Guitarists play chords all the time, and you can see why – they sound awesome. Once you've got them under your fingers, they're lots of fun to play. They can be tricky at first though. The good news is that for most popular styles of music, there are only a few that you need to learn. In the early levels of Yousician, we teach you the most common chords that every guitarist needs to know – C, G, Am, and so on. These are the so-called "Cowboy Chords" that get played around every campfire. We introduce them one by one, so you can learn them at your own pace.
Watch this lesson about the basic "Cowboy Chords"; Em, E and Am.
Of course, as you get better, you want to learn more chords and play more challenging shapes. The learning path introduces them in a logical step-by-step way, so you can build the required skills as you go. After a while, you start to understand how the different chord shapes work on the fretboard, and even how to build them yourself.
When learning chords, it's great to use all of your senses. Visualize a chord as a shape on the fretboard, feel what it's like to hold it, and listen carefully to the sound. Look, touch, listen. Here's an example:
Study a chord diagram. Do the dots form a line, triangle, L-shape, etc? Put your fingers on the right frets, look at them, and feel what it's like to hold that shape. Strum the chord and listen to the sound. Then take your fingers off the strings. Without checking the diagram, try to remember where each finger was. Picture the shape, place your fingers on the fretboard, and play the chord again. Does it sound the same? If not, check the diagram again.
Changing from one chord shape to another can be hard at first. You have to develop your muscle memory, so that your fingers learn what they have to do without looking at them. Looking for similarities between chords also helps.
You can sometimes use different fingerings for the same chord. This can make the change to the next chord easier.
- Example: when changing from E minor to E major, you usually want to use 2nd and 3rd finger for the minor. This way the first finger can fret the 1st fret on the G string. But, if the next chord is an Am, the change is easier if you use 1st and 2nd fingers for the E minor. This is because that way you already have the 2nd finger ready for the A minor shape, and you don't have to lift it at all.
There are some shapes where you can move from one set of strings to another to get a different chord.
- Example: E major → A minor; fingers hold the same shape, but move from the 5th, 4th and 3rd string to 4th, 3rd and 2nd string. Similar: Esus4 → A, A → Dmaj7, Amaj7 → D7
You can find out about 4 popular chord progressions in the Yousician Blog. Check these tips from the teachers about practicing chord changes.
At first, it might be challenging to get a particular chord to sound good. Plus, even if it sounds good to you, Yousician might be picking up that there are missing or incorrect notes (which can be hard to hear!). Here are a few troubleshooting tips:
- Check that your fingers are on the right frets and on the right strings. It's easy to make mistakes there, even when you're an advanced guitarist. Start from the thickest string, and check each string one at a time.
- Make sure you don't mute any string that should be ringing. Pick each string and listen to the sound. If you are muting a string accidentally, try to adjust your finger, wrist, or thumb position.
- For many chords (especially cowboy chords), you should be playing right up on your fingertips to avoid touching other strings. You should try to have your hand arched, not lying flat on the fretboard. Tip: long fingernails on your fretting hand get in the way and stop you from holding chords properly – you should keep them nice and short.
- If a note is buzzing, adjust the position of the finger. Playing too far away from the metal fret tends to cause buzzing, so always aim to play as close as you can. With some chords, you need to have at least some fingers some distance away from the fret, but aim to get as close as reasonably possible.
- Make sure you're not playing strings that aren't needed. For example, in many chords, you shouldn't strum the big E-string (the thickest one). When this happens, the string is marked with an "X" on the chord diagram. You can avoid strumming that string, or use your fingers (or thumb) to mute the unwanted strings by touching them lightly
- Make sure your guitar is comfy to play. It should fit your hands and body (not too big or small), and the strings shouldn't feel too stiff or be set too high above the frets. Most local musical instrument shops are able to offer you advice on the right size and style of guitar for you. They can also perform a nice setup with finger-friendly strings (usually "light-gauge" or low-tension strings), set nice and close to the frets. A good setup can make a world of difference!
Next up: How to start practicing solos