Table of Contents
- The Basic Guitar Chords
- How to Read Guitar Chords
- G Chord Guitar
- C Chord Guitar
- D Chord [the final essential guitar chord for beginners!]
- 2 Easy Chord Transition Tricks
- Power Chords for Acoustic Guitar (A fun way to learn them!)
- You Know 3 Guitar Chords for Beginners…What’s Next?
Guitar chords for beginners is a hot-button topic.
Whether you’ve been playing for one day or one year, you’re going to hear a lot of advice about guitar chords.
Some of your friends, teachers, or family will tell you to learn as many chords as you can. Some websites suggest learning the chords of songs you want to play.
There are tons of suggestions, tidbits of advice, and noise. And there are a lot of guitar chords out there.
Eventually, you get a feeling. A feeling that says, “Gosh, I have to remember so many chords — every chord that ever was and ever will be!”
Fortunately, that’s just not true.
I’m here to show you three chords. Three. That’s it.
You might think this is limiting, underwhelming, or too simple.
However, these three guitar chords for beginners are designed to teach you fundamentals.
After you learn these three chords and feel comfortable transitioning between chords, you’ll have a solid foundation that can be applied to learning other chords on the guitar.
In addition, the three chords I’m going to teach you are in hundreds of songs, if not thousands of songs.
Are you ready to start learning the three essential guitar chords for beginners? Let’s get started.
Originally published on August 1st, 2019, this article was republished on June 17th, 2023.
Transform Your Guitar Playing in 10 Minutes a Day
Remember, the secret to a fulfilling guitar journey is consistency, not laborious practice.
Snag your FREE TAC Progress Tracker today and build the skills to learn songs faster in just 10 minutes a day!
The Basic Guitar Chords
Before we get started on the essential chords, let’s have a look at the three main types of guitar chords: standard, advanced, and power chords.
Standard chords, also known as basic chords, are, well, pretty standard.
What do I mean by standard? For me, a standard chord is one that’s not too complex, it’s doesn’t demand any complicated finger placement, and it’s usually one of the first chords you learn when starting out on your guitar journey.
Standard chords are often played close to the nut and use more open strings.
By learning these standard chords, you’ll have a pretty good foundation to play a lot of popular songs.
Next up, we have advanced chords, which are good to tackle after you’ve covered a couple of standard chords.
Advanced chords include the infamous barre chords as well as chords that require all four fingers on the fretboard.
Some examples of advanced chords include:
Lastly, we have power chords.
To put it simply, power chords are a simple way to play a standard or advanced chord – but they’re extremely fun to play.
Power chords usually only involve two notes and there is no major or minor tonality. They’re also modular, meaning that once you’ve got the shape of the power chord down, you can simply move it up and down the neck to hit all different chords.
You can learn a bit more about the theory behind power chords in my guide to playing power chords.
To recognize a power chord, just look out for the number 5.
A small selection of power chords are:
How to Read Guitar Chords
Now that you’re more familiar with the different types of chords, let’s have a quick look at how to read chords – an essential part of learning chords on guitar.
Reading guitar chords is kind of like learning a new language – except that it’s way easier, pretty fun, and won’t end in tears and frustration.
When learning how to read guitar chords, the best place to start is with chord diagrams, which make it easier to read this new language.
Let’s take a look at the image above:
- The vertical lines represent the six guitar strings
- The horizontal lines represent the frets of your guitar
- The circles at the top represent open strings
- The x’s at the top represent closed strings, i.e. strings that should not be played
- The numbered dots refer to the fingers you’ll use on each string
By having a basic understanding of the above and reading my chord guides – complete with chord diagrams – you’ll know exactly where to put your fingers on your guitar in order to play any specific chord.
In case you need a bit more guidance, check out my chord diagrams 101 guide.
G Chord Guitar
What’s beautiful, interesting, and found in thousands of songs?
It’s the G major chord, also written as a Gmaj chord.
The G chord is a beautiful open chord (an open chord is one that uses open strings). It’s also a great chord to learn how to play chords. Even though it involves all four fingers and all six strings, you’ll find this chord isn’t as hard as it seems.
Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to play a G chord on guitar. If you are having trouble reading chord diagrams, be sure to visit our guitar essentials primer here.
- Place your pinky on the 3rd fret of the high E string
- Use your ring finger to fret the 3rd fret of the B string
- Leave the G and D strings open
- Fret the 2nd fret of the A string with your index finger
- Place your middle finger on low E string, 3rd fret
Once you have your fingers in the right spot, go ahead and strum the chord.
However, only strum one string at a time. I want you to make sure you aren’t accidentally muting other strings with your fingers.
To prevent this, make sure that you have an arch in your fretting fingers. If you aren’t sure what I mean by that, go back and revisit the guitar essentials primer here.
(Alright, fine. I’ll tell you anyway! Make sure that your palm of your fretting hand is close to the neck of the guitar — that should help clean up those chords!)
Be sure to watch the video lesson to check out my quickdraw exercise for the G chord! Practicing the quickdraw exercise will help you develop muscle memory in your fingers.
After a while, you won’t even need to think about how to form a G chord…it’ll just happen! And don’t worry — that’ll happen to all of your guitar chords for beginners.
If you need more guidance or practice playing the G chord, I also have a looped video of my playing the G chord that you can play along to. Check it out!
G Chord Finger Exercise
Now that you know how to play the G chord, let’s move onto a G chord exercises. This exercise is designed to give you strength and confidence in your G chord.
- Start by forming a G chord.
- Play two strums on that G chord.
- Then, move your middle and index finger up one string. Your middle finger should be on the 3rd fret of the A string, your index finger on the 2nd fret of the D string. Keep your ring and pinky fingers on the 3rd fret of the B and High E strings.
- Strum that chord two times.
- Finally, shift your middle and index fingers up a string again. Your middle finger will be on the 3rd fret of the D string, and your index on the 2nd fret of the G string.
- To finish, strum that chord two times.
The idea behind this exercise came from my students needing more finger strength. The G chord can be challenging for some, especially for beginners.
This exercise is building strength in all of your fingers. In addition, it creates greater mobility and confidence in the index and middle fingers as they traverse across different strings.
Once you feel confident playing the G chord and going through the exercises, it’s time to learn the next chord: the C chord.
C Chord Guitar
The C chord is the second of three chords I’m going to teach you. If you play it the way I teach you, you’re going to have a solid foundation in the C chord shape. The C chord is a foundational chord, especially when it comes to guitar chords for beginners.
Now that you are familiar with chords and you have built up finger strength by practicing the G chord, it’s time to put your fingers to the test.
Just kidding…I promise! The C chord isn’t that scary at all. In fact, the C chord is similar to the G chord. Additionally, you only play five strings for the C chord.
- Start by placing your ring finger on the 3rd fret of the A string.
- Place your middle finger on the 2nd fret of the D string.
- Fret the first fret of the B string.
- DO NOT play the low E string.
As you get comfortable with the chord shape, try strumming the C chord. Make sure to start on the A string, and let each note ring out. If you notice any muted notes or buzzy frets, check the arch in your fingers. If you need a refresher, visit the guitar essentials primer here.
One of the most common problems when playing the C chord is a muted high E string. Fortunately, there’s an easy fix for that.
Typically, the high E string is muted because there isn’t enough arch in the index finger. When this happens, the top knuckle (the one closest to your nail) covers the high E string.
To stop this, make sure that your fretting-hand palm is close to the neck, and that you are playing with your fingertips. This will typically solve about 90 percent of your problems when forming chords.
Once you have that nice, clean sounding chord, go ahead and do a triumphant strum from the A to the high E string. Congratulations! You know how to play a C chord!
Now that you’ve played the chord, you might be wondering how on earth you’re going to remember that chord.
Lucky for you, I have an exercise that can help you truly dial in the chord shape. Like the G chord, doing a quickdraw exercise can help solidify your understanding and memory recall of that chord shape. Check out the video lesson above to play along with me while doing the C chord quickdraw exercise.
C Chord Exercise
As you hopefully know, one of my biggest goals is for you to have fun while learning the guitar. Sometimes, you might tend to dread exercises. I have a really simple solution to this problem: make the exercises fun!
I found this C chord exercise incredibly fun when I first started playing, and I’m sure you’ll have a blast playing it, too!
- Start by forming the C chord shape (if you need a refresher, don’t be afraid to scroll up!)
- Strum the C chord two times.
- From there, move that C chord shape up two frets. In other words, slide that entire shape up from your ring finger on the 3rd fret of the A string, to the 5th fret of the A string.
- Strum that chord twice (Do you know what that chord is?? It doesn’t matter right now, but it sounds pretty and helps solidify the C chord shape).
- Next, shift the chord shape up to the 10th fret, so that your ring finger is on the 10th fret of the A string.
- Strum that chord twice.
- Descend the same way you ascended the guitar neck.
This exercise is great for practicing the C chord shape. In addition, the C chord exercise will build callouses on your fretting hand — that way you don’t get any more blisters!
Feel free to make this C chord exercise part of your daily practice routine. If you spend a few minutes every day practicing these skills, you’d be surprised at the progress you’ll make!
Again, if you need help solidifying your understanding of these chords, feel free to play along with me in the video below.
D Chord [the final essential guitar chord for beginners!]
It’s tiny, mighty, and crucial for learning the guitar…it’s the D chord.
I gotta give you a warning though. This chord looks and feels like all of your fingers are crammed together in one space. It’s like three basketball players huddled together in a phone booth!
Fortunately, I have a proven method to teach you how to feel comfortable playing the D chord.
Start by placing your middle finger on the 2nd fret of the high E string.
Take your ring finger and place it on the 3rd fret of the B string.
Use your index finger to grab the 2nd fret of the G string.
Strum the chord starting on the open D string.
Feels kind of pretzel-y, doesn’t it? Make sure when you play the chord, each note is able to resonate as you strum the chord.
Again, if you have any problems, make sure you have the proper arch in your fingers and consult the guitar essentials primer.
Now that you have a basic understanding of how to play a D chord, you probably feel like you never want to take your hands off that chord. Don’t worry, I totally understand.
The good news is that with practice, you’re going to develop your muscle memory. Like the G and C chords, I have a quickdraw exercise for the D chord. Be sure to check out the video explaining the D chord to play along with me in the quickdraw exercise.
If you need additional help or support, check out this video of me playing the D chord for five minutes. That’s right, you can play along with me for five minutes while you solidify your D chord understanding.
D Chord Exercise (I promise it’s fun!)
If you’ve been following on sequentially, you’re probably feeling pretty good about the D chord, the last of your guitar chords for beginners.
You’ve shaken off the awkwardness, you’ve gotten comfortable with how crammed it is, and finally, you’re wondering how you can better strengthen your fingers to play this chord.
This D chord exercise is extremely musical and fun. However, it still manages to develop strength and the proper fretting technique that is required to play the D chord.
- Form the D chord to start the exercise.
- Strum the D chord twice.
- Next, lift your middle finger off the high E string. The E string should be open now.
- Strum that chord twice.
- Go back to the D chord shape with your middle finger on the high E string.
- Strum the D chord twice.
- Tuck your pinky finger onto the 3rd fret of the high E string.
- Strum that chord twice
- Return to the normal D chord.
- Strum the D chord twice.
- If this D chord variation sounds familiar, it’s probably because you’ve heard it on any rock song that features an acoustic guitar. These tiny variations on the D chord have been used and abused since the ’60s.
Because they sound beautiful and they’re a relatively easy way to spruce up a normal D chord.
So, now that you’ve practiced some exercises and you’re feeling more comfortable with the D chord, it’s time to combine all of the chord knowledge that you know so far. That’s right. Pretty soon you’ll be switching chords back and forth — eventually being able to play thousands of songs at tempo!
2 Easy Chord Transition Tricks
You’ve got the three essential guitar chords for beginners. Now, it’s time to practice changing chords.
Chord transitions can be challenging — there’s no doubt about it. Luckily, I have developed two ways to think about chord transitions. You can call them tricks, secrets, or methods, but these chord transition exercises are great practice for your guitar playing.
The first type of transition is where two chords you’re transitioning to have a finger in common. This transition is typically easier. In addition, our three guitar chords for beginners use this kind of transition — at least for some of the chord transitions.
The second type of transition is where there are no common fingers or shapes between the chords. These transitions are challenging, which is why I put together an exercise to practice them.
Chord Transitions Between a G Chord and a D Chord
Let’s go ahead and start with the easy one, the one where there’s a finger in common.
The chords I’m using are a G chord and a D chord.
- Start by playing the G chord.
- Keep your ring finger planted on the 3rd fret of the B string.
- Lift all other fingers off the fretboard.
- Then, move your fingers to create the D chord.
- Transition between the G chord and D chord, always making sure that your ring finger stays on the 3rd fret of the B string.
As you practice this exercise, focus on accurately placing your fingers on the proper frets. Chord transitions are tricky, but using the ring finger as an anchor allows you to orient yourself during the chord transition.
Also, don’t feel like you need to make these transitions lightning quick — for now! The goal is to feel comfortable switching chords. It’s better to practice at slower speeds and nail the movements, then to play sloppily at higher speeds.
Chord Transitions Between a G Chord and a C Chord
Chord transitions that have no common fingers or shapes are perhaps the hardest chord transitions. Within the context of our three beginner guitar chords, the transition between the G and C chords is notably hard.
Why is this?
Simply put, there are no common fingers or shapes between the G and C chords.
Fortunately, I have a great exercise to help you practice this type of chord transition.
- Form a G chord.
- Once you feel comfortable, lift your fingers off the fretboard — yes, all of them!
- One at a time, drop your ring finger onto the 3rd fret of the A string.
- Then, place the middle finger on the 2nd fret.
- And finally, tuck your index finger at the 1st fret of the B string.
This exercise focuses on the conscious decisions of which fingers to place, at what frets, and in what sequence.
When you start placing your fingers to form the C chord, think of your fingers cascading, or falling like dominos, onto the fretboard. A finger only moves if the previous finger is in the proper position.
By breaking up the chord transition finger by finger, you won’t overload your brain with multiple finger movements. Instead, you are focusing on the proper technique for forming the chord.
As you continue to practice this type of chord transition, you’ll notice that your fingers tend to cascade faster. When you start, it may seem choppy or unnatural. But trust me: practice makes perfect for chord transitions.
Power Chords for Acoustic Guitar (A fun way to learn them!)
Like I discussed earlier, there are so many different ways to learn the guitar. I’m gonna get to power chords in a second, but just hear me out.
The most important thing to do when learning the guitar is to get hooked and have fun.
Look, we all know someone from high school or college who was a virtuoso on their instrument. But did you ever notice that maybe that stopped playing after a while? That they got “burnt out?”
If you focus on having fun, finding enjoyment, and building the habit, learning and playing guitar will be a lifelong hobby.
Now, what does this have to do with power chords?
Power chords are a great way to have tons of fun really quick. They’re simple, powerful (as the name suggests), and used in almost every genre of music. So, if you’re ready to rock, let’s learn about power chords on the acoustic guitar.
Power Chords 101
Power chords are beautiful. Essentially, your fingers just have to create one shape to play a power chord. From there, it’s just about moving that single shape around the fretboard!
The chord shape is extremely simple, and it involves only three fingers. Here’s how to make an A power chord:
- Place your index finger on the 5th fret of the E string.
- Next, use your ring finger to fret the 7th fret of the A string.
- Finally, place your pinky on the 7th fret of the D string.
- Only play the three strings you are fretting.
That’s it. That’s all there is to a power chord.
Fair warning — you’re going to be seeing a lot of different ways to play power chords throughout your guitar journey. Some people use the middle finger instead of the ring finger, while others barre their ring finger instead of using their pinky.
I’ve found that this is the most comfortable way to play power chords. In addition, you get to work out your pinky and built callouses on all of the fingers involved.
Make sure you play around with the power chord shape. You can place that shape anywhere on the three lower strings.
Once you feel comfortable with the shape and you’ve started to make some beautiful music, check this out…
You can actually move this chord one string down (closer to the floor), and it’s still a power chord. In other words, instead of playing the E, A, and D strings, you’re going to play the A, D, and G strings.
When you play power chords starting on the A string, make sure to keep the low E string muted as your strum it.
Play Your First Song with Power Chords [Power Chord Exercise with Louie Louie]
I’m sure you’ve heard versions of Louie Louie. Whether it’s a pep band at a sporting event or the original recording by The Kingsmen, it has this innately catchy quality.
One of the best parts about Louie Louie is that it can be played using power chords.
- Start by making the power chord shape on the 5th fret of the E string.
- Use three consecutive downstrokes to strum that power chord.
- Move the power chord shape to the 5th fret of the A string.
- Play two downstrokes on that power chord.
- Move up two frets so your power chord is starting on the 7th fret of the A string.
- Play three downstrokes.
- Move back down to the 5th fret of the A string.
- Play two downstrokes.
- Repeat until you’re rocking out!
Make sure you listen to some recordings of Louie Louie to get a feel for the timing. Eventually, you’ll be rocking our and jamming till the cows come home!
You Know 3 Guitar Chords for Beginners…What’s Next?
I want you to give yourself a pat on the back. You know three guitar chords for beginners, plus you learned how to effectively transition chords. As a little bonus, you also know how to play power chords and the wildly popular song Louie Louie.
You’re doing a great job at progressing through The Ultimate Guide to Learning Guitar. Just make sure that you are practicing all the concepts a little bit each day.
We also touched upon a topic that is near and dear to my heart: having fun while learning the guitar. If you want a place to showcase your work, chat with other guitar geeks, or play along with more backing tracks, I want you to check out the 30 Days to Play Challenge.
When you join, you’ll have access to an active community of guitar geeks, jam groups, and so much more. Click here to learn more about the 30 Days to Play Challenge.
I hope to see you at the next lesson where we’ll cover different strumming patterns and techniques!
Want to take your practice to the next level? Then check out this FREE guitar class, where I show you the three secrets to accelerate your guitar learning in just 10 minutes a day.