What is a guitar chord?
A guitar chord is a group of notes (at least three) which are played within a certain key. The purpose of a chord is to provide rhythmic and harmonic backing to a song, and to accompany other instruments and vocals in a song. Guitar chord came to high through musical genres such as country, folk and rock’n’roll.
The main types of chords
Guitar chords are divided according to the key they represent, for example: G major, or c minor. However, things are a bit more complicated than that. Guitar chords are closely linked with the position of the fingers on the fretboard, because that is how a chord is created – by moving fingers up and down the fretboard, in different positions. The finger position can differ significantly, depending on the guitar tuning, but the most common tuning is the so-called standard tuning. Finger positions for the standard tuning and, for example, open tunings are completely different, and they have to be learned for each tuning separately.
How to start learning guitar chords?
If you’re a complete beginner, and you want to learn guitar chords, the best decision would be to go with the standard tuning, because the vast majority of popular songs is written in this guitar tuning. Other guitar tunings, such as open G, or open D, for example, are also used extensively, but they don’t come across all genres; they are used in country, folk, blues and even heavy metal. Nevertheless, you can play almost any given song using standard tuning, with more or less success. You should definitely start here and move on once you master the standard tuning and the finger positions within it. You can benefit from guitar backing tracks then move on to understanding guitar scales.
Are all finger positions the same?
It depends. There are two main types of chords, regular and barre chords. Regular chords are when you press upon a certain fret with the top of your finger, and barre chords are those where you have to cover the whole width of the guitar neck (the whole fret) with your index finger; when you use barre chords, there are no open strings – each one is “covered”. If you start from the first fret down (left to right), barre chords go from F, then F#, to, G, G#, and so on. There is also another barre position, for the index and the remaining three fingers (thumb excluded), where chords go from Bb, to B, C, C#, and so on. The easy thing here is that you don’t have to memorize new positions for each new chord – the finger position stays the same, and all you have to do is change the frets.
What are the easiest chords to learn?
When it comes to this, there are no strict rules, but a rule of thumb is that most people start with the chord progressions revolving around the key of G. A chord progression is a sequence of chords that goes well together, forming nice harmonies; it is a sort of “proven track record” of what goes well within a certain melodic key. The chords in the key of G are G major, E minor, A minor (or A major, depending on the genre) and D major. None of these chords is a barre chord, which means they are relatively easy to play. People tend to avoid barre chords when starting out, because barre finger positions can put a lot of stress on the index finger, causing pain and fatigue.
You can start practicing by learning a couple of basic chords, and then repeat them until you feel completely comfortable playing them. Another good chord progression is A major, to D major, then to E major, and then back to A major. This is one of those so-called happy, or uplifting chord progressions, because there are no minor chords, and everything sounds optimistic and energizing. If you’re a blues fan, you can start with the E major, to G major, and then to A major, because it’s one of the most frequently used progressions in blues, blues-rock, and rock.
What else should I know?
Every major chord has its relative minor one. This is very important to bear in mind, because it will come in handy very often in your guitar playing. Relative chords are “cousins”, so to speak, because they go well together within a certain phrase or progression. They are a kind of stripped down harmony, consisting of only two chords. The relative minor of G major is E minor; the relative minor of C major is A minor; once you start there, you will be able to broaden your “repertoire” of guitar chords, and you will find it much easier to transition to more complicated chords in the future.
Here’s an easy intro to major chords from GuitarTricks.com. It’s a great guitar training program that walks you through how to play guitar chords and breaks it down. You can get a free 2 week free trial of it HERE