Adult supervision suggested for musicians younger than 12 years of age. Instruments can be very expensive, and may damage easily.
A milestone on the musical journey of learning to play guitar is playing your first chord, playing a second chord, and learning to transition between the two. Progressing from learning to play simple single note songs to playing multi-string guitar chords can be daunting for the beginning guitar player. With a combination of visual references, audio references, and written instruction you'll be on your way to playing chords and continuing your journey as a budding musician.
Note: These instructions are written under the assumption that you are a beginning guitar player with some experience practicing proper strumming and fingering techniques. Playing chords properly is much more challenging without a basic foundation in strumming and fingering techniques.
Definitions and Terminology:
These instructions make use of basic guitar terminology, so we have provided a key containing definitions for some of the words you will encounter throughout the various steps:
Body – The predominant feature of a guitar. The body is the part of the guitar that holds strings in place on one side of the neck, and transmits the sound of notes being played.
Headstock – The part of the guitar furthest from the body. The headstock is responsible for holding all of the tuning pegs that keep the strings in place over the neck. Neck – The part of the guitar that extends from the body and connects to the headstock.
Fretboard – The front side of the neck. Guitar players place their fingers on the fretboard in different positions to produce different notes.
Nut – The small part of the guitar that separates the headstock and the neck. The nut’s primary role is to hold the strings in place.
Frets – The features on the fretboard that visually organize the fretboard into different notes. The first fret is the mark closest to the nut, the second fret is the second closest to the nut, etc.
- Important Note: The frets do not refer to a certain area on the fretboard, but to the physical (usually metal) separations between areas on the fretboard. For instance, when someone says “third fret,” they are usually referring to the area on the fretboard between the second and third frets.
Inlays – The inlays are the markings on a fretboard that indicate the area between certain frets. The inlays provide a visual cue for guitar players that show them where their fingers are on the fretboard.
- The guitar is not a particularly dangerous instrument, one safety consideration is the tendency of guitar strings to break and potentially snap the exposed skin of the guitarist. Avoid over-tightening guitar strings while tuning.
- Also note that it is normal for the hands and fingers of beginning guitar players to become sore during and after a practice session while the hands adjust to various new positions and fingers develop calluses form being pressed against strings. It is recommended that beginners keep practice sessions short. If pain/discomfort in the hands becomes noticeable cease practicing until the pain/discomfort has subsided.
Step 1: Gather Your Materials
You will need:
- A guitar (electric or acoustic) with standard tuning (E, A, D, G, B, e)
- A pick
You may need:
- A guitar tuner (if you cannot tune by ear)*
- Spare strings (in case of string breaks)
- An Amplifier (if playing with an electric guitar)
- Audio reference such as an app, mp3, or video of each chord (if you do not already know the correct sound each chord should produce)
Note: For additional assistance in tuning a guitar, please visit this instructional video at YouTube: https://youtu.be/jr9hODvzNQE
Step 2: Read the Chord Chart
Vertical Bars Represent Strings:
- If you are right-handed, the strings are numbered from right to left with the rightmost string being the "first string" and the leftmost string being the "sixth string".
- If you are left-handed the strings are numbered from left to right with the leftmost string being the "first string" and the rightmost string being the "sixth string".
Horizontal Bars Represent Frets:
- Frets are numbered from top to bottom with the first fret at the top and the twelfth fret (on a classic guitar) being on the very bottom.
Red Numbered Circles Indicate Where to Place Fingers:
- Fingers are numbered from index to pinky with '1' corresponding to your index finger and '4' corresponding to your pinky.
Step 3: Play the G Chord
- Place your index finger on the fifth string near the second fret.
- Place your middle finger on the sixth string near the third fret.
- Place your ring finger on the first string near the third fret.
- Strum all strings.
- Place your pinky finger on the first string near the third fret.
- Place your middle finger on the fifth string near the second fret.
- Place your ring finger on the sixth string near the third fret.
- Strum all strings.
Step 4: Play the C Chord
C Chord Finger Placements:
- Place your index finger on the second string near the first fret.
- Place your middle finger on the fourth string near the second fret.
- Place your ring finger on the fifth string near the third fret.
- Strum all strings except for the sixth string.
Note: Unlike the G chord which assigned different fingers for the left-handed and right-handed chords, the C chord uses the same fingers for both hands. Please refer to step 2 if you have difficulty reading the chord chart that corresponds to your personal handedness.
Step 5: Transition From G Chord to C Chord
- Start in G chord position and strum all strings. (for assistance with G Chord see step 3).
- Use your index finger to lead the rest of your fingers to their next position.
Place your index finger on the second string near the first fret.
Moving index finger changes the position of the hand and makes it easier to find the right strings. Place your middle finger on the fourth string near the second fret.
Place your ring finger on the fifth string near the third fret.
Strum all of the strings except for the sixth one.
Practice the transition from the G chord to the C chord until you feel comfortable.