Last Updated on December 6, 2023 by Justin Thomas
Whether it’s the first thing you work on, or one of the first things you work on, sooner or later, you will need to learn your chords to advance to the next level as a guitarist.
If you start in the wrong place, the process can be incredibly discouraging and frustrating. But if you begin work on the right chords with proper guidance, you can slowly but surely increase your skill on your instrument to where you begin to feel comfortable strumming and even playing songs.
So, in this guide, we’ll focus on the 12 beginner guitar chords you must know.
Author: David Andrew Wiebe
David Andrew Wiebe is a professional musician coach and Founder & CEO of Music Entrepreneur HQ. He’s also an award-winning composer, best-selling author, and podcaster of over 12 years. He loves travel, food, and books.
Editing: Teemu Suomala
Playing guitar since 2009. Mainly focused on electric guitars, although jamming with acoustics too. Has played dozens and dozens of different guitars through different amps and pedals over the years. That’s why he started this blog in January 2020 and started sharing his experience. Has produced content for several large guitar websites, such as Songsterr, Musicnotes, GuitarGuitar, and Ultimate Guitar.
The 12 Chords You’ll Be Learning
The following chords are the ones we’ll be tackling here:
- A major
- C major
- D major
- E major
- G major
- A minor
- D minor
- E minor
Note that we are referring to everything when the guitar is using Standard tuning. Learn about alternative guitar tunings here.
These are among the most common chords for a beginner guitarist to learn.
By the way, if you don’t know the basics of using a pick or fretting notes yet, it’s recommended that you start there first!
If you don’t know how to read chord charts, check our guitar chord chart guide.
A two-finger chord is exactly as it sounds – it only requires two fingers to play. Where most other open chords (the only type of chord featured in this guide) require three fingers to play, the following take two, and that makes them the easiest ones to start off your guitar journey with.
The A7 chord, which is considered a dominant chord, features the notes: A, C#, E, and G.
The only two notes you need to hold down are on the second fret of the fourth (D) string and second fret of the second (B) string.
As with most, you can play this chord using different fingerings, though index-ring or middle-ring are most common. If you need more reach, try index-pinky, and if you’re especially brave, try middle-ring or ring-pinky.
The Em (minor) chord is made up of the notes E, G, and B.
Em is, perhaps, the easiest chord of all. All it requires is fingers on the fifth (A) and fourth (D) strings at the second fret.
The most common fingering is middle-ring.
E7 is another dominant chord with the notes: E, G#, B, and D.
It only requires two fingers – one on the first fret of the third (G) string, the other on the second fret of the fifth (A) string.
Use your middle finger to fret the fifth string position and use your index finger to fret the third string position.
Now that you’ve had the opportunity to splash around in the shallow end, the time has come to dive in a little deeper. Here are an additional nine beginner-oriented chords for you to work on – all three-finger chords. It may take a little endurance to get through these, but you can do it!
The A chord features the notes A, C#, and E.
You’ve already played the A7 chord, which is quite like this one – the difference being that you’ve got an additional note to fret.
Fret the second fret fourth (D) string with your index, the second fret third (G) string with your middle finger, and the second fret second (B) string with your ring finger.
It might feel a little cramped at first but trust the process and with practice, it will become like second nature.
Sometimes, with the A chord, guitarists will fret all three notes with one finger (usually index) while ignoring the first string entirely. There’s nothing wrong with this approach.
Am features the notes A, C, and E.
The basic idea is the same as the A chord, it’s just that one note lands on the first fret instead of the second fret.
To play an Am, we basically use the same fingering we would use to play an E chord (coming up a little later).
Use your index finger on the second (B) string first fret, middle finger on the fourth (D) string second fret, and ring finger on the third (G) string second fret.
Now it’s time to work on C. C features the notes C, E, and G.
What can be tricky about this one is the stretch, but it really depends on the person. Some find it easy; some find it a little more challenging. Either way, you will need to curl your fingers to be able to avoid unintentionally muting / damping notes you don’t want to mute.
Use your index finger for the second (B) string first fret, middle finger for the fourth (D) string second fret, and ring finger for the fifth (A) string third fret.
D has the notes D, F#, and A in it.
This one can admittedly feel a little cramped at first, kind of like the A. But if you take it one finger at a time, it shouldn’t prove too troublesome.
Place your index finger on the third (G) string second fret, middle finger on the first (E) string second fret, and ring finger on the second (B) string third fret.
Dm has the notes D, F, and A in it (notice how there’s only one note difference compared to its major counterpart).
Start with your index finger on the first (E) string first fret, then middle finger on the third (G) string second fret, and finally ring finger on the second (B) string third fret.
D7 contains the notes D, F#, A, and C.
To play it, place your index finger at the second (B) string first fret, middle finger at the third (G) string second fret, and ring finger at the first (E) string second fret.
The E chord contains the notes E, G#, and B.
Remember the Am fingering? You can use the same fingering for this chord, except on a different set of strings.
Index goes on third (G) string first fret, middle goes on fifth (A) string second fret, and ring goes on fourth (D) string second fret.
The G chord has the notes G, B, and D.
This one may feel like a stretch. But the biggest stretch of all is still waiting at the end!
Place your index finger on the fifth (A) string second fret, middle finger at the sixth (low E) string third fret, and ring finger at first (E) string third fret.
Last chord! G7 has the notes G, B, D, and F.
Yes, this one features the biggest stretch. But if you can play a C, you should be able to play this one too.
Put your index finger on the first (E) string first fret, middle finger on the fifth (A) string second fret, and ring finger on the sixth (low E) string third fret.
How to Read Chord Diagrams
Most guitar chord diagrams have the nut at the top (thickest line), with each subsequent horizontal line representing a fret. Diagrams typically do not show the entire fretboard, but rather the first three to five frets.
The vertical lines, then, represent the strings on your guitar. The sixth or thickest string appears on the far left, while the first or thinnest string appears on the far right.
If the chord starts at a higher fret, like the fifth fret, then the diagram will indicate a fret number next to the first fret of the diagram. This is not something you need to worry about with any of the chords we’ve worked on in this guide, though!
One other thing you should know is the X’s and the O’s.
An X represents a string you should not play. With the D chord, for example, you generally do not play the fifth and sixth strings (though you can get away with playing the fifth because it’s an A note).
An O symbolizes an open string you should play.
Check our favorite Youtube channels for free guitar lessons here!
Why These 12 Chords Matter
Different instruments tend to have different starting points.
A pianist, for example, generally starts in the key of C, which means their first chords would likely be: C, Dm, Em, F, G, Am, and Bm7b5.
So, why does it make more sense for a guitarist to start with the above 12 chords?
Well, the guitar does not have white and black keys like a piano. The notes, in essence, are all given equal weight, just that the distance between frets gets tighter as you move up higher on the neck.
Two- and three-finger chords are the easiest of any chords to learn for a beginner guitarist.
If you want to start with something even simpler, you might try single note riffs and scales, double stops and power chords, and maybe triads. Aside from that, open chords are the easiest to pick up!
For a guitarist to learn the F chord, they would need to learn to play barre chords (intermediate technique). It’s one of the reasons it makes more sense to learn the above chords than to venture too far outside of them.
Bm7b5 can be a tricky one for beginners too, and sometimes it is also barred.
Finally, the above chords offer solid building blocks for playing chord progressions in the keys of C, D, and G.
In this article/lesson, we learned to play 12 essential beginner chords. The chords featured here are all considered open chords, and they can all be played using one or two fingers on your fretting hand.
We also looked at how to read chord diagrams, as well as why these 12 chords are important.
Learning chords can sometimes be a slow process, but it is very rewarding, because every chord you learn opens a whole new world on your instrument. If you can play chords, you can learn to self-accompany and even learn some of your favorite songs.
If you need more in-depth help with learning your beginner guitar chords, then don’t hesitate to grab a copy of the free Chord King System eBook to get a head start on your guitar learning journey.
More helpful articles for beginner guitar players:
- How to Read Guitar Tabs?
- Notes on Guitar Fretboard: Your Guide to Understanding Notes and Navigation
- 76 Easy Guitar Songs for Beginners from Every Genre
- 6 Best Beginner Guitar Amps
- 7 Best Guitar Books for Beginners
- 5 Best Acoustic Guitar Picks of All Time
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