Guitar chords can range from easy to difficult, from beginner to advanced, and it is a good idea to start off with more manageable chords before you move on.
Chords that are suitable for the begginner guitarist are sometimes referred to as “cowboy chords”. This name come from the fact that they are used so much in almost every genre of music and especially work well to make a simple accompaniment to voice. These easy beginner chords for guitar often make use of the open strings, and don’t involve a barre. Technically speaking, a chord is any combination of two or more notes sounded together, but for these chords we are going to be using four, five, or six strings at the same time. Opposite to what you might think, the six string chords are going to be easiest because you don’t have to worry about what your right hand is doing, you can just strum away!
Reading a guitar chord chart
Initially a guitar chord chart might look like a bit of a maze, but it is very logical and you will be able to read them in no time!
A guitar chord chart uses a visual representation of the guitar fingerboard. There are vertical lines, they represent the six guitar strings (six lines going from low on the left, to high on the right), and there are horizontal lines (representing the frets of the fingerboard). Basically, if you hold the guitar out in front of you, with the fingerboard facing you, you will see how this grid looks just like the fingerboard!
The circles on a guitar chords chart represent where you need to hold down the strings. If you are lucky you might even have a number inside the circle which is telling you exactly which finger needs to be holding down each note.
In the beginning, you will be playing in the first position, near the headstock. In this situation the top horizontal line of the chord chard will be representing the nut, the piece of grooved bone at the end of your guitar before you get to the tuning pegs. This is a nice point of reference as it means that the next line is the first fret, followed by the second and so on.
As you start to move up the fingerboard, a guitar chord chart will indicate what fret is represented by the first line. This is so we don’t have to draw up the entire long fingerboard overtime we need a chord chart! So, for instance, chord around the fifth fret might have a small amount of text saying “5th fr.” with a line pointing to the appropriate horizontal line on the chord chart.
Now that you have the basics down, let’s start with some easy chords.
The Easiest guitar chord…
The very first chord you might play, won’t even feel like much of a chord, because you only have to hold down one string. If you take your third finger on the left hand (ring finger) and hold down the second fret of the fifth string (the note B) you will be successfully playing and E minor 7 chord. Yes, that’s right, all that fancy titling for such a simple execution.
Along with that easy left hand, you get and easy right hand too. You can strum all six strings from 6th to 1st and you will get that lovely big E minor 7th chord (written on a chart as Em7).
Step it up cowboy
Let’s take that E minor 7 and add a finger. By adding your second finger of the left hand (middle finger) to play the 2nd fret of the fourth string (the note E) you will be playing an E minor chord. No more 7th in this one. Once again you get to strum all six strings.
The notes in this chord, from 6th to 1st string are: EBEGBE
The E minor 7, and E minor chord are probably the easiest chords you are going to get on the guitar. So let’s now look at adding a third finger to get the chord of E Major. You can start by holding down the E minor chord as we just did, and now we are going to add in the first finger (index finger). Place the first finger on the first fret of the third string (G#) and add the second and third finger where they were on the 5th and 4th strings (on B and E). This chord is an E major and it uses all six strings.
From the E Major chords, we can make a very slick transition to another chords that shares the same “arrangement” of left hand fingers. By this I mean that the fingers will stay in the same shape and position, but we are going to mover them to different strings. The guitar is like this often, we can think in terms of finger shapes and patters, and we get away without even knowing the notes!
So, we have our three fingers down to play E Major. If you lift those three fingers and move them all one string over (from the 5th-4th-3rd to the 4th-3rd-2nd) then we have the chord of A minor. This is a great chord that pairs well with E major. I say this, because in the key of A minor, A minor is the I chord (the Tonic) and E Major is the V chord (the dominant). If you don’t know what these are right now, that’s ok, but know that the Tonic and the Dominant are like the Mama and the Papa of the music family. They are the pillars of western harmony.
A minor uses only five strings, as opposed to the six that the E chords used. This means that you are going to need some care not to hit the sixth string when strumming this chord. Even though it is not going to be the end of the world if you hit the 6th string, you should always try and be accurate with your strumming to develop good right hand control.