Open Chord Shapes
Open chords form the basis of thousands of songs. Open strings vibrate freely, making open chords sound fuller and are easy to play, so are very widely used. Other chord shapes (Barré Chords and Power Chords) do not use open strings so will not be covered in this article.
You should be able to make a decent effort at most of them straight of the bat. If not, it’ll only take a few minutes to figure out better positioning for your hands. We’ll start with the most basic of all guitar chords, the E Minor (Em) chord.
Reading Chord Diagrams
To use chord diagrams, you place your fingers where the spots are on the fretboard diagram. Some chords diagrams will have numbers inside the spots to show you which finger you are to fret the note with.
To play E Minor, take your middle finger and place it on the second fret of the A string and add your ring finger on to the second fret of the D string. This will create the right shape for the chord and you can strum away. With the E minor chord, play all strings on the guitar to make it sound fuller.
As a minor chord, the quality of the chord is written in the name.
The next chord to try is the E Major chord. This one is similar to E Minor chord with only one note difference between it. Adding one more finger to the chord, you want to use your index finger to play the first fret of the G string. This changes the entire sound of the chord, due to changing the third from minor to major. This is a little complicated for right now, but if you want to learn more about theory, this site is a great start
Note how Major is not written in the chord name.
Chords are assumed to be major unless specified otherwise.
After the E Major, we’ll progress to A minor. This is the same shape as the E Major chord, just moved up a string. Rather than playing all the strings, don't play the lowest pitched string and only play the 5 highest pitched strings.
The X symbol means not to play that string.
The A major is a trickier chord as it requires you to use three fingers on the same fret. Whilst there’s an easier way to play a variant of this chord, practicing this shape is important. To make the correct shape for A major, use your index finger on the D string, middle finger on the G string and ring finger on the B string. Leave the highest E string unfretted and play the highest pitched 5 strings.
Voila! A Major!
This one is a little more difficult as you need three fingers in a line. Try sloping your fingers diagonally!
The remaining basic open chords use different shapes to the E and A Major/Minor. The D Major chord is the easiest to practice after E and A. This chord looks like a triangle. To play it, place your index and middle finger on the G and high E string on the second fret. Then, place your ring finger on the third fret of the B string.
Two X's here, only play four strings, otherwise it is incorrect.
Playing the D Minor chord is similar playing a D Major. Swap your index and middle fingers round so that you are fretting the first fret of the high E string with your index finger. Your middle finger goes to the second fret of the G string. The next one can be tricky for some. C Major requires more of a stretch than the chords you have played so far.
Try playing E - Am - Dm and you've got a recognisable chord progression!
To play C Major, fret the third fret of the A string with your ring finger. Then, the second fret of the D string with your middle finger and the first fret of the B string with your index finger. Play all the strings, apart from the low E and you’ve played your first C Major. Once you’ve got a handle on these shapes, you can move on to the most difficult open chord in this article. This is the G major chord and luckily it becomes much easier when you have played it a few hundred times.
This is usually an easy one to grasp, but make sure you aren't muting the upper string!
G Major requires a stretch with your left hand and it can be frustrating to practice it. Start off by fretting the third fret of the low E with your middle finger. After this, use your index finger to play the second fret of the A string. To finish the chord off, add your ring finger on the third fret of the B string. play all the strings and you have yourself a G major Chord.
G is tricky because it uses your pinky finger too!
Knowing chord shapes is great, but putting them together and switching between them is how you make music. Learn which fingers stay still whilst listening to which chords lead to others takes practice but is well worth the time. Try some of these chord progressions to get used to swapping between the chords you’ve just learnt.
Em - G - D - Am
G - C - D
Dm - Am - C - G