Learn to Play Contemporary Guitar

Chapter 2: Introduction to Chords

2.1 Chord Basics

Chords are formed by playing three or more notes simultaneously. For instance, C chord (also called C major chord) is made up of the notes C, G and E, and G chord is made up of G, D and B.

Hence, to play a chord on the guitar, you need to press the frets that correspond to the notes that make up the chord. Let’s try playing three simple chords:

The numbers represent the suggested fingers that you can use to press the respective frets. “x” means to avoid the string when playing the chord. Your goal is to make every note ring rather than sound muted.

Chord fingerings can also be represented as a string of numbers which stands for the frets to press from the 6th to the 1st string e.g.

C: x-3-2-0-1-0        G: 3-2-0-0-0-3        D: x-x-0-2-3-2

If you haven’t noticed, mouse-over of the chords for songs in Chords Haven will show the fingerings in this format.


  • 1. Use the tip of your fingers to press the frets.

  • 2. The most common mistake that beginners make is to allow their fingers to collapse and the joints to lock when pressing the frets. This is due to the lack of strength in their fingers. Prolonged playing with incorrect posture will lead to pain.

  • 3. Ensure that all your fingers are rounded with no locking of joints. You may find that some notes are muted at first (due to lack of strength), but persist in pressing with the correct posture. Your finger strength will build up over time.

2.2 How to strum

1. Use your fingers

Pinch your thumb and index finger together. Use the nail of your index finger to brush the strings near the soundhole.

2. Use a pick

If you have short nails or you find strumming with your fingers painful, you might want to buy a pick (normally called a plectrum) for less than a dollar. Similarly pinch the pick between your thumb and index finger and brush the strings with the pick.

2.3 Let’s get the music started!

This is the moment you’ve been waiting for! Using the chords shown earlier, let’s try playing the popular song “Leaving on a Jet Plane”. Try strumming once for every beat of the song:

To add more colour to your playing, you may want to try the following strumming pattern:

It is perfectly normal at the beginning to have problems with changing from one chord to another. A strategy that I usually teach is play very very slowly like onnneeee twwoooo thhrreee foouuurrr. Get the idea? Gradually increase the tempo as you progress.

Congratulations! You have learned your 1st song on guitar. Ready for more?

2.4 More chords

For this series of lessons, I will not go into the music theory as to how the fingerings are obtained for the different chords. In fact, this is not needed if you are just looking to be a recreational guitarist.

Once you have mastered the above chords, you are now able to play the following songs! *clap clap*

Marry YouD Em G
The Only ExceptionG Dm7 C
FireworksG Am Em C
BabyG Em C D
PerfectG Em C D

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