Who this lesson is intended for
This lesson is intended for beginner first starting out on the guitar.
- Must be able to play the simple songs from the lessons: simple songs and more simple songs.
- A basic understanding of guitar tabs or standard notation.
The purpose of this lesson is to introduce you to basic ‘open’ chords. It will also explain basic strumming between chords.
Many beginners start off learning basic open chords because most of them are simple to play and countless popular songs use them. If you are comfortable playing the simple songs in the earlier lessons, you will find it easier to play these chords. They are called ‘open’ chords because they will use at least one open string (ie: playing a string without a finger on a fret). There are two types of chords: open and barre chords. Barre chords will be left to learn later on because they can be a huge strain on beginner’s hands. Barre chords do not use open strings. Once you learn all of the common open chords, you will be surprised with how many popular songs solely use open chords. Make sure you perfect playing the chord positions before you rush off to play some songs.
FIRST CHORD: Em
The first chord we will look at is one of the easiest chords to play: Em. To read this chord name out loud you would say ‘E Minor’. E is the note the chord is based on (the ‘root’ of the chord) and Minor is the type of chord. The two most common chord types are Major and Minor. Minor will often be thought of as a sad sounding chord when compared to a Major chord which can be thought of as a happy sounding chord. A little m will be used after the chord letter to tell you it is a Minor chord (eg: Em, Am, Bm).
Reading the chord diagrams
The diagram above the guitar tab is a chord diagram. It is a way of writing how chords are played on the guitar. The diagram below shows how to play Em. Compare it to the guitar tab or standard notation to try and understand how it is written. The vertical lines in the diagram are the guitar strings with the thickest string (sixth string) on the far left. The horizontal lines are the frets. The number one on the left will tell you what fret the diagram is starting on. The circles above the vertical lines tell you if you should play the string or not. A circle means the open string is to be played. An X on the other hand will tell you not to play that open string. Em will use all six strings with four open strings. The black dots represent where you place fingers on the guitar. Seeing as there are two black dots, you will place fingers on the two frets shown (both on the second fret). The numbers inside the black dots tell you which finger you should use to play that note (ie: 2 for 2nd finger, 3 for 3rd finger).
So for this chord you place your second finger on the second fret on the fifth string. Then you place your third finger on the second fret on the fourth string. All the other strings are played open. Have a look at the video demonstration to see it in action. On the guitar tab all the strings are played at once because the numbers are stacked vertically. Do a ‘down strum’ by playing all the strings starting from the sixth string. Again, check the video to see how to play it.
SECOND CHORD: D
The second chord we will look at is D. This is called ‘D Major’ or just D. Unlike Minor chords, you will notice there is no letter after D to say this is a Major chord. So whenever there is a letter by itself (eg: A, C, D), it is a Major chord. This chord should sound happy or ‘up beat’ when you play it. Even if it doesn’t, it will when used properly in a song.
As explained above, the diagram below will tell you where to place your fingers and which strings are to be played. The two Xs on the fifth and sixth strings tell us not to play those strings. So for this chord you only play the first four strings. Start by placing your first finger on the second fret on the third string. Then place your second finger on the second fret on the first string. Finally, place your third finger on the third fret on the second finger. For any chord you learn, start with placing your first finger (if needed) and work your way to the fourth finger (if needed). See the video to hear how it should sound and should be played.
Strumming between the chords
Once you are comfortable playing the two chords separately, you need to learn how to change between the chords. For most people this is tricky but even if you find it hard it will become easier after some time. All that is needed is to memorise where your fingers need to be placed. The tab below shows a simple rhythm where you strum Em four times then strum D four times. Start off very slow and don’t rush yourself. Your aim is to be strumming at a consistent rhythm without stopping in between when you change chords. Don’t worry if you need to stop to change chords at the beginning because you need time to memorise the changes. By playing slowly, you have more time to change between the chords.
My experience with basic open chords:
Many beginners start off learning open chords. I started off learning simple songs (like in the other lessons) before playing chords. I believe learning it that way put me at an advantage. Because I was very good at playing single notes cleanly and accurately when I started learning chords, I was able to play all the notes in the chords accurately very quickly. A couple friends I know who started off with chords as the very first thing to learn had a great deal of trouble playing the chords accurately. One friend gave up almost straight away because the chords were too hard. This is why I left chords for a little later on in these lessons. If you have a great deal of trouble with these chords (these are the easiest chords) you should go back to the simple songs and practice them some more.
Learning open chords can put you on the fast track to learning a great number of popular songs. But pace yourself with these chords and don’t rush off straight away and try to learn some songs. You need to build up your skills. Perfect these chords before trying to learn the chords in the next lesson because they will be harder. If you have a camera, record yourself playing the strumming pattern above and have a look at how you play it to see where you can improve. Feel free to upload it as a video response to my YouTube lesson and I can offer you tips to improve.