open chords on guitar

An open chord is a chord that includes at least one open string. The easiest open chords require only three fingers to play and don’t extend beyond the third fret. These basic chords, sometimes called “cowboy chords” due to their simplicity and the fact that they show up in thousands of country songs, are the starting point for the more advanced chords to follow, like barre chords. 

The following eight beginner chords are the most important first chords for a new guitarist to learn. Once you have them mastered, you’ll have all the technical know-how you need to play hundreds, if not thousands of songs, country and otherwise.


1. C Major. The C major chord is often the first chord guitarists learn. The fingering is fairly straightforward: first (index) finger on the first fret, second string C note; second (middle) finger on the second fret, fourth string E note; and third (ring) finger on the third fret, fifth string C note. The first string E and third string G are open. Concentrate on playing on your fingertips, curling your fingers so they don’t touch adjacent strings and mute them. The open strings in open chords need to sound clean.
2. A Major. The A major chord can give new guitarists trouble as all three fingers need to fit on the second fret on adjacent strings: ring finger on the second fret, second string C# note; middle finger on the second fret, third string A note, and index finger on the second fret, fourth string E note. The first string E and fifth string A are open. Pick through the chord slowly, listening to every note sound. Adjust fingers where necessary.
3. G Major. The G chord is built by placing your ring finger on the third fret, first string G note; index finger on the second fret, fifth string B note; and middle finger on the third fret, sixth string G note. The second string B, third string G, and fourth string D are open. Note: Sometimes, it makes sense to play a G major chord using your fourth (pinky) finger on the first string, your middle finger on the fifth string, and your ring finger on the sixth string. This fingering makes the move to a C major chord much easier. Experiment by playing the G chord both ways.
4. E Major. Another chord you come across every day is the E major chord. To finger it, place your index finger on the first fret, third string G# note; your ring finger goes on the second fret, fourth string E note; your middle finger goes on the second fret, fifth string B note. The first string E, second string B, and sixth string E are open. Play around with your first fretted finger so that it is properly curled to allow the second string open note to sound.
5. D Major. The D major chord is another extremely common beginner chord, and one that shouldn’t give you too much trouble. Place your middle finger on the second fret, first string F# note; ring finger on the third fret, second string D note; and index finger on the second fret, third string A note. The fourth string D is open.
And now for the minor chords:

6. E Minor. The E minor chord is one of the simplest to play as it uses only two fingers! Your ring finger plays the second fret, fourth string E note, and your middle finger plays the second fret, fifth string B note. The first string E, second string B, third string G, and sixth string E are open. Note: You can also finger the E minor by using your middle finger on the fourth string and your index finger on the fifth string. Again, be sure not to allow either of your fingers to touch any of the open strings or the chord won’t ring properly.

7. A Minor. If you know how to play an E major chord, then you know how to play an A minor chord. All you have to do is move the E major chord shape, in its entirety, down a string so that your index finger plays the first fret, second string C note; your ring finger plays the second fret, third string A note; and your middle finger plays the second fret, fourth string E note. The first strin
g E and fifth string A are open. 
8. D Minor. The D minor is another fairly simple chord, yet many beginning guitarists have some trouble with it. To finger a D Minor, place your index finger on the first fret, first string F note; your ring finger on the third fret, second string D note; and middle finger on the second fret, third string A note. The fourth string D is open. Be mindful to make all four strings sound clear.
That’s it! Once you have these eight essential open chord positions down pat, practice switching between them until you can do so fluently. Now you’re ready to take on those thousand songs.

For more on playing open chords, be sure to check out this Must-Know Basic Open Chords tutorial on GuitarTricks.com online guitar lessons.

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Founded in 1998, Guitar Tricks Online Guitar Lessons the Web’s first multimedia guitar lesson site. 16 years later, Guitartricks.com features over 40 guitar instructors continuously creating a massive library of online video guitar lessons (11,000+) covering every musical style, technique, and level of ability.

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