A Short Guide to Guitar Chords

Lets get the technical overview of ‘guitar chords’ sorted: Chords are a group of notes played together, and guitar chords are chords played on guitar.

Now, there are different types of chords, like animals. You get closely related chords, (chimps & apes) and some not so much. (fish and sloths)

In this post we’ll look at what categories there are that define chords, the most common types of chords for guitar, and common ways they’re used.

 

Overview of Guitar Chords

First, you have the quality of chord.

The quality is the specific sound of the chord. Each quality has its own unique sound.

The 3 most common qualities are:

  • Major
  • Minor
  • Dominant

Next, you have the playing position, or voicing. This is what position on the neck you play the chord on the guitar, or how you voice it, as you can play the same chord quality in different positions.

If you hear someone saying to play a higher voicing, they are talking about playing the same chord higher up on the neck (towards the soundhole/ body of the guitar); this usually results in playing the same chord an octave higher.

Learning different positions of the same chord is useful because it gives you more flexibility with playing that chord. You may learn a couple of licks/ chords in different positions on the neck. So if you can move those licks/ chords into different positions, you can connect what you know how to play more easily, thus giving you more choices for different combinations of what you know.

Lastly, the way chords are arranged means they have specific notes that make their quality what it is. These specific notes are called ‘chord tones’.

 

Chord Tones

These bad boys form the foundation of a guitar chord, and all other chords. Chord tones are the 1st note (aka, root), 3rd note, and 5th note of a chord. The 7th note is also a chord tone.

Each chord tone is named as such (1st, 3rd, 5th, 7th) for its distance in intervals away from the root note. The root note is a note you choose to build a chord from, the note all the other notes refer to, or the ‘root’ of the chord.

For example, in a C Major chord, you have the notes C, E, and G.

C is the Root, E is the 3rd, and G is the 5th.

So, in intervals, E is a 3rd away from C, and G is a 5th away from C.

Still with me? We’re getting there.

All chords are simply a group of notes played together. Starting from the root note, the specific intervals between these groups of notes create the sounds that we identify chords with. This also applies to scales, as scales are simply a group of notes played one after the other, rather than at the same time.

 

Common Types of Guitar Chords

People usually start out with open position/ open voicing chords. Open position chords have three defining traits:

  1. The open strings of the guitar are ‘chord tones’ of these chords (the root, 3rd, and 5th notes)
  2. Open chords are usually played within the first 4 frets of the neck
  3. Open chords are usually Major, Minor, or Dominant

The most common chords to learn at the start are open major and minor chords. Here are a few:

C Major – C

G Major – G

D Major – D

A minor – Am

E minor – Em

These chords also have shortened names, or abbreviations, that are next to each chord. This makes it easy to write out chords on chord charts, which musicians use to help stay on track when writing and playing music.

Chords are usually played one after the other, which is called a chord progression.

A common chord progression is D – C – G. Two examples of this song are;

Sweet Home Alabama by Lynyrd Skynyrd, &

Ring of Fire by Johnny Cash.

Other common chord progressions using the chords mentioned above are:

G – C – D

Am – Em – C – G

D – Em – G

The best thing for you is to play around with different combinations of chords and see what you like. Learning new chord progressions from songs you enjoy is also very beneficial.

 

Summary

Learning music at the start can be a chaotic and overwhelming process, especially if you just want to start making music right away. Hopefully this post helped clear up what chords are all about, and how you can start playing them yourself to start making music.

Keep that spirit alive and thriving,

Until next time.

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