Maybe you’re a beginner guitarist. Maybe you have you have already learned a few chords, or maybe you haven’t learned any chords yet. I wrote this article so you can know some beginner guitar chords that go together. You can use these easy guitar chords for all kinds of songs. Actually, the chords that you will learn in this article will probably let you play 90% of songs.
One thing to note when you are looking at these beginner chords: some of these chords will be variations of other chords. For example, in this article I’m going to show you how to play an E minor seventh (Em7) chord. The chord progressions in this lesson use the E minor seventh chord instead of a regular E minor chord. The are different chords and each one may sound better in different contexts, but in the progressions I’m going to teach you here the E minor seventh chord is much easier to play as it shares many notes with other chords before and after it.
Some purists will say “You can’t play an E minor seventh chord there,” but the truth is, in many situations E minor seventh will work.
There may be some situations where the E minor seventh will clash with the melody or other instruments, but for now, as a beginner, just use the chords I’m showing you in this article.
The G chord
I’m teaching you these two chords first because they are very similar and moving between them only requires moving two fingers.
If you are playing in the key of G major, then the G chord is the I chord and the C is the IV chord.
Later on, once you learn more about music theory, you will realize that the I chord and the IV chords very important. That means that just by learning these two chords you have a really great start as a beginner.
First, start off by playing the G major chord. Here’s how to set up the chord:
- Place your middle finger on the big E string on the third fret.
- Place your index finger on the A string on the second fret.
- The D string and G string are open strings, so make sure that you can still hear them while playing the chord.
- Place your ring finger on the B string on the third fret.
- Place your pinky finger on the E string on the third fret.
Now you have a G major chord.
Remember, there are other ways to play this chord. For example, instead of having your ring finger on the B string on the third fret, you can leave the B string open.
But, don’t do that here!
I want you to use your ring finger here because it will make it easier to play the next chord.
Now that you have your fingers right, try playing the chord. Remember to make sure that you can hear each string, including the open D and open G strings.
Play this chord a few times to make sure you are playing it correctly.
Now that you can play the major G chord, it’s time to play a C chord.
Keep your ring finger and pinky finger where they are. Don’t move them!
Lift up your index and middle fingers.
Move both of those fingers over to the next string. That means your middle finger will now be on the A string and your index finger will be on the D string.
So your C chord should look like this:
- The big E string should not be played.
- Your middle finger should be on the A string on the third fret.
- Your index finger should be over your D string on the second fret.
- Your G string is open. Make sure you can hear it when you play it.
- Your ring finger should be on the B string on the third fret. This is the same as the G major chord.
- Your pinky finger should be on the little E string on the third fret. This is the same as the G major chord.
This is your C chord.
Technically, the chord you are playing is called a Cadd9.
Like I said, some purists or even experienced guitar players will tell you “Don’t play that! That’s not a C major chord.”
I actually had an experienced guitar player tell me that when I first started playing guitar.
But you know what? I’ve been playing that Cadd9 chord in place of a C major chord about 90% of the time my whole guitar playing career.
I’ve played it in over 100 live band settings and no one ever told me that the chord didn’t fit.
Maybe, this isn’t technically a C major chord, but it will work in many of the same places.
Also, this chord is really easy for beginners to play. Also, also, it’s really easy to play this chord before or after the previous G chord I taught you.
So now you know how to play G major and a C major chord. That’s a I (one) and a IV (four) chord, two chords that are very important in music.
The D chord
Now that you know how to play the I and IV chords, it’s time for you to learn what is probably the second most important chord after the I chord – the V (five) chord.
The V chord is super important in music. In almost every single song in the world (okay, maybe not every single song in the world) you will hear the two chord progressions: I => V and V => I.
A ton of songs end with a player playing the V chord and then the I chord.
Okay, so we are playing chords in the key of G major. You already know the I (G major) and IV (C major). Let’s learn the V chord – the D major chord.
Here is how to play the D major chord.
- The big E string should NOT be played.
- The A string should NOT be played.
- The D string is open.
- Your index finger should be on the G string on the second fret.
- Your ring finger should be on the B string on the third fret.
- Your middle finger should be on the little e string on the second fret.
This is a regular D chord. It isn’t special or anything, so you can play this chord anytime you see a D major chord.
We can add one more chord and you will be able to fake your way through almost any song as long as you know how to use a capo.
Let’s learn the vi chord
The Em chord
The vi is the only minor chord that you are going to learn in this progression. In a typical major key you will only have three minor chords: ii, iii, and vi. The vi chord is the most common of these by far.
At least in modern day pop and rock music.
Here is an E minor seventh chord.
Here’s how you play an E minor seventh chord:
- The big E string is open. Make sure to play this one!
- Your index finger is on the A string on the second fret.
- Your middle finger is on the D string also on the second fret.
- The G string is open.
- You ring finger is on your B string on the third fret.
- Your pinky finger is on your little E string on the third fret.
This is actually not an E minor chord.
It’s an E minor seventh chord.
If you just want to play an E minor chord you can raise you ring finger and your pinky finger. That way, you are just holding down the A and D strings, both on the second fret. This is fine, too.
But in a majority of situations, this E minor seventh chord will work just fine! And if you look closely, you’ll realize that that chord is very similar to your G major and C major chords.
Your ring finger and your pinky finger don’t move at all! Isn’t that really easy?!
And when you move to your D major chord, your ring finger doesn’t move either. That means when you play the four chords I taught you, you NEVER have to move your ring finger and you only have to move your pinky finger when you play your D chord.
That’s why I taught you a Cadd9 chord instead of a regular C major chord and why I taught you an E minor seventh chord instead of a regular E minor chord. In my opinion, many of my students think this too, these chords are super easy for beginners.
Like I said, if you also know how to use a capo, you will be able to play almost every song that you can think of.
A ton of songs just use the I, VI, and V chords. The most popular chord after that is the vi chord, which you also know.
I imagine that if you are reading this article then you are a beginner guitar player. If that’s so, I want you to stop learning anymore chords for a while.
Just focus on the four chords I taught you here today.
You need to practice switching between these chords and practice strumming patterns with them.
I’ll have to cover those in some other articles.
But right now I want you to make sure that you can play all of these chords and make sure you don’t hear any buzzing.
Beginner chord progressions
Later, I’m going to write a full article covering these chord progressions in detail, but for now just know that these are some of the most popular beginner chord progressions with the chords I taught you in this lesson:
- I VI V
- I IV vii V
- I V vii IV
- vii IV I V
How to practice these beginner chords together
If you can, find a partner and try this.
Hold a chord and count to four, like you are counting the beats in a measure. When you get to four, go back to one.
When you get to “four” your friend should tell you a random chord out of the four you have learned in this article.
By the time that you get to “one” you should already have your fingers on the next chord.
It’s not enough to know how to make the chord with your fingers; you should be able to make the chord shapes quickly!
The exercise should look like this:
Play the G chord shape and count.
Four… <- Here is where your friend yells out a random chord like “C!”
One… <- when you get here, you should already be playing a C chord.
One… Here you are playing an Em minor.
This may sound really tough when you start playing, but it is really important to be able to make chord shapes quickly. When you are just doing this exercise and learning these chords, don’t worry about strumming or actually playing these chords. Just make sure you can get your fingers in the right position fast enough.
We’ll cover strumming in another lesson.
What to read next:
I think you should focus on learning these chords right now, but if you really want to learn how to play solo guitar, here is the first scale you should learn.
Josh is the founder and main author of Songwriter Nation. He has played music for over twenty years and even studied music at university earning a minor in music.