Here’s lesson on How To Play Guitar Chords For Beginners Electric

Yours truly! Will Ripley (Campfire Guitar Star)

Chordal Discovery: Everything You Need To Know About Reading Chords

Chord Charts and the Em Chord, Cadd9 and A Maj

Chords are a combination of notes that are played at the same time.  Mixing notes creates harmonies for a more full and complex sound.  

In this lesson we’ll talk about 3 important chords and talk about all the strategies and techniques you’ll want to know so you can play any chord. We will also talk about a technique called arpeggios and how to arpeggiate chords.

Here are 3 chord charts that represent the exact same chord, E minor. However, you’ll notice that the diagrams are all slightly different. What are the only differences?

Sometimes you will see chords written with no indicated fingering. Sometimes the fingering is written across the top in place of the string names. On other chord charts, you’ll see the numbers written right inside the dots.

Like we’ve talked about in previous chapters, chord diagrams are just a visual representation of the fret board. When you see the thick line on the top of the diagram, often that’s in reference to the nut (a part near the headstock of the guitar). When you make that connection, it’s often easy to see that a chord diagram is just like if you were to use a birds eye view, right down on top of the fret board.

Often times my students are able to make the connection between chords charts by just holding their guitars right next to the chord diagram because that’s all it really is – a picture of the first few frets of the guitar!

So here’s what an Emi chord looks like on the guitar. Can you make the connection between the chord diagram and the actual finger placement on the guitar?

Next, let’s get a bit more into it using all 4 fretting fingers and play this very important, common chord – the Cadd9 chord. It’s basically just a C Major chord. However, it has an additional “color note” that’s referred to as the “9”. Therefore, the full name of the chord is C Major Add 9. Because that’s a bit of a long name, us guitar players refer to it as just the Cadd9.

Can you see how the chord diagram and the placement of the guitar are related?

Here’s another angle of the Cadd9 chord:

Next, let’s talk about the only other thing that you’ll run into on chord diagrams. Let me introduce you to the “barre”. This is when we use 1 finger to cover multiple strings. It’s like your finger forms a steel bar to support the notes. The A Major chord is a great example that we can use because this is also a very common, must-know chord.

Now, I will say right away that you see a ton of different ways of playing an A Major chord. I really recommend you use this fingering I have laid out for you here. Why use 3 fingers when you can just use 1, right?

Look at this curved line above the notes on the A Major chord diagram. The line indicates a “barre” because it uses only 1 finger.

Getting your first finger to bend at the knuckle will really help to get this chord to sound clear.  

Here’s what the A Major chord looks like from your point of view. Can you see how the chord chart translates to the guitar?

Chords On Other Places Of The Guitar

Of course, chords exist on other parts of the neck too. You’ll know where to start the scale or chord because of some kind of numbering beside the diagram. It will always be clear what fret to start from. In the chords we’re going to focus on now however, you’ll only have to be concerned with the first 3 frets. That’s where most of the magic happens on guitar anyways.

Tips to play chords

A common beginner mistake is accidentally muting strings that should be played in the chord.  After finding your finger position, “arpeggiating” will help you uncover any problem notes if they exist. Playing one string at a time, you find the unintentionally muted or buzzy strings.  

Another way of looking at arpeggiating is the word “articulating”. It’s like you articulate each note in the chord to be sure it’s sounding clean and clear.

  • If you’re having trouble, try putting your thumb on the back of the neck to help provide more of a squeezing position between your thumb and fingers. This will help you press down the strings harder. Check out this diagram. As you progress, you’ll be able to take advantage of pro techniques when your thumb is NOT in this position. This might just be a crutch for you to get the finger muscles strengthened for now.
  • Double check that your fingers are as close up to the frets as possible.
  • When getting chords to sound clear, your fingers need to be almost vertical off of the fretboard – not leaned over.
  • On chord charts.  “0” means open. You can also think of the letter “O” for “open”. This means that you do want to play that string.
  • “X” means you avoid that string or don’t play that string.
  • Consider every string that should be played and every string that should be muted.

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Thanks and keep on rippin it! – Will Ripley & Mike B