How to Play Chords

Playing chords is one of the greatest challenges to the beginning guitar player. Getting all of your fingers to work together to form a chord in which all the notes sound clearly takes practice and patience. It helps to start with an easy chord such as the G major or the D major. If the guitar feels too big for the reach of your fretting hand try using a capo up the neck, this will allow you to work in a position where the frets are closer together and easier to reach.

After you have succeeded in making one chord sound good and clear with no buzzing strings, move on to another chord. When you have mastered two chords, see if you can switch between them. It is much easier to switch between some chords than others. From G to C is an easy switch that will help your hands get going and build some strength and confidence.

Every chord shape has its own unique finger position. After some experimentation you may find that you are able to comfortably play a chord from a variety of finger positions. Some chords will be tougher than others to reach. The chord diagrams featured in this book do not include details for which fingers are to be used for each note in a chord. In order to find the finger position for any given chord that is most comfortable for you, just take your time and experiement. With experience you may find that you will use different finger positions for the same chords depending on what key you are playing in, depending on the runs you wish to play, or what chord is next in the progression.

For instance consider the A major chord. There are at least three ways that we could position our fingers to achieve this chord.

1. We can use the index, middle, and ring fingers to fret the notes on the second fret. This is a good solid position that allows us to play the low A and low E strings open. Having the index finger positioned next to the low notes found on the open strings can be helpful for throwing in quick two note runs from the low E string. We can lift up that index finger from its position for use in making small runs while leaving the other fingers planted in place allowing us to add a quick strum after any runs. This position also leaves the pinky finger free, in some cases we might use the pinky to catch the high A note on the fifth fret of the 1st string. Or if we are finger picking we might use the pinky to catch any of the notes on the 1st string.

There are a few different ways to grab the A major chord.
There are a few different ways to grab the A major chord.

2. Another way of playing the A major chord is to use the index finger to hold down all of the notes that are fretted on the second fret and use the pinky to catch the high A on the 1st string. This allows for a nice full chord, but does not leave us with flexible options for making runs. Even though the middle and ring fingers are free with this position they are not able to reach very much.

There is often an advantage to holding a chord in one way or another.
There is often an advantage to holding a chord in one way or another.

A-major-middle-ring-pinky

3. A third way to play the A major chord is very much like the 1st way. This position leaves the index finger totally free for making short runs on the lower strings.

Before we move on let’s look at some finger position variations for the G major chord shape.

1. We can use the middle finger to reach over to the third fret on the low E string with the index finger fretting the second fret on the A string and the pinky finger playing the third fret on the high E string. This position leaves the ring finger free to play the optional note on the third fret of the B string. This is good for finger picking but this position does not allow us quick and easy access to the G7 shape that is often used in two steps and waltzes.

Holding the G chord in this way makes it easier to switch to the C chord.

2. We could also play this chord shape using the ring finger on the low E string, the middle finger on the 2nd fret of the A string, and the pinky on the 3rd fret of the high E string. This position leaves the index finger free and makes for a quick and easy transition to the G7 chord as well as the C major.

Holding the G chord in this way makes it easier to switch to the C chord.
Holding the G chord in this way makes it easier to switch to the C chord.

These are some basic examples of the variety and strategy that you can adapt in choosing the finger positions for chord shapes. There are various finger positions for any chord shape. These variations can be used for greater flexiblity and manuverability.