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.


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 8 Comments

  • judy says:

    What do the open circles above the nut mean?

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Vivek Ray says:

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

  • sydney says:

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

  • 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?


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