The A chord is a staple, albeit slightly tricky in terms of finger position, that everyone has to know when learning how to play guitar. After learning the A chord and a couple of others, you open the door to countless songs, styles, and genres.
If you’ve already read through a few of my other chord guides, you might be thinking that I’m constantly banging the drum about how this or that chord is absolutely essential.
And you’re right! Some chords are simply non-negotiable if you want to make meaningful progress in your guitar-playing journey.
With that in mind, we’re going to look at exactly what the A chord is, how to play it, some easy variations you can switch between, and some exercises to help you really nail it.
Let’s get started!
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What Is the A Chord?
The A chord is one of the most commonly-used chords for all guitar players. It appears in countless songs and across countless genres – from the likes of U2 to Bruce Springsteen and Pulp.
Long story short: it’s worth getting familiar with it.
The A chord consists of the notes A, C#, and E.
Just a quick reminder: a sharp note (#) raises the pitch of a note by a semitone. The sharp note in the A chord – the C# – is what differentiates the A chord from the Am chord. So the good news is: if you can play either of these chords, you can definitely play the other.
Now that you’re familiar with the A chord, let’s look at how to play it on the guitar.
How to Play the A Chord on the Guitar
As far as guitar chords go, the A chord is in no way the toughest. In fact, it’s quite easy to play once you wrap your head around the finger positioning. And I’m going to help you do exactly that!
How to Position Your Fingers for the A Chord (Four Steps):
- Index finger on the 2nd fret of the D string
- Middle finger on the 2nd fret of the G string
- Ring finger on the 2nd fret of the B string
- Strum all five strings down from the A string
And that’s it! You’ve played your first A chord.
A Chord Guitar Finger Position
Now before you say it, I will: is it really necessary to squish all of my fingers into this one fret? The answer is, yes! While there’s no way around that part with this variation, there is another option.
This version still requires all three fingers in the one fret, but it’s a potential workaround that might be a more comfortable solution for some.
Try swapping your index finger with your middle finger – so placing your index finger on the G string and your middle finger on the D string.
Choose whichever option feels more comfortable for you.
A common mistake I often see beginners make when they opt for the above variation is letting their ring finger accidentally touch the E string, which mutes it somewhat and stops it from ringing. If you find this happening, try to arch your fingers more rigidly and keep each finger on its own string.
And while we’re talking about arching – make sure to press down with your fingertips, not your finger pads, and press them down on the fretboard at a 90-degree angle. If not, you risk your fingertips touching other strings and creating fret buzz.
Alternate Versions of the A Chord
Just as there are many ways to skin a cat, there are many ways to play a chord – and the A chord is no different. Let’s look at some other variations to consider.
If you’re finding the standard A chord above a bit tricky, don’t sweat it – there’s an easier version.
This A7 variation is actually a different chord altogether. It uses an open instead of fretted G string for a slightly different sound and is a great stepping stone to begin with.
Here’s how to play it:
- Place your index finger on the 2nd fret of the D string
- Place your ring finger on the 2nd fret of the B string
Once your fingers are in place, simply strum all five strings down from the A string.
Feels easier, right? Try this one out a couple of times and then move your way up to the standard variation.
A Chord Barre Variation
Barre chords are the more advanced variation and are often more demanding on the index finger as you have to hold down multiple strings across a single fret.
As always, with some practice, you’ll get used to the positioning in no time.
Here’s how to place your fingers for the barre variation:
- Index finger on the 5th fret and bar all the strings
- Middle finger on the 6th fret of the G string
- Ring finger on the 7th fret of the A string
- Pinky finger on the 7th fret of the D string
Once your fingers are in place, strum all strings.
A Chord Exercises
Now that we’ve covered the basics of how to play the A chord with both a stripped-back sound and a fuller sound, let’s have a look at some exercises to practice playing it:
- Little but often: I usually recommend practicing for shorter chunks of time but often and consistently. This way, practicing becomes manageable while you still get a lot of the benefits.
- Muscle memory: Try jumping into the A chord, strumming a couple of times, then jumping into another chord, strumming a couple of times, and jumping back to the A chord. This will build that muscle memory that’s so key to learning a chord.
- Pinky finger: The barre variation above requires the pinky finger. To keep that pinky strong, make sure to practice chord variations involving it regularly. The pinky is often ignored and out of practice – keep it involved!
Do these exercises regularly and you’ll start to see progress. If you can devote an hour or two per day to practicing, great, if not, shorter amounts of time work too. Remember, it’s about the process, not the outcome. Focus on the process and the results will follow naturally.
Moving on From the A Chord
Working your way through guitar chords is an essential part of your guitar-playing journey. If you haven’t done so yet, I’d recommend checking out my other chord guides. Here are a few to point you in the right direction:
And if you’d like to learn even more, then I highly recommend you check out my guitar workshop – Tony’s Acoustic Challenge.
It’s full of guitar tips and exercises that will keep you having fun on your guitar journey regardless of what level you’re at. I designed it specifically to help guitar players of all levels see consistent, meaningful progress and have fun at the same time. Watch this FREE video to get started!