3 - Basic Chords

Beginners Learn The Guitar Lessons 3 – Chords

Welcome back to lesson 3 of our Beginners Guitar Lessons series. Now that we’ve discussed guitar tuning, basic notes and basic scales, it’s time to learn about guitar chords.

Simply put, chords are combinations of three or more notes played together.

Just as we’ve learned to use the chromatic scale to create a major scale, the notes in a chord are derived from the major scale. In music, everything builds upon something else.

Beginners Guitar Lessons – Part 3

As scales have formulas, so do chords. Let’s start by taking the notes in the C major scale, and apply numbers to each note:
C=1, D=2, E=3, F=4, G=5, A=6, B=7, C=8
The first note in the scale is known as the “root” note, which in this case, is “C.”
To form a major chord, we’ll use the following formula:
1, 3, 5…that’s it! Simply take the number one note, C, the number three note, E, and the number five note, G, and play them together. It doesn’t even matter if the notes are played in order or not, as those three notes played together, in any order, will always form a C major chord.

Chord Charts

Chord charts are a helpful way to learn guitar chords, and are quite simple to read. Looking at the diagram, the vertical lines represent the strings, low to high E, from left to right. The horizontal lines represent the frets. Unless designated by a number on the top horizontal line, the line represents the “nut” of the guitar, meaning an open string. The second horizontal line represents the first fret, and so on.
Chord charts use a “legend,” which is a map of sorts, to tell you what the other markings mean. Numbers 1 through 4 below the vertical string lines represent the finger number used to place on the dot. An “X” placed above (or below) a vertical string line means to not play that string. An “O” means to play that string open. Here we have a chord chart for a C major chord:
Given your new knowledge of notes, reading the chart from left to right: The third finger is fretting the “C” note, the second is fretting the “E” note, the third “G” string is open, the first finger is fretting the “C” note, and the first “E string is played open. This corresponds to our major scale formula, 1,3,5, in which the notes from the C major scale are C,E and G. The repeating C and E are there in the guitar chord to add fullness, but playing any combination of the three notes will still result in the same chord.
It stands to reason, that since there are many repeating notes on the guitar, that the C major chord, and all other chords, can be played in numerous ways. This example is only one of the common forms of the C major chord on the guitar.
To sweeten the pot a bit, let’s learn another chord before we move on to the next lesson, the G major chord. We won’t get into the specifics just yet, as we haven’t learned the G major scale, but rest assured that the G major chord follows the same 1, 3, 5 formula, only using the G major scale. As it turns out however, the G major chord does fit along with the C major, because it has some of the same notes as the C major scale. This will be an important fact to consider from here on, as every note and chord played within a song, needs to relate to one another in order to sound good.
G Chord
Follow along with the legend which we discussed earlier to play the chord. The notes within the chord, although originally derived from the G major scale, do work within the C major scale as well: From left to right, the 2nd finger is fretting the “G” note. The first finger is fretting the “B” note. The 4th, 3rd, and 2nd strings, D, G, and B, are being played open. Finally, the 3rd finger is fretting another “G” note on the first string- this gives us all the notes in a G major chord – which are G, B and D.

Guitar Lesson 3 – Exercise

Practice playing the C major chord, strumming it 8 times. Switch to the G chord, strumming it 8 times, then back to C, and so on. It will take a bit of getting used to, but you’re well on your way to playing the guitar!