- A# / B♭
- C# / D♭
- D# / E♭
- F# / G♭
- G# / A♭
Welcome to Basic Guitar Chords
The ultimate guide to understanding and using basic guitar chords to make playing the guitar more enjoyable.
When it comes to learning how to play the guitar, most people start out by looking up some basic guitar chords to some of their favorite tunes. This is a great way to get started, but at some point, simply memorizing those chords stifles your creativity.
In order to take your playing up a notch, whether you are just performing covers or writing your own songs, it pays big to understand how chords are formed, so you can play songs at different points along the neck, begin to play riffs along with friends and bandmates, and really take a deep dive into crafting and writing your own original music.
All guitar chords are made up of at least two notes, played in unison. If you are playing notes, or strings, separately, you are performing an arpeggios.
So then the questions becomes, what notes do you play and how do you know what chords you are playing?
To answer that question, you must first realize that every string on the guitar is a note. In standard tuning these notes are (from highest pitch to lowest) E, B, G, D, A, E. There are not sharpes or flats in the open strings of a standard tuned guitar. Every place on the neck where you can hold a string between two frets is known as a semitone, or half step. So if you start from the high E string and play each fret all the way to the 12th string, here are the notes you would be playing.
E, F, F#, G, G#, A, A#, B, C, C#, D, D#, E
If you were to start at an E on a piano and play 12 keys in a row including the black keys (which are sharps and flats), you would be playing the same pattern as above. Notice how on a piano, there are points where no black keys are in between two white keys? These spots are known as natural half steps, and occur between the E and F keys, and the B and C keys.
A major key includes 8 of the 12 notes shown above. It's called a major key, because the notes follow a consistent pattern. In other words, not matter what note you start on, every subsequent note in that key will either be a half-step (or semitone) higher or a whole-step higher.
That pattern I'm referring is this: Whole, Whole, Half, Whole Whole Whole, Half. How these pattern got established in the early days of music theory deal with modes, which you can read about here. If we start with the note C (our root note) and follow that pattern we end up with the following notes:
C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C
C is a unique major key, because it happens to contain no sharps or flats. Some major keys contain sharps, some flats. Technically speaking, a C# and a D flat are the same note, but it depends on which key you are in to determine which one you will refer to. That kind of theory can get quite complicated - so we will just stick to basics here.
Basic guitar chords are made up of three notes within a given key. If you start at the root note of a key, and play the root, third and fifth notes, you would be playing the major chord for that key.
In other words, a C Major chord is made up of the notes C, E, and G. This is known as a major triad.
But aren't there six strings on a guitar? Yes. This simply mean that some of the strings you play will both share the same note, only they will be in different octaves. In the C chord example, the open E strings would be an example of this. An octave is simply 12 semitones. The scientific reasoning behind notes that share the same name but are in different octaves has to do with sound waves and frequencies. Since lower sounds have longer sound waves, an octave is simply once the pitch gets higher and the sound wave is half as long.
To find other chords to play along with the key of C, just take a look at the notes in the key and apply the following major chord pattern.
Major, minor, minor, Major, Major, minor, dim, Major.
Pop music contains a lot of Major key songs, so look no further than these basic guitar chords and you will soon discover some consistent patterns. For example, C Major, F Major, G Major is a common pattern. This is known as the I, IV, V pattern, which is a way to represent the major chord and it's position in the scale at the same time.
Another common chord pattern is G, C, D, which is simply the I, IV, V chord pattern in the key of G Major.
Once you understand this basic guitar chord theory, you can quickly start discovering new patterns in different keys, and start applying the chords you know to write songs in those keys.
I sincerely hopes this helps you understand chords a bit better. And if you are looking for ways to improve as a player, or just some adive on what you should learn next, check out our articles section for lots of great basic guitar chord goodness.
Our goal is to help the beginning guitar player learn chords and find different way to make playing the guitar more interesting when first starting out. There are a lot of bumps in the road along the path to guitar mastery, but it doesn't have to be all work and no play.
For example, we've got an article dedicated to working your way out of a playing rut.
We have another article all about adding arpeggios to the chords you already know.
And if you are just getting started, then here are the first two guitar chords you should learn right away.