5 Tips for Learning Guitar Chords
Author: Graeme Hague
When it comes to playing guitar and learning guitar chords I’m not too bad at all — okay, I’m not Eric Clapton or Steve Vai, but I can bash out a tune. And I know plenty of guitarists down at my local jam session who are way, way better players than me, too. The point I want to make is there were many times in the past that I thought I’d never get even this far. My fingers refused to learn where to go on that fretboard, my guitar playing sounded like crap and it all just got too hard. The answer at the time was to not give up when things got difficult and, very importantly, don’t expect too much when you first start out. Be patient, it’ll happen. The answer today is still the same.
Still, some days it’s just bloody frustrating, right? This whole “learn to play guitar”, “learn guitar chords” thing can drive you nuts. To help you along here are five tips about learning guitar chords that should make a difference.
1. Start by Learning Guitar Chords Slowly (and Correctly)
Some of these guys you see playing on stage and in videos are playing fast — really fast. Let’s not even mention shredding (damn, I mentioned it). So you feel compelled to practice your own playing fast, because that’s what everyone else seems to be doing. Nope, don’t walk until you can run. The best way to learn guitar chords is slowly — very slowly at first. You have to teach your fingers exactly what to do and where to go, before even thinking about speeding things up and guess what? Faster playing will come naturally. Speed and dexterity are much easier after your brain and fingers know what they’re doing.
Don’t feel bad, because it takes an age for your fingertips to shape the chords and find the right frets. Keep things that slow until you’ve perfected that chord. You can use the Uberchord App – it listens to you while you play and corrects when you play chords wrong. Playing things correctly with the right fingering from the very beginning means everything else will fall into place. If you missed my previous post, “10 Tips to Learn Good Guitar Technique” – this is a must read for self-taught guitar players like myself. Save yourself the misery that I went through over the years and read it!
2. Close Your Eyes or Look Away Sometimes
If you witness a band of novice musicians playing its opening gig with everyone on stage for the first time, apart from the buckets of nervous sweat you’ll see pouring out their socks, something else will be unmistakeable. With a furious concentration everybody will be watching their own hands playing the fret board. Their eyes stay locked on the guitar neck with a kind of desperation. It’s a bad look.
Experienced players only need a glance now and then at the fret board to make sure they’re in the right place. It’s a skill you’ll develop on your own, but a smart move is to work on it early. As you practice get into the habit of closing your eyes or looking away, then feel how to find and play the chord properly. An added bonus, you’ll learn to hear that you’ve got it right without having to check your fingers. And you’ll really cool on stage.
3. Don’t Neglect the Difficult Chords
Playing some chords is harder than others. An F Major done properly, for example, requires a barre chord on the first fret and it’s a real challenge for new players. Trouble is, an F Major is a seriously important chord for many simple songs and unless you want to use a capo to avoid it (not a good idea, you can’t dodge it forever), you’re going to have to grit your teeth and learn it. The same applies for a B Minor, another barre chord (see below). Some seventh and ninth chords will tangle your fingers big-time and seem impossible.
Don’t shun the hard chords, just because they’re a pain to learn. Even though it can be really frustrating spend more time on them, practice these constantly and the musical doors will open to a lot more songs and some impressive playing. Trust me, you won’t regret it doing the “hard” yards.
4. Learn Barre Chords and How They work
Barre chords are the heart and soul of rock music and electric guitar playing. They have a place in acoustic playing too, but chunky, driving rock comes from barre chords. To be fair, barre chords are kind of hard work on acoustic guitars unless they have a slim neck and are well set up. The good news is that learning barre chords on an acoustic means that playing these on an electric axe will be a piece of cake. Check out “3 Tips to Simplify Barre Chords” on this blog for some helpful pointers.
Learning the basic barre chord shapes and how they easily translate up and down the fret board is also a great get-out-of-jail trick for playing what might otherwise be a nightmare fingering. Like, you need a C Sharp Minor? Damn! Well, starting with your basic C Major shape you’ll need to… but wait. Instead, just play a B Minor two frets (a whol
e tone) up the neck. Job done! Barre chords… awesome.
5. Make sure you know which chords you’re playing
This may sound odd, but it’s easy to slightly change the chord you’re playing for a nice effect and inadvertently stray away from the original tone. It’s the standard tuning of a guitar that can do this, because unlike with a piano you’re sometimes still playing an open string that contributes to the overall chord structure. Now, by all means experiment with chords, add or drop a finger or two… listen to the neat sounds.
However, it’s a wise move to identify which chord you’re now playing otherwise you’ll get into a bad habit later on of calling some “a C Major thing” or maybe “a kind of a D Minor” when they’re nothing of the sort. Uberchord can fix this easily, because it can hear and recognize chords instantly. So when you’re fooling around with chord shapes, take the time to double-check what you’ve done. In the future it’ll help you communicate your song-writing ideas to the rest of band much better. That’s a good thing.
Are you looking for more free tips and tricks to learning chords and the fretboard? This is just one of many articles that you can browse for free, and without any sort of membership or paywall blocking the way! We suggest you take a look at some music theory topics like how many half steps is a tritone or the chords key of d guitar. Then again, we also have lots of articles on individual songs like Steppenwolf’s born to be wild chords.
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Do you mean don’t run until you learn to walk?
Great tip about not neglecting the difficult chords. It makes sense that they won’t just disappear if you refuse to practice them. I’m sure the more you work on those chords, the easier they will be for you to do. My daughter wants to start guitar lessons, so I will be sure to tell her how important it is to practice even the hard things.
Absolutely, Sam! Thanks for sharing your thoughts. You can also suggest your daughter to use our free guitar learning App – Uberchord – available on the Apple App Store which assists beginner guitar players practice chords.
Wow. This was very helpful. I’m buying my second guitar, and all the buying guides I found out there were for beginners. This was the only site that has been helpful to me.
The market is flooded with stuff for beginners, it’s refreshing to find something out there for the intermediate guitarist.
Any chance of getting your app for Android? Please please pretty please?
Christie, we wish we had it already, but our team is too small. Developing Uberchord for iOS is hard enough already, but Android even more so. It’s on the roadmap, but I cannot tell you a date yet. I’m really sorry, we get so many requests and it pains us. We are really doing our best, so please bear with us!
I like the suggestion to learn barre chords and how they work. That is a great way to learn the basics of rock music. When I was first learning how to play guitar, I was terrible. Now that I have learned and practiced the basics, I am starting to get better and better. I would hope that someday I can play my favorite rock songs.
Its great to know how to play barre chords especially after you have learned basic chords
Thanks for sharing your experience
It’s really helpful for me. I will try it then
Thanks so much again
Thank you so much for this article–so many helpful tips here. But, I just saw this post (“Get Instant Access To Over 60 Blues Jam Tracks, 3 Hours Of Videos Lessons & Improvisation Guides”) and actually was reading about this same topic the other day. I did some searching around and stumbled onto this cool article… I thought it was helpful… https://bluejamsession.wordpress.com
Dude, awesome tips. Really uplifting and helpful.
Thanks a lot for the tips!
I just published an article on how to play guitar for beginner
Hope it useful:
Nice set of tips. I find if you apply most of these in combination with learning easy guitar songs, then you have a really good recipe for success, especially for beginners. This goes well if a list of easy songs which can be useful: http://www.voicesinc.org/easy-guitar-songs-for-beginners/
Hey Graeme Hague, Thanks for sharing this valuable tips with us. This is very helpful for beginners me also. Actually guitar playing was my symphony that’s why i bought a guitar in the last week, but didn’t know how to play. But from today will try to follow your tips and obviously will use your suggested Uberchord App. Thanks again
Thanks for sharing this. I’m currently working on the f# minor nocturne! they’re beautiful pieces. Afte completion of this, I would go for guitar lessons.
Don’t get me wrong, you have to be strong and confident to be successful in just about anything you do – but with music, there’s a deeper emotional component to your failures and successes. If you fail a chemistry test, it’s because you either didn’t study enough, or just aren’t that good at chemistry (the latter of which is totally understandable). But if you fail at music, it can say something about your character. It could be because you didn’t practice enough – but, more terrifyingly, it could be because you aren’t resilient enough. Mastering chemistry requires diligence and smarts, but mastering a piano piece requires diligence and smarts, plus creativity, plus the immense capacity to both overcome emotional hurdles, and, simultaneously, to use that emotional component to bring the music alive.
Before I started taking piano, I had always imagined the Conservatory students to have it so good – I mean, for their homework, they get to play guitar, or jam on their saxophone, or sing songs! What fun! Compared to sitting in lab for four hours studying the optical properties of minerals, or discussing Lucretian theories of democracy and politics, I would play piano any day.
But after almost three years of piano at Orpheus Academy, I understand just how naïve this is. Playing music for credit is not “easy” or “fun” or “magical” or “lucky.” Mostly, it’s really freakin’ hard. It requires you to pick apart your piece, play every little segment over and over, dissect it, tinker with it, cry over it, feel completely lame about it, then get over yourself and start practicing again. You have to be precise and diligent, creative and robotic. And then – after all of this – you have to re-discover the emotional beauty in the piece, and use it in your performance.
Learning to play guitar about 4 months into it now had to stop for few weeks due to shoulder injury but back on track now I have trouble strumming whilst changing chords also could I just add my friend plays guitar and told me to play em using your last 3 fingers as will keep your index finger free for a barre chord prob be same for am chord also I’ve tried it feels strange at first but makes playing barres a little easier.
I’ve just started playing barre chords after weeks perfecting the c chord and it does seem a lot easier playing the normal chords after playing barre chords.
Learning guitar chords seems like an uphill struggle to most beginner guitarists and can lead to people giving up early on. It’s a barrier that we all have to get through and there isn’t a way around it unfortunately. But you’ve outlined some great advice for getting your hands around them. I would also suggest another Guitar tips for beginners is learning the open chords well enough and then progressing onto barre chords. I was introduced to the caged system early on which helped me progress a lot faster.
Good teaching technique,what your doing is great, Which is great for beginners. I have learned the basic cords major and minor open and bar. We are also providing kind of same facitility with lyrics download. Please feel free to visit my website and let me know the things that I can make changes into it .
How hard should you push down on the strings to play the chords. Cause I keep doing it and if I dig my finger deep I can play but only last a second cause my finger skin would hurt.