practice this simple diagram reading becomes a quick and easy way to play songs. The following is an example of an E major Chord Laid out in a chord box diagram.  


The vertical lines show each guitar string and the horizontal lines are the frets (only the first 4 frets of the fretboard are shown and all open chords can be played using different finger positions on these frets)

The circles show whereabouts to place each finger and each number represents a finger on your fretting hand (1=index 2=middle 3=ring finger)

Ok, now its time for action! One at a time, place each finger in position, starting with your 1st or index finger. As you place each finger, pluck the string with your other hand. You should be able to get a range of different sounds depending on whereabouts within the fret your finger lies and how much pressure you use. Try experimenting with this until you can hold the string over the fret and get a smooth tone every time when you pluck it.

Now try this for the other fingers but keep each finger in place whilst you position them. You may find that it is a bit of a squeeze to get the 2nd and 3rd fingers in position but it can be done!

With all fingers in position slowly strum the strings with your other hand and listen carefully to each note and how it sounds. It is likely that some notes will buzz or be muted by your fingers – especially the high B by your first finger. With practice you should be able to strum the chord so that each strings ring out without being muted.  

  In the chord of E major the strings not held down by your fingers should also be played. (E and B are both notes in the scale of E major so playing these open strings adds to the powerful feel of this chord- the notes played by your 2nd and 3rd fingers are also B and E).

With even more practice your fingers will begin to ‘know’ whereabouts to go without any conscious thought – they will just snap into position and you hit the perfect chord every time!

Now try the same technique chords A and D taking care not to pluck the strings with an ‘X’ above them as these notes will not fit in with the chord




With these three chords under your belt you have the basis for playing many well-known songs and as they all go well together you can make up some tunes of your own. The more you practice changing from one chord to the other, the faster and more accurate your finger switches will become, leaving you to concentrate on the rhythm of your strumming hand. Try the chord progression below in the style of ‘Candle in the Wind’ by Elton John and Bernie Taupin, try experimenting with down and up strums to create the rhythm for the words.


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