Ultimate Beginners Guide for Learning How to Play Guitar Chords

When first learning the guitar one of the most important things is to learn guitar chords. There are many different types of chords; some are easy to play while others are more difficult.

So, what is a chord? A chord is a group of at least 3 notes played simultaneously. Those notes can also be played as an arpeggio, where you play the notes separately. This is also called a “broken chord”.

Each note has an important role. The most common chords are Triads, meaning that they have only 3 notes which are separated by an interval of thirds. The triad is composed of a Root, Third, and Fifth (first, third and fifth notes of the major scale).

There are different types of chords, the main ones are: Major, Minor and Dominant.

Majors are built by a root, major third and a perfect fifth.

Minors are built by a root, minor third and a perfect fifth.

Dominant are a bit more advanced since it has 4 notes (basic dominant chord), consisting of root, major third, perfect fifth, plus a minor 7th.

Easy Way to Learn Guitar Chords: Techniques

Knowing these 3 types of chords you can play thousands of songs. Actually after learning how to play guitar chords with just majors and minors you could then learn how to play guitar songs of any kind.

There are 2 main techniques or ways to play these chords. Open chords and Barre chords. For all of you who are beginners trying to learn how to play basic guitar chords, the first step would be “Open chords”.

Open chords are those that are played in their first position (first frets) and includes 1 or more open strings. Unfortunately, there’s no way to play open chords in every tonality, which is why we need to know how to play barre chords as well.

Here´s a list of some of the most commonly used open chords:

Open Major Chords: A, C, D, E, G

Open Minor Chords: Am Dm Em

Open Dominant Chords: A7, C7, D7, E7, G7, B7

It´s important to have an understanding of where these chords come from. In occidental music we could say that the chords used in popular music come from the C major scale structure (Diatonic scale).

A diatonic scale has 7 notes (in western music there are 12 notes in total, we can see all those notes in the chromatic scale). So the C major scale has these notes:

Chromatic scale (ascending): C C# D D# E F F# G G# A A# B
Chromatic scale (descending): C B Bb A Ab G Gb F E Eb D Db

So keep in mind that those are notes, not chords. As we said, chords are made of stacks of thirds. So what is a third? A third is a musical interval that is placed at 2 tones (4 semitones) or 1 tone and a half (3 semitones) from any given note, depending if it’s major or minor. Let’s look at some examples:

If the root is C, the major third would be E and a minor third would be Eb.

If the root is A, the major third would be C# and a minor third would be C.

The other note for the chord is the perfect fifth. To make it simple, it is the fifth note from the root or any note in a diatonic scale. So the fifth from C is G, from A is E, from G is D, etc.

A perfect fifth is the 5th note from the root in a diatonic scale context. For example, G in the perfect fifth of C. If we use the chromatic scale to count we could say that it´s at 7 semitones
(C: C# D D# E F F# G).

Another interval that we need to know 7th. For now, let´s take a look at the minor 7th interval, which is the one that dominant chords have. Later we will see it deeper…

So the 7th minor interval is at 10 semitones above any given note, in our case (dominant Chord) 10 semitones above the root. So for example, from A would be G.

(A: A# B C C# D D# E F F# G)

So now we have enough information to know what notes are in a basic chord.

Let´s list some examples:

C major (C) – root: C, major third: E, perfect fifth: G
A minor (Am) – root: A, major third: C, perfect fifth: E
G major (G) – root: G, major third: B, perfect fifth: D
C dominant (C7) – root: C, major third: E, perfect fifth: G Minor 7th: Bb

In the case of C7 and the minor 7th interval, we need to know something called Enharmonic. When we talked about the chromatic scale we wrote it in 2 different ways, ascending and descending. Of course both have the same notes but they are written differently. When ascending we use # and when descending we use b for the semitones. So having that in mind we need to know that both notes with # and b are the same in our instruments but when we wrote them on paper we need to do it properly.

So that’s what Enharmonic notes are and look at some example to know what we are talking about.

So let’s look at why the minor 7th of C is Bb and not A#. Actually if we play that note on a guitar or any instrument it will be the same note. Both are at a distance of 10 semitones. Let´s count it first with # (sharps) and then with b (flats).

C C# D D# E F F# G G# A A#
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

C Db D Eb E F Fb G Ab A Bb
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

As you can see both notes are at the same distance. But before seeing if the note is sharp or flat, we have to target the 7th note. So we don’t need to count the intervals at first, just find the 7th note from the diatonic scale, in this case from C.

C D E F G A B
1 2 3 4 5 6 7

So, once we know that B is the 7th note from the root (C), the 2nd step is counting the semitones to see if the note is natural, sharp or flat. Let´s see another example.

F7:

1st step: Targeting the 7th note = E

F G A B C D E
1 2 3 4 5 6 7

Now look to see the semitones:

F F# G G# A A# B C C# D D# E: 10 semitones using sharps (#) that gives us a D# but we
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11: know that the note has to be E, so let’s try with flats (b).

F Gb G Ab A Bb B C Db D Eb E: So the right note is Eb. F7 = F A C Eb
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11

So this system works for knowing any interval. Now let’s put together some chords and see what are their notes are.

How to Play Chords on Guitar:
A major (A)

Root: A

We said that a major chord has a root, a major 3rd (4 semitones) and a perfect 5th (7 semitones).

So 1st step is targeting the notes from the C major scale.

C D E F G A B, if the root is A we will have this: A B C D E F G, so let´s find the 3rd and 5th.
A B C D E F G – C is the 3rd and E is the 5th.

Now the 2nd step is counting the semitones to see if the notes are natural, sharps or flats.

So we will use the chromatic scale to determine this, first with sharps and then with flats starting from the root, A.

A A# B C C# D D# E F F# G G#
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11
You can see the 3rd is C if we count 4 semitones we get a C# since the 7th semitone is natural.

A Bb B C Db D Eb E F Gb G Ab (no # and b) both scales will give us the right note.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11

So A major notes are: A C# E

D major (D)

1st step:

C major scale: C D E F G A B — Root D: D E F G A B C
D E F G A B C — F is the 3rd and A is the 5th.

2nd step:

D D# E F F# G G# A A# B C C#
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11

As we can see we already found the right notes so no need to check the semitones with flats.

D major notes are: D F# A

C minor (Cm)

1st step:

C major scale: C D E F G A B
C D E F G A B — E is the 3rd and G the 5th

2nd step:

C C# D D# E F F# G G# A A#

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

C Db D Eb E F Fb G Ab A Bb
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

So C minor notes are: C Eb G

Remember that minor chords has a minor 3rd = 3 semitones.
So knowing that and the right note (E) we already can see that the correct note would be Eb and not D#.

The 5th is natural so it’s the same on both scales. If you’re having trouble with this, try using our detailed guide to learn guitar scales.

Seventh Chords

So far we have went over basic chords, which are majors, minors and dominant. These are the most important first chords to learn on guitar.

Actually we learned about the 7th note, but only in dominant chords, but we can add the 7th to majors and minors too. There is also another type of chord called diminished.

Actually we have half diminished 7th and diminished 7th.

To put it simple, major chords will have a major 7th note and minors will have a minor 7th note. (Same as dominant, except that minors have a minor 3rd). Half diminished has root, minor 3rd, diminished 5th and minor 7th. And diminished 7th chords consists of: root, minor 3rd, diminished 5th and diminished 7th.

Major 7th Chords

Major 7th chords will have: Major triad (Root, major 3rd, perfect fifth and major 7th)
Ex: C major 7th (Cmaj7): C, E, G, B

Minor 7th Chords

Minor 7th chords will have: Minor triad (Root, minor 3rd, perfect fifth and minor 7th)
Ex: C minor 7th (Cm7): C, Eb, G, Bb

Let’s recap on how to get the 7th note, at least the minor 7th:

7th minor interval is at 10 semitones above any given note, in our case (dominant chord) 10 semitones above the root. So for example, from A would be G. (A: A# B C C# D D# E F F# G).

So this works also for the minor chords. If we have an A minor 7th, our 7th note will be G.
Resultant minor 7th chord is (Am7): A C E G
Dominant (A7): A C# E G

Major 7th will be at 11 semitones about any given note.

So let’s find the major 7th for an A major chord.

Remember 1st step:

Use the C major scale: C D E F G A B now let´s find the 7th note starting from
A: A B C D E F G
1 2 3 4 5 6 7

2nd step:

Count semitones in a chromatic scale starting from the root, first with sharps and then with flats:

A A# B C C# D D# E F F# G G#:
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11
A Bb B C Db D Eb E F Gb G Ab
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11

So since we already know that the note is G, no matter if it´s # or b we can see that our major 7th for the A Major chord is G#.

So A major 7th (Amaj7) has these notes: A C# E G#.

Let’s see a few more examples:

D major 7th (Dmaj7). Earlier we found the major triad (D F# A), so now let’s find the major 7th.

1st step:

D E F G A B C
1 2 3 4 5 6 7

So we know that C is the 7th note of D. So now let’s check if it is sharp or flat.
2nd step:

D D# E F F# G G# A A# B C C# :
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11
D Eb E F Gb G Ab A Bb B C Db
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11

So since we already know that the note is C, no matter if it’s # or b we know that our major 7th for D Major is C#. So D major 7th (Dmaj7) has the notes: D F# A C#

Earlier we checked the notes for F7, now let´s find the major 7th (Fmaj7)

1st step:

F G A B C D E
1 2 3 4 5 6 7

So we know that E is the 7th note of F. So now let’s check if it is sharp or flat.

F F# G G# A A# B C C# D D# E :
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11

In this case, we can see that our note is natural.
This is because in a diatonic major scale there
are 2 natural semitones, from B to C and from E to F.

F Gb G Ab A Bb B C Db D Eb E
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11

Fmaj7 notes: F A C E

Minor/Major 7th Chords

Minor/Major 7th chords will have: Root, minor 3rd, perfect fifth and major 7th)

Ex: C minor/major 7th (Cm/maj7): C, Eb, G, B

 

Diminished Chords:

Half diminished: Cm7b5

1st step:

C D E F G A B
1 2 3 4 5 6 7

So we know that E is the 3rd note of C. So now let’s check if it is sharp or flat.

2nd step:

C C# D D# E F F# G G# A A# B :
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11

We know that a minor chord has a minor 3rd, so that E should be flattened along with the 5th, G, and the 7th B.

C Db D Eb E F Gb G Ab A Bb B
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11

Cm7b5 notes: C Eb Gb Bb

 

Diminished 7th: Cdim7 or Cº7

1st step:

C D E F G A B
1 2 3 4 5 6 7

So we already know that E is the 3rd note of C, G is the 5th and B is the 7th. So this chord is similar to the half Diminished but it has a diminished 7th.

2nd step:

C C# D D# E F F# G G# A A# B :
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11

We know that a minor chord has a minor 3rd, so that E should be flattened along with the 5th, G, and the 7th B.

C Db D Eb E F Gb G Ab A(Bbb) Bb B
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11

Cdim7 notes: C Eb Gb Bbb

If Bb is the minor 7th, how can we flatten that Bb? We just add another b, so we get a Bbb, which sounds the same as an A, but we already learnt the Enharmonics.

 

How to Learn Guitar Chords: Extended Chords

Chords with added notes beyond the 7th. Ninth, Eleventh or Thirteenth are extended chords.

The structure of these chords will be the same, by triads.

So if we have a C major chord with all the extended notes, we will have this:

C D E F G A B C D E F G A B C = Cmaj13
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

 

Notice that the 9th is the same as the 2nd note but an octave higher, the 11th is the same as the 4th and 13th same as the 6th. Both an octave higher.

So from each degree or note of the major scale, if we add all the extended notes, we will get different types of extended chords.

First of all, let´s see the chords that we can get from C major scale or tonality:

 

I II III IV V VI VII
Cmaj7 Dm7 Em7 Fmaj7 G7 Am7 Bm7b5

 

This is the same for any major key, it just changes the note names. For instance, a IV chord will be always Maj7, a VII will be m7b5, etc. Of course, this is theoretically speaking. A composer can change any of these rules, but you know the saying, before breaking the rules we have to know them.

So that means that each one of these extended notes can have different qualities. Depending of the interval variations from the diatonic scale.

So these extended notes can be:

As the 2nd note, the 9th is the same but 1 octave higher, so it can natural (major) or b (minor).
It also can be augmented (#9)

11th: Is the same as the 4th degree of the diatonic scale, but 1 octave higher.
It can be perfect (11) or augmented (#11)

13th: This one is the same as the 6th degree or note from the diatonic scale but 1 octave higher. It can be major (6 or 13) or minor (b6 or b13). Those notes would be at 9 or 8 semitones, respectively.

So now, if we look for the extended notes for each of these chords, we will get different types of extended chords.

Let´s make a list with all 7 chords with their extensions:

We already checked the 1st one. (Cmaj13).

Dm7: D E F G A B C D E F G A B C D = Dm13
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15

 

Em7: E F G A B C D E F G A B C D E =
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15

Em7b9b13
(b9 and b13 because of the natural semitones from E to F and B to C)

 

Fmaj7: F G A B C D E F G A B C D E F =
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15

Fmaj13#11
(From F to B there’s an augmented 4th or 11th, so we will have a #11)

 

G7: G A B C D E F G A B C D E F G
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15

= G13

 

Am7: A B C D E F G A B C D E F G A
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15

= Am11b13
(From A to F, there´s minor 6th or 13th so we will have a b13th)

 

Bm7b5: B C D E F G A B C D E F G A B
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15

= Bm7b5b9b13

(Usually it´s impossible to play all the 7 notes. For 13th chords it’s common to omit the 5th, the 9th and 11th; especially for guitar since we only have 4 fingers).

 

Their is one chord that we haven´t checked yet. The 7th degree or note from the diatonic major scale is a minor b5 or also called half diminished. Diminished 5th is 6 semitones above the root.

A diminished chord is built by a diminished triad (root, minor 3rd and diminished 5th) plus a diminished 7th. Remember that minor 7th was at 10 semitones, so diminished is at 9 semitones. That´s the same distance as a major 6th, so they will be enharmonics.

For instance, a C diminished chord (it can be notated like Cdim or Cº) would have the next notes: C Eb Gb Bbb (yes, it has a B double flat, and that’s because from B to C there´s already a natural semitone). Let´s count:

C Db D Eb E F Gb G Ab A Bb B C
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12

So at 9 semitones we have A, but we need the 7th note (B) so to get that we need to flatten the Bb, so we get Bbb (which its enharmonic is A)

Ok, so let´s come back to our Bm7b5b9b13: It will have a b9 because from B to C there´s a natural semitone, that would be a minor 2nd or 9th.

What about the b13 (or b6), let´s count:

B C C# D D# E F F# G G# A A# B =
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12

As we can see, the 6 or 13 (G) is at 8 semitones, meaning that Bm7b5 has a B13.

If all of this is too advanced, it may be better to start from square one and see the best way to learn guitar starting from the basics.

Augmented Guitar Chords

These chords are like the opposite of Diminished chords, since they are minor triads with a diminished 5th. These ones are major triads with an augmented 5th. (The augmented 5th will be at 8 semitones, same as a minor 6th)

So they have: Root, major 3rd and augmented 5th.

C augmented (Caug or C+) = would have the following notes: C E G#

Let´s count:

1st step:

C major scale: C D E F G A B —
C D E F G A B — G is the 5th
1 2 3 4 5

2nd step:

C C# D D# E F F# G G# A A# B C
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12

– We can easily see that G# is the correct note.

 

Let’s look at a few more examples:

A augmented (Aaug or A+) = would have the following notes: A C# E#

1st step:

C major scale: C D E F G A B —
A B C D E F G — E is the 5th
1 2 3 4 5 6 7

2nd step:

A A# B C C# D D# E F F# G G# A
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12

So at 8 semitones we get an F, but we know that our 5th is E, so we need to sharpen it. So we get an E#, which its Enharmonic is F.

 

D augmented (Daug or D+) = would have the following notes: D F# A#

1st step:

C major scale: C D E F G A B —
A B C D E F G — A is the 5th
1 2 3 4 5 6 7

2nd step:

D D# E F F# G G# A A# B C C# D
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12

– We can easily see that A# is the right note.

 

Suspended Chords

These are chords that don’t have thirds, they are replaced by a perfect 4th. Sometimes the 3rd is replaced by a major second. We can find these chords as sus4, sus2 or just sus, although it’s more common that the 3rd is replaced by a 4th.

This means that these chords are neither major nor minor, but they create a characteristic open sound.

So the basic triad is built by a Root, perfect 4th & perfect 5th (Sus4) or Root, major 2nd & perfect 5th (Sus2). A perfect 4th is at 5 semitones above the root.

Let´s see a few examples:

Csus4 = C F G
C D E F G A B
1 2 3 4 5 6 7

 

Csus2 = C D G
C D E F G A B
1 2 3 4 5 6 7

 

Asus4 = A D E
A B C D E F G
1 2 3 4 5 6 7

 

Asus2 = A B E
A B C D E F G
1 2 3 4 5 6 7

 

Suspended Dominant Chords on Guitar

There are mainly two types of sus dominant chords, dominant 7th sus4 (7sus4) and dominant sus9 (7sus9). These are important for having a complete understanding of how to play guitar chords.

7sus4 is just a basic dominant chord with a suspended 4th. It´s built by a Root, perfect 4th, perfect 5th and minor 7th.

7sus9 This is just the same as 7sus4 except by the adding of a major 2nd or 9th. So it´s built by a Root, perfect 4th, perfect 5th, minor 7th and major 9th.

Let´s see some examples:

C7sus4 = C F G Bb

1st step:

C major scale: C D E F G A B —
C D E F G A B — F is the 4th
1 2 3 4 5 6 7

2nd step:

C C# D D# E F F# G G# A A# B C
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12

– We can easily see that F is the right note.

 

F7sus4 : F Bb C Eb

1st step:

C major scale: C D E F G A B —
F G A B C D E — So B is the 4th
1 2 3 4 5 6 7

2nd step:

F F# G G# A A# B C C C# D D# E –
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12

So 5 semitones will give us an A# but we know that the 4th is B. We don’t have to write down the chromatic Scale with flats to find that it should be B. We just look for the enharmonic. So it should be a Bb which is the Enharmonic of A#.

 

G9sus4 = G A C D F

1st step:

C major scale: C D E F G A B —
G A B C D E F G A — So C is the 4th and A is the 9th.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

2nd step:

G G# A A# B C C# D D# E F F# G =
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12

So 5 semitones gives us a C and A is the major 2nd or 9th.

 

A9sus4 = A B D E G

1st step:

C major scale: C D E F G A B —
A B C D E F G A G — So C is the 4th and A is the 9th.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

2nd step:

A A# B C C# D D# E F F# G G# A =
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12

So 5 semitones we give us a D and B is the major 2nd or 9th.

 

Add Chords or Added Tone Chords

Add chords are those that have a note added to the basic triad, of course it won´t be a 7th because in that case would be a seventh chord. The main notes, or most used notes are the 6th, the 9th, the 11th and the 13th. But remember that these ones are note extended chords since they don’t have the 7th.

For example, Cadd9. This means that we just add a 9th to a C major triad, hence the notes:
C E G D.

 

It also can be a minor triad, so Cmadd9, it just changes the 3rd, hence It also can be a minor triad, so Cmadd9, it just changes the 3rd, hence C Eb G D

 

Another good example is an added 6th chord, for instance: Cadd6 or C6.
Their notes are: C E G A

 

For C minor, Cmadd6 or Cm6 = C Eb G A

 

Another useful chord is the 6/9 chord. This is a triad (minor or major) plus the add of a major 6th and 9th.

Chord structure would be: Root, 3rd, 5th, 6th and 9th

C6/9 or C6add9 has these notes : C E G A D

 

Cm6add9 : C Eb G A D

 

D6add9 : D F# A B E

 

Dm6add9 : D F A B E

 

E6add9 : E G# B C# F#

 

Em6add9 : E G B C# F# … And so on….

 

How to Play Guitar Slash Chords

The slash name comes from the symbol “/” that we use to write this type of chords.

It’s common to use this chord name for chord inversions.

Chord Inversions: This is when we change the order of the chord notes. A chord can have as many inversions as many notes it has besides the root. For example, if we take the C major chord we will have 3 notes, C, E and G. So we will have 2 inversions.

Besides the root position (C E G), we will have the 1st inversion, E G C and the 2nd inversion, G C E.

So, if we want to write a chord progression and we want to have C chord inverted, we will use the slash symbol.

C major, 1st inversion will be: C/E (meaning C with the bass in E, or C over E)

 

C major, 2nd inversion will be: C/G (meaning C with the bass in G, or C over G)

 

For seventh chords there will be a 3rd inversion since it has 4 notes.

For Cmaj7 we will have:

Root position: C E G B
1st inv: E G B C = Cmaj7/E
2nd inv: G B C E = Cmaj7/G
3rd inv: B C E G = Cmaj7/B

 

For Cm7 we will have:

Root position: C Eb G Bb
1st inv: Eb G Bb C = Cm7/Eb
2nd inv: G Bb C Eb = Cm7/G
3rd inv: Bb C Eb G = Cm7/Bb

 

Of course, there are other uses for slash chords. There also can be non related chord notes on the bass. Depending of the chord type and music context.

One of the common uses could be for connecting chords with the bass notes chromatically. For example:

G D/F# Dm/F E // So we get chromatic notes with the bass, G F# F E.

 

Another common use is for altered dominant chords. For instance, a dominant 9 sus4 could be seen as a slash chord.

Example in G: G9sus4 could be notated as F/G, both have the same notes. Sometimes musicians use slash chords to simplify it.

 

Learn Altered Guitar Chords

These chords are mainly used in Jazz music, and they refer to a dominant chord, which some of its notes are raised or lowered by a semitone.
Here´s a nice table where we can see the altered notes:

b5th and/or #5th (the b5th could be notated as #11)
b9th and/or #9th (b2, #2 or b3)
b13th ( #5)

So these are some of the most used combinations: (Examples in G)

G7b9 : (G B D F Ab)

 

G7#9 : (G B D F A# – this chord is also known as the Hendrix chord).

 

G7b5 : (G B Db F)

 

G9b5 : (G B Db F A)

 

G7#5b9 : (G B D# F Ab)

 

G9#5 : (G B D# F A)

 

G13b9 : (G B D F Ab E)

 

Learning Chords on Guitar: Conclusion

We taught you how to play every major guitar chord in a step by step fashion from the basic chords up to the most complex chords.

Just understanding how to learn chords on guitar is not sufficient for you to be able to play guitar chords however. That takes the hard work of practicing until you have the finger movements memorized.

Refer back to how this beginner’s guide often to continue to learn guitar chords until you have them mastered. With a bit of dedication you’ll be playing chords like a pro in no time!