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Beginner's Guitar Tutorial

Common Acoustic Guitar Chords
- Playing Popular Nursery Rhymes and Beyond (part 1)

Learning guitar chords can be challenging at first. Fingers get sore, hands get cramped, and patience can wear thin. However, if you persist and continue to work at it, your fingertips will begin to become a bit tougher, your hands a little bit stronger, and your enjoyment will skyrocket! Not only will you be on the road to becoming a good guitar player, but with persistence, you will become the best beginner acoustic guitar player you can be.

The first few months are critical. . . but keep your head up!

Though there may be some very gifted guitar players in the world, imagine the best and most skilled player you can ponder. Now, realize that this player once picked up a guitar for the first time and had no clue about how to play it. All he or she knew was that he or she wanted to learn to play the guitar and play it well. Every world class player started right where you are, so don't get too discouraged in the beginning (or at any time for that matter). That's right. . . there was a time when Eric Clapton, Les Paul, and Phil Keaggy couldn't get a decent sound out of their first guitar, but they kept on going and became some of the most notable guitar players in our modern time.

In previous lessons, you learned how to identify the different parts of the acoustic guitar, and then you learned how to properly hold the acoustic guitar. Now it's time to learn how to play some basic chords that can be found universally in most nursery rhymes and many popular songs as well.

Don't get too "CAGED" while trying to remember your first chords.

There truly is some sense to guitar learning, and this little mnemonic device (a device to help aid in memorization) is called CAGED. This is also called an "acronym" - where the first letters of words or ideas spell another word that is easy to remember (Kind of like using HOMES to remember the Great Lakes of the Northern USA). Using CAGED will help you easily remember the major open chords for a guitar until you are able to "un-cage" your new guitar playing skills.

The chords represented by CAGED are called "open" chords because they are not "barred" and have strings in between the fingered chords that are allowed to be strummed while they are left "open" or not fingered. It will make more sense as we go along and as you refer to the included diagrams.

The first Letter "C" of CAGED.

In this lesson, we will introduce you to the commonly used "C" chord or "C major" chord and some alternative fingerings on the acoustic guitar. Also note, that the chords used on the acoustic 6 string guitar are the same on the electric 6-string guitar.

Diagram 1

In order to chord any open chord, it is important that you curl the fingers of the chording hand as though you were holding a small egg or racquetball. For a right-handed player, the left hand is used to do the chording. If you happen to be left-handed, then you will need a left-handed guitar and will need to revers the "handling" of your guitar when reading these lessons. The chording hand must remain fairly curled at the beginning because only the finger tips are supposed to chord on 1 single string for open chords. More advanced bar chords utilize 1 finger to chord 2 or more strings, but that will be saved for a future, more intermediate lesson. Any time you do no use enough pressure to press a string, or any time your finger accidentally touches another string on the side, you will hear an unpleasant "muting" of the string and perhaps some string "buzz". As you progress and become very comfortable with chords, getting string buzz or muted strings will become a thing of the past, so hang in there!

In order to form the first major C chord, you will be using fingers 1, 2 and 3 to chord strings, and will use your thumb to apply pressure on the back of the guitar neck so that you can chord strings firmly and securely. Refer to the diagram to understand how to number your fingers and chord the C major chord (or C chord for short).

The guitar strings are numbered in order from 1 to 6, starting with the thinnest "E" string closest to the floor and finishing with the largest "E" string closest to the ceiling when the guitar is resting properly on your leg. The fingers are numbered starting with the index finger as #1, and ending with the small finger or "pinky" finger as # 4 (see diagram 1).

Diagram 2

And, what do you think the thumb might be numbered? Some might say a number, but in universal guitar chording charts, whenever the thumb is used, it is noted with a "T".

Now, in order to produce the most common, open "C" chord, place your index finger on the 2nd string, 1st fret, your 2nd finger on the 4th string 2nd fret, and your 3rd finger (commonly known as the "ring finger") on the 5th string 3rd fret (see diagram #2). You will note that for the open C major chord, you only strum strings 5 through 1 (avoid string #6). When you become more advanced, you can learn how to mute certain strings as well in case you accidentally strum a string that should not vibrate. Make sure that you use enough pressure to get a clean sound from the chorded strings without hurting your fingertips too much. Advanced beginners, intermediate players and advanced players develop slight callouses on their fingertips allowing them to play longer without the same pain as beginners. Now, lay your pick (or plectrum) in your strumming hand the way we learned in the previous lesson and rest it on the 5th string. Next, strum smoothly down through the smallest string.


If this is your first strum, then you have just chorded a major C. If it sounded correct and clean, then you have chorded every string properly. If something sounded strange or a little bit "off", simply try this again, only strum 1 string at a time until you hear where the problem is. This should help you find the faulty finger or finger pressure and make adjustments until you are able to play a clean and clear open "C".

For these first few chords, we will include photos of the hands along with the chording chart so you can get used to how the hand is represented in the common chording charts. Later, we will only include the chord charts. Keep practicing and persisting and you will be well on your way as a new guitar player. Additionally, you will be playing nursery rhymes and other popular songs in no time!

About the author
Aaron Schulman Aaron Schulman has played guitar and trained in music for over 25 years. He enjoys teaching, playing, writing music and writing reviews about acoustic guitars. Recently, he wrote a series of reviews identifying the Blueridge BR-160 as one of the best acoustic guitars under $1000 on his site, Strumviews.com. He encourages people to research and understand guitar craftsmanship before investing in a guitar.

Previous lesson: How to hold the guitar and how to strum
Next lesson: How to play the "A" chord

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