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Guitar Chord Basics

By: Pat Newsome

When you're learning to play the guitar, learning guitar chords is one of the first steps.  Chords are what your left hand is doing while the right hand is strumming (or whatever.)  There are many, many chords, and many variations of each one.  The study of guitar chords can take a lifetime!  Fortunately, you don't need to know them all to have a good time making music.

Chord charts are readily available online and in books for guitar players.  Reading a chord chart is easy.  The chart shows the end of the guitar neck.  The line at the top is the nut, or the plastic bar where the strings leave the headstock on their way down to the body of the guitar.  (Note - there are chord charts for chords farther down the neck, but those are more advanced.)  The six vertical lines on a chord chart refer to the six strings, with the order being low to high pitched strings from left to right.  The horizontal lines represent the frets.

On a guitar chord chart, the finger placement is designated with circles noted with numbers.  A 1 refers to your index finger, a 2 denotes your middle finger, and a 3 is your ring finger.  In some cases the pinky will be called on, in which case you will see a 4 in the chart.  Some old timers chord a G chord with their thumb wrapped around the neck to press the third fret of the sixth string, but this is unhandy at best.  Other than that, the thumb is simply not called on to make chords.  It supports the rest of the left hand by resting on or gripping the neck of the guitar.

A G chord is usually made by placing the index finger on the second fret of the fifth string, the middle finger on the third fret of the sixth string, and the ring finger on the third fret of the first string.  All the strings can be strummed or played in this chord.  The chords D or D7 and C go along with G for the basis of many songs.  (Note - Fingers are placed behind the actual metal fret, in the space between the bars.)

If you're already familiar with these chords, as well as some other basic chords, you're probably familiar with chord charts.  Have you wondered what some of those odd chords are, like augmented, or diminished 7 chords, or G-9, or some of those other unusual ones?  The names refer to the music theory behind the chord.  If you're not too interested in theory, a good idea is just to try playing them and see if you like them.  If you like to compose music, use those chords you like. 

One class of chords you should get to know are the major seventh chords.  An example is Cmaj7 which is fingered by placing finger 3 on the third fret of the fifth string and finger 2 on the second fret of the fourth string.  This is just like a  C chord, but without the use of finger 1.  The major 7 chords have a soft, mystical sound that lends itself well to romantic or quiet songs.




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