Your First Guitar Chords

Welcome to lesson eight of the Beginner Guitar Quick-Start Series. In this lesson we’re going to learn your first two chords. Those two chords are A minor 7 and then a C major. You’re going to be using them a lot throughout your guitar career. The A minor 7 is great to start with because it’s pretty easy. The C major chord is really great for helping you learn the basics of how to make really clean sounding chords.

am7-c

The chords we’re going to learn in the Beginner Quick-Start Series, are called open chords. Open chords generally have two requirements. They usually occur on the first three frets of the guitar and they use at least one open string.

First, you need to learn how to read chord diagrams. If you look at a chord diagram you’re going to see six vertical lines. Those vertical lines represent the strings of the guitar. The one to the far left represents the low E string, and the one to the far right represents the high E string. The horizontal lines on a chord diagram represent the frets of the guitar. The rectangle or a block at the top of the chord diagram represents the nut of the guitar.

The dots you see on chord diagrams are there to tell you where to put your fingers. You’re going to see two types of dots, filled in ones and hollow ones. The filled in black ones represent the root note of the chord. The numbers in the circles tell you which fingers to use. So for example, on our A minor 7th chord, if you look at the chord diagram you’re going to see a circle with a “1” in it on the first fret of the B string. That’s telling you to use your first finger to play the first fret of the B string.

Another part of chord diagrams that you’re going to want to be aware of are “Xs” that occur above the nut. If you see an “X” above a string that’s telling you that you shouldn’t play that string at all. In the case of our A minor 7th chord you’re going to leave the low E string out.

As far as technique goes I’m going to cover things as we make this A minor 7th chord The first thing is fret placement and the second thing is finger posture. Let’s get our first note on. Put your first finger on the first fret of the B string. You’re going to want to come down right behind the fret. You want to be right behind that fret. The farther back I go the more buzzy that note gets, so you want to be right behind that fret.

The second tip that I want to give you is finger posture, and by that I mean you want to come right down on the very tip of your finger. The reason for this is if you don’t come right down on the very tip of your finger, you index finger is going to brush up against this high E string and it’s going to mute that string. You don’t want that. You want to come right down on the very tip of your finger so it doesn’t mute any of the surrounding strings.

Let’s get the second note that we need for this A minor 7th chord in place. Take your second finger, put it on the second fret of the D string. Make sure you’re coming right down on the very tip of your finger, and make sure you’re coming right behind the fret there. Once you have those two notes in place you can strum the top five strings. Leave the low E string out.

Listen to the chord you just made. Was it clean and clean, or did it sound buzzy? Make sure you’re coming right behind the frets and make sure you’re coming right down on the very tips of your fingers. This may take a while for you to build up the coordination and the muscle control, but if you follow those two rules you’re chords will get clean.

When you’re learning chords like this, get it on there and leave it there for a while. Thirty seconds or so Then take it off, shake your hand completely out, and the put it back on. It may take you a while to get it on. That’s fine. You’re working on your muscle memory here. Taking it off and putting it on like this is a great way to firm up that chord in your memory.

The next chord we’re going to learn is an open C major chord. This is a great chord for letting you know if you’re coming down on the very tips of your fingers really well or not. Just getting a little lazy with your finger posture can really make your chords sound buzzy, but the little extra effort for good finger posture can make all the difference in the world.

If you have your A minor 7th chord in place, all you have to do to make a C major chord is stretch your third finger out to grab the third fret of the fifth string. If you’ll notice on the chord diagram, that’s a black note. That means that this note is a root note of the C major chord which means that this is a C note. Do the same thing you did with your A minor 7th chord. Put that chord on, hold it there, take it off, and shake your hand out out. Remember the tips I gave you. Come down right behind the frets and right down on the very tips of your fingers. This may take a while. You’ll get better at it with time and eventually you’ll be able to go right to that chord.

Your fingers might be pretty sore, but that’s going to pass in maybe four, six weeks. One thing I want to warn you about is this. Don’t try to start switching between chords before you have the chord shapes down very well. May guitarists get frustrated because the can’t switch between smoothly. If you don’t have the chord shapes down properly, then switching between chords is just going to compound the challenge that you are working on. Get the chord shapes down by themselves first and then start working on switching between the chords. In the next video you will learn two more guitar chords.

This Lesson Has 80 Comments

  • judy says:

    What do the open circles above the nut mean?

    • Nate Savage says:

      Hey Judy, A circle above a note means that you should play that string open. If it’s a filled in circle that means that that note is a root note of the chord. If it is not filled in it is just another note besides a root note of the chord.

  • ARK says:

    I have tried the technique you told, using fingertips . But it still mutes the next string. Does space between two strings vary from based on guitar you buy. Is it possible that I got a wrong guitar for a beginner ?

    • maps says:

      You have to use the part of your finger a little under the fingernail. Also, keep the end of your fingers in a posture where they don’t bend. Don’t put other fingers on strings that aren’t being used.

    • Nate Savage says:

      The space on between the strings does vary a bit on guitar, but it is pretty inconsequential. Practicing on a regular basis and finding out the little quirks your own unique fingers have is a big part to making the tips presented in this lesson work. :)

  • Abhishek Sharma says:

    Hello! Nate, i have been trying to play A minor chord but my 1st finger always mutes the 1st string. Do i need to practice more often to get it right? And also my fingers are short, so can that be any reason for not getting chords right? Although you have said that it doesn’t matter in first lesson.

    • Nate Savage says:

      Hey Abhishek, try to make sure that you are coming down on the strings so that your fingers are more perpendicular to the strings. Bringing your elbow into your side a bit will make this happen automatically. I highly doubt that your finger length is the problem because this chord doesn’t really require and long stretches.

  • Vivek Ray says:

    Hello Nate! what is meant by root chord? How is it going to help me play?

    • Nate Savage says:

      The root of the chord is where the chord gets its name from and it is the musical or tonal foundation for the chord. For example, if you are playing a G major chord the G note in that chord would be the root note of the chord. Make sense?

  • sydney says:

    whenever i hit the 4 string or g it still mutes is it because of my guitar?

    • ThEGirlNextDoor says:

      It’s because your toning or your fingers thats are flat, i think that’s why that why it’s the problem.

  • Erin says:

    Whenever I try to do a c major, my third finger is too short to reach the fifth string without muting all the other chords, is there a way to fix that?

    • maps says:

      Bring your Palm up a little.

    • Nate Savage says:

      Try to make sure that you are coming down on the strings so that your fingers are more perpendicular to the strings. Bringing your elbow into your side a bit will make this happen automatically. As maps said, this is like bringing your palm up a bit.

  • Mari says:

    Hi Nate,everytime I play a note my guitar starts to buzz. Even when I play with the very tips of my fingers. I also made sure that it was tuned in and it is, but it’s still a bit buzzy. I’m I doing something wrong? or is it my guitar?

    • Nate Savage says:

      Hey Mari. You also need to make sure that your fingers are right behind the frets and that you are putting enough pressure on the strings to make clean sounding notes. If you are doing all of these things and you are still getting buzzy notes you might want to get your guitar set up

  • Arun says:

    hey Nate everytime i play the chords it starts to buzz even when i put enough and appropriate pressure then do check by playing strings one by one and do fix it but all the time i face same issue…

    • Nate Savage says:

      You might want to have your guitar looked at by a profession to get a basic set up done.

  • Peter says:

    Hey Nate, I’m on board. I have big fat fingers with no calluses yet. Unless I’m very careful, when I depress a string the soft tips of my fingers spread and tend to mute adjacent strings. I bought a guitar with 1 3/4″ nut width, so I think I’m good with the width. Once the calluses form, do you feel that problem go away? Thanks.

    • Nate Savage says:

      Yeah, you body will work it out the more you practice. Watch the angle of attack at which you come down on the strings. It should be more perpendicular to the strings. Bringing your elbow to your body helps this angle occur naturally. :)

    • Nate Savage says:

      Hey Peter, Most of your open chords can be played with just your 1st, 2nd, and 3rd fingers. The only basic chords I could see you having trouble with are some of the bar chords. There are work arounds that you can try though.

  • Lindsay says:

    How long should I practice these chords before I move on to the next lesson? So far, I have been watching a new lesson everyday. Am I going too fast?

    • Nate Savage says:

      You can go through the lessons at any rate you like. I would just make sure that you have the individual chords down before you start trying to switch between them.

  • Janet says:

    Hi Nate,
    I have been playing my guitar for about 3 years and never really had nice sharp notes, so I thought I would start from the beginning and learn from you rather than learn by myself. Teaching myself is just not working. I am looking forward to each lesson. I have been on lesson # 1 for three days and working hard at nice crisp notes. Thanks

  • Jacob says:

    Hey Nate,

    I was just curious on how large your guitar was, I was looking at a few on Amazon and I found a 38″. I am 15, so I just want to know what size I should buy.

    Thanks!

    • Nate Savage says:

      Hey Jacob, The guitar I’m playing is a Grand Auditorium body style. OOO, Grand Auditorium, OM, and Concert body styles are a little smaller than Dreadnaught or Jumbo body styles. If you are a bit smaller you might want to go with one of those. :)

  • Chris says:

    If I practice these cords 3 times a day about how long will it take until they sound good?

    • Nate Savage says:

      I would say that you should have your first few chords sounding good in a couple of weeks. After that it might take you another few weeks to get your chord transitions sounding smoother.

  • Eric says:

    Hey Nate, great instruction. Please clarify for me the following. The diagram for the C major chord shows 2 root notes. #2 string has the finger at the first fret. If left open the #2 string is a B note. Does going 1 fret down from open mean it’s a C note alphabetically? If this is the case then why is the 5th string a root of the C major chord also? the A string at fret #3 would be a D note. Please clarify.

    • Nate Savage says:

      Hey Eric, The 3rd fret of the A string and the 1st fret of the B staring are both C notes. If you moved either of those notes down by one fret you would end up with a B note. There is only one half-step, or one fret, between B and C. Make sense?

    • eric says:

      Yes it does……….so on the A string #1 fret is A#, #2 fret is B and #3 fret is C. Thank you

  • J. J. LaPlace says:

    I’ve used a tuning app similar to the one you used on the video. My guitar appears to be in tune. However, some of the strings appear to be significantly tighter than the others. Should I try to get those to about the same tightness as the others and then try to fine tune?

    • Nate Savage says:

      Hmmm the strings should all be relatively close to the same tension. Something else might be going on there.

  • Jack says:

    Hey Nate,

    i believe I’m doing the cords correctly but the guitar in my hands sounds much deeper than the one you use in your videos, i had to tune it by itself and used an app for reference. I used your video to tune it to the best of my ability. Is this normal or should my guitar be a higher pitch like yours?

    Thanks for all the help,
    Jack

    • Nate Savage says:

      Well… the pitch should match mine, but the tone of your guitar could be darker or brighter depending on what type of guitar you have.

    • Jack says:

      alright ill try and get it closer, thanks

  • Gary says:

    Hey Nate. First of all, thanks for doing this. It’s very cool of you. I’m a 61 year old 2 month beginner. I’m having a hell of a time with the C Chord in particular. It seems that every time I move finger 3 to the A string, my thumb wants to turn sideways. I end up stepping on the first string in the first fret. In fact, I seem to be having an issue aligning my hand and thumb correctly. Any tips? Thanks.

    • Nate Savage says:

      Hey Gary, Don’t feel like you have to have absolutely perfect technique. Everyone’s body is different and we all have to find out what works for us. If you need to hold your thumb a little different to make things work go ahead and do it. Experiment, find out what works for you, and use the tips I give as guidelines… not hard rules. :)

  • raphay says:

    Hi Nate! My question will probably sound weird but, how hard should i press the strings with my fretting hand? Because when i put my hand on the fret and i play the string, there is hardly any sound.

    • Nate Savage says:

      Hey Raphay, You have to find the balance between fretting the strings hard enough so that they make a clear sound and fretting them lightly enough to make a good sound without unnecessarily tiring out your hand.

  • Omkar says:

    Hi Nate! Just wanted to thank you for coming up with this website. The way you explain everything is really awesome. Thanks a lot once again.

  • paul says:

    i cant seem to get my wrist and fingers in the right direction. Im also constantly looking over at strings and frets. fingers are hitting more then one string. fingers hurt but wrist hurts more. help.

    • Nate Savage says:

      Hey Paul, you definitely don’t want your wrist to hurt when you play. You don’t want to kink your wrist to far one way or the other. I suspect that’s what is causing the soreness. You might want to try the classical method of holding the guitar so that the neck is in a better/easier position to get your fingers on.

  • victorysmile says:

    how can i get access to your videos

    • Nate Savage says:

      Hey victorysmile. All the videos here on GuitarLessons.com are free. The paid ones are on GuitarSystem.com

  • Laynie Bird says:

    Hello! Thank you so much for this wonderful resource. My fingers seem to be anatomically unsuitable for playing the guitar. My middle and ring fingers turn in toward each other when I bend them to make a chord. It’s nearly impossible to get the C major and even if I get it, it’s super crampy in my ring finger. Is this something can be worked around?

    • Nate Savage says:

      Hey Laynie, The ring finger is notoriously weak and uncoordinated. :) You will have to work on building up it’s strength and dexterity, but it can be done with some consistent practice.

  • Red says:

    When I play the A minor 7 my second fingers always seems to stop the third string whichever way I try holding it, any tips on ways to fix that

    • Nate Savage says:

      Hey Red, Sounds like your 2nd finger is brushing up against the 3rd string. Other than the tips I’ve given here (coming down on the tips of your fingers, coming down right behind the fret, not kinking your wrist too far one way or the other, etc.) you just have to find out what works best for you. You might also want to try the classical method for holding the guitar. That puts the fretboard in a better position to make clean chords.

  • vaishnavi says:

    hey Nate ,
    there are some dots kind of thing in my guitars bridge what are they actually??

  • Erik Major says:

    Hi Nate,

    No real question here. Just wanted to say how great it was to find your lessons. I just picked up the guitar and am playing on one of my father’s old Ibanez acoustics. Thanks for taking the time to make these!

    • Nate Savage says:

      Hey Erik, Great to hear from you, and thanks for posting. That’s cool that you are learning on your father’s guitar. :)

  • Gracie says:

    hey Nate, I recently brought out my old guitar that I haven’t used for years but the way I strum the guitar causes the low E to ‘buzz’, even on an open. I’m not sure what could cause it, it doesn’t ‘buzz’ on any other cords or when I strum differently, should I go to get it serviced or is it the way I strum?
    Thanks
    Gracie

  • Amy says:

    Nate!!!!!! thank you so much for making these videos and making them free!! I took in person lessons for year but he guy was so good and advanced that he didn’t start at the beginning like you did and that is what I needed, I’ve learned more in a morning with you than I did in a year with him! thanks!!!

  • Jeff Meyer says:

    What does the 7 mean in A Minor 7? Also..just have to say that you are thorough and you explain everything so well. You take all of my frustrations away. I love the fact that we can message you here at anytime…Big THANK YOU

    • Nate Savage says:

      Hey Jeff, If you take the 1st, 3rd and 5th notes of a minor scale you get a minor chord. If you add the 7th note you get a minor 7th chord. You can also look at this in a different way. You can start with a major chord, the 1st, 3rd, and 5th notes of a major scale. Lower the 3rd to make a minor chord and then add a lowered 7th scale degree to make a minor 7th chord. Two different ways to look at making minor 7th chords.

  • Jeff Meyer says:

    Is a low string called a minor and the high string a major? I am embarrassed to say but I dont seem to grasp the basic understanding of the chords. Alas, I have conquered the proper placement of my fingers on the strings to create both the A Minor 7 and the C Major.Am I correct by saying that is the combination of all 3 strings that create a particular note?

    • Nate Savage says:

      Hey Jeff, The fat E strings is called the low E string, and the skinny E string is called the high E string. Chords are nothing more than two notes at the same time. When we think about chords in western music, we typically think about three note chords called triads. Triads are three note chords consisting of the Root, 3rd of the chord and 5th of the chord. Don’t worry too much about that right now. Just realize that the two most common types of triads are major triads and minor triads. We call those major chords and minor chords.

  • Sabrina says:

    Hi Nate

    Can I use my tuner to tell me if I am playing the chord correctly? I am practicin the A minor 7 and my tuner is reading A2. Is that correct?

    • Nate Savage says:

      Hey Sabrina, Tuners don’t really work like that. The A2 is just telling you that you are playing the A note below middle C. Middle C is called C3. :)

  • Da says:

    Hey, I’ve been hearing/reading about open strings and playing a string open; what is that and what does it mean?
    I just want to say that I’ve watched some guitar videos on YouTube and have become disheartened about my guitar venture. And then I found this website! You’re videos are beyond amazing and you’re a great teacher! Thank you so much for everything you’re doing!

  • Gouri says:

    hi nate, what is a root note?

    • Nate Savage says:

      A root note is the foundation of a particular key, chord, or scale. For example, the root note for the key of G, the G scale, or a G major chord is a G note. :)

  • Jeff Meyer says:

    Im finding that today it is difficult for me to get my 3 finger to press on the string whereas is close enough to the fret while doing the C Major. Ugh. Any suggestions? It is slightly more helpful if i start backwards and begin laying the 3rd finger down first then proceeding with the 2nd and 3rd.

    • Nate Savage says:

      Using the classical method to hold the guitar might put the guitar in a better position for you to make chords like this. Also, if you want to stay with the causal method, just make sure that your elbow is close to your body when making chords. That can help a little with the positioning and angle of attack when making chords.

  • Jeff Meyer says:

    Thank you for answering my questions.You are so incredibly helpful.

  • Kristen says:

    Hello, I think my hands are too small. I can’t reach the 5th string when trying to make the c major cord with my 3rd finger. I bought a regular size guitar, do I need to get a smaller one? I’m an adult and don’t want the cheap little kid guitars!

    • Nate Savage says:

      Hey Kristen, This is the video I always show people when they think their hands are too small. :) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5nMZdNZvEsI I would try holding the guitar using the classical method or standing up with a strap. That seems to put the guitar in a better position for reaching those notes you were talking about. :)

  • Em says:

    Hi Nate, I’ve just started playing and I’m trying both chords in the video and I seem to be having a problem with the first finger on the B string. Before I put the second finger down on the D string the B string sounds good. It doesn’t buzz and doesn’t sound muted. But when I put the second finger down for some reason the B string doesn’t sound as loud as the others and almost sounds muted. I made sure I was on the tips of my fingers but it didn’t seem to change too much. Is there another way I should move my arm to get it in better position or is it just a matter of practicing?

    • Nate Savage says:

      Hey Em, It sounds like your fingers are brushing up against the neighboring strings and muting them. Try putting your 2nd finger on the D string and then putting your 1st finger on the B string. Make sure that both fingers are not brushing up against any neighboring strings. This can be hard at first but some simple awareness about this problem can really help.

  • ryan says:

    im holding the right notes and playing but my guitar doesnt sound like that does that mean i’ve tuned it wrong?

  • Cheryl says:

    Hi Nate, You are a great teacher. I won an acoustic guitar with amp, case & instructional video. I didn’t know much more about a guitar after watching the enclosed video than I did before I watched it. I went to internet and luckily you were the first instructor I checked out. Some people can teach and some can’t. You definitely can. I am on video 8 in the Beginning Quick Start series. I now know I would really like to play. My problem is I have arthritis in my hands and don’t have the flexibility to reach the cords. I play piano and have problems reaching certain cords but teacher showed me ways to work around it. (I loved your video of the Oriental children playing) I started looking for ways to play with arthritis and found a couple of suggestions. One I could learn to play like Dolly Parton or there is a button gadget that attaches to the guitar to play chords. I am writing to ask you if you have any suggestions for someone that wants to play for my own enjoyment but need some tricks. I thought with enough practice I could make my fingers work but my doc said probably not. I’ve been trying though. I can sort of manage A Minor 7 but not very well. I would so appreciate it if you could give me some options to look at. Thank you so much. Cheryl

 
 

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