Beginner Guitar Essentials
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Beginner Guitar Essentials

Learning to play guitar made easy and fun.
4.8 (7 ratings)
Course Ratings are calculated from individual students’ ratings and a variety of other signals, like age of rating and reliability, to ensure that they reflect course quality fairly and accurately.
19 students enrolled
Created by Lloyd English
Last updated 7/2015
English [Auto-generated]
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This course includes
  • 4.5 hours on-demand video
  • Full lifetime access
  • Access on mobile and TV
  • Certificate of Completion
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What you'll learn
  • Play Open Position Chords
  • Read Chord Charts
  • Play Chords for Songs
  • Read Chord Diagrams
  • Tune Your Guitar
  • Name the Strings
  • Play Scales
  • Understand Basic Theory
  • You Will Need a Guitar. It is Recommended that You Also Have an Electronic Tuner.

This step-by-step course makes learning to play easy and fun by introducing new chords, scales, concepts and techniques in a logical progression with the easiest to follow lessons available anywhere. You'll never feel lost and will continually progress.

This comprehensive beginner guitar course will teach you the fundamentals you need to know such as:

  • Open position chords
  • How to read through a chord chart
  • How to play chords for songs
  • Beginner guitar scales and why you need to learn them
  • How to read a chord diagrams
  • How to tune your guitar
  • The names of your strings

By the end of this course you'll have learned everything you need to start playing songs and even enough knowledge to begin writing your own songs. Let's get started!

Who this course is for:
  • This Course is For Beginner Guitar Players Interested in Any and All Styles
Course content
Expand 45 lectures 04:35:51
+ Beginner Essentials Level 1
45 lectures 04:35:51

Welcome to My Guitar Pal and Beginner Guitar Essentials Level 1. Learning to play guitar can often be confusing and frustrating for beginning guitar players especially online. The information you will often find is random and often wrong and difficult to follow.

This step-by-step course makes learning to play easy and fun by introducing new chords, scales, concepts and techniques in a logical progression with the easiest to follow lessons available anywhere. You'll never feel lost and will continually progress.

This comprehensive beginner guitar course will teach you the fundamentals you need to know such as:

  • Open position chords
  • How to read through a chord chart
  • How to play chords for songs
  • Beginner guitar scales and why you need to learn them
  • How to read a chord diagrams
  • How to tune your guitar
  • The names of your strings

By the end of this course you'll have learned everything you need to start playing songs and even enough knowledge to begin writing your own songs. Let's get started!

Preview 01:51

The names of the strings are from lowest to highest:


The thickest string is lowest in pitch and the highest in pitch is the thinnest string.

The lowest string is an E string and is number 6, it is the thickest string. The thicker the string the slower the vibration. The highest or thinnest string is string 1 and is also an E string.

The strings are numbered low E6 - A5 - D4 - G3 - B2 - E1 high

Note names correspond to number of vibrations per second. Octaves are equal divisions and for this reason the notes are given the same names. For example:

A - 440 A - 220 A - 110

The numbers are vibrations per second or frequencies or hertz.

The frequency of the low E string is 82.406886 while the frequency of the high E is 329.63 Hertz. Other instruments will tune to the same standard which is A 440, this sometimes varies slightly in different countries. A piano tuner would use references like this to tune the piano. When we use a digital tuner it reads the frequencies or vibrations and translates that to a note name.

Preview 02:29

When we play an open string or unfretted note the length of the string is at its longest and so vibrates at its slowest number of vibrations thereby creating the lowest sound possible on that specific string. The longer the string the slower the vibration the “lower” the pitch . When we fret a string or place a finger on a fret we are thereby shortening the length of the string and thus making the pitch higher or the vibration quicker because of shortening the string length.

The reason notes change on the guitar is because when we place our fingers we are altering the length of the string thereby changing the vibrations per second. These altered vibrations per second or “frequencies” translate to note names.

Over the years in my teaching I have met students who have come to me after playing for several years who did not understand the concept of changing the length of the string and thus the pitches to create new note names. In this age of pressing buttons this is not the case with the guitar, there is no additional mechanical reaction after your finger touches the fret. In other words the finger becomes the mechanism whereby the length of the string changes along with the pitch. The hand becomes a part of the instrument.

Preview 03:43

The numbers of the fingers on the left hand are:

Index – 1 Middle – 2 Ring – 3 Baby Finger – 4

When playing in 1st position these fingers correspond with the first 4 frets as a general rule.

Fret I – finger 1, Fret II – finger 2, Fret III – finger 3, Fret IV – finger 4.

Frets are normally marked as Roman numerals and fingerings are indicated by Arabic numerals. The first finger or index finger indicates the “hand” position. If finger 1 is placed on fret I then the hand is in 1st position with each of the fingers having their own fret. If finger 1 is on fret II the hand is in II position and the hand spans frets II to V and so on.

Thinking in position is essential to a solid technique moving forward and probably the most important aspect of this approach is including the baby finger. Not including the baby finger can create a huge disadvantage later on so to incorporate the idea of position playing at the outset will create a strong and balanced hand in the long run.

Work on the chromatic scale in position I as suggested in the video. One finger for each fret through all the notes in open or 1st position, the pattern is:

String 6 – 1,2,3,4 String 5 – 1,2,3,4 String 4 – 1,2,3,4 String 3 – 1,2,3 String 2 – 1,2,3,4 String 1 – 1,2,3,4

Notice that on string 2 there are only 3 fingers due to the tuning of that string. If you went to finger 4 you would be duplicating the B note on string 2. The notes of the chromatic scale are:

E – F – F#/Gb – G – G#/Ab – A – A#/Bb – B – C – C#/Db – D – D#/Eb – E

From low E to high E goes through this scale of 12 notes completely twice or two complete octaves. Notes with slashes separating them are “enharmonic”, meaning the same note or pitch but a different name.

Preview 05:06

Placing your fingers correctly on the fretboard is essential to getting a clear and musical sound without buzzes and unwanted muted notes. Make sure to place your finger close to the fret without sitting “on” the fret wire. If you are too far back of the fret the result will be buzzing. Finger placement is as important as the amount of pressure you exert between the thumb and the fingers, incorrect placement is difficult to remedy by simply adding more pressure.

Always play on the pad of your fingertip with the tips of your fingers directly on the string, don't approach the string from an oblique angle. Keep your thumb in the middle of your hand so the strength of your thumb can be shared equally by your baby finger.

These are general principals that should be observed as you practice in order to achieve a strong and guitar oriented fingering hand. At first these techniques will feel foreign but persevere and before long they will feel natural.

Finger Placement

The names of the strings are E1 – B – G – D – A – E6. The “high” E1 string sounds higher because it vibrates at a faster frequency because the string is thinner.

up down

high – E1 – B – G – D – A – E6 – low

Each of the strings counting “down” from E will become progressively lower in pitch, this is related to the thickness of the string. A thicker string vibrates slower than a thinner string, slower vibration, lower pitch, faster vibration, higher pitch.

When we fret notes on any string we are shortening the length of the string thereby increasing the number of vibrations and thus changing the pitch or frequency of the note.

So there are two variables with changing notes or pitches. One is the width or thickness of the string and the other is the length of the string which is changed when you place your fingers on a fret.

We move “higher” up the fretboard when moving toward the bridge and body of the guitar and move lower or down when we move toward the headstock of the guitar. Fretting strings changes the string length and thus the pitch or notes.

On the Same String:

Higher Pitch – Shorter string length

Lower Pitch – Longer string length

Changing Strings:

Thicker string – lower pitch

Thinner string – higher pitch

High Low Up Down

Pick or “plectrum” technique is at the very foundation of being able to play both rhythm and single notes with clarity and precision. At this stage you may wonder why the emphasis on small details? These details will ultimately be instrumental in creating a comfortable and effective attack which is at the very core of everything you will do moving forward.

In my teaching experience I have often had new students holding the pick with 3 fingers or at an odd angle. This will eventually lead to bigger and bigger problems so achieving a “proper” picking technique is very very important to your musical progress.

With that in mind make sure that you hold the pick firmly without too much pressure. Allow your wrist to roll and keep your fore-arm totally relaxed. Begin with simple exercises like playing 4 attacks of each string using only a down stroke while striving for a nice even and pronounced volume. Think of the pick as an extension of your index finger as well as an extension of your arm thus forming a straight line from the fore-arm to the tip of the pick.

At this stage just let the pick push through the strings both in groups and single strings. Use a “rest stroke”, letting the pick come to rest on adjacent strings when playing only single notes.

Using a Pick

It is easy to forget about the position of the thumb while thinking of fingering new chords but it really must be considered at all times. Think of what the hand does when it “grips” something, the hand can only maintain strength when the fingers and thumb work together with the thumb “opposing” the fingers.

With this in mind think of “squeezing” out the notes on the guitar using the strength of your thumb and place it accordingly on the neck so that the strength of the thumb can equally benefit the week baby finger.


1. Using the palm of your hand

2. Hooking your thumb over the neck

3. Placing your thumb far off to one side of your baby finger

A proper thumb position will give your hand the strength and agility it needs and will balance the strength of your fingers.

Thumb Position

Melody is the linear or horizontal aspect of music, or the single note “line” that you would sing or play on a “melodic” instrument. Harmony on the other hand is the vertical aspect of music meaning that the notes are heard in combination to form chords.

Harmony is most often used to support melody thus creating two parts, the harmony that accompanies the melody and the melody that is individual to the song or tune. The word “harmony” is often misunderstood to mean only “singing” in parts but in fact it refers to combining any notes that sound good together in “harmony”. These “harmonies” can be played on any instruments. Guitar music is often written with chords written above and melody in notation below. Some “charts” are written only with the words and chords making the assumption that the player will already be familiar with the melody.

Guitar is often relegated to the position of a rhythm or harmony instrument being used to “accompany” a melody whether that is sung or played on an instrument. Guitar of course can also be used to play melody but is most commonly used as a rhythm instrument. When the chords and melody are played at the same time on a guitar in a solo style this style of guitar playing is called “chord melody”. This definition is somewhat specific to the guitar.

Rhythm guitar players can become very good at “hearing” or “earing” the chord progression in a song simply by hearing the melody and allowing it to indicate the chord progression.

The guitar is a polyphonic meaning that it can sound chords unlike for instance the saxophone or the voice or the violin (for the most part) in that they are only capable of sounding one note at a time whereas the guitar has the capacity to play chords similar to the piano for instance. This makes it an ideal accompaniment instrument.

As an exercise try singing Happy Birthday in the key of G using the chords G – C and D and listen to how the melody indicates where the chords should change.

Progression – I – V – I – IV – I – V – I G – I C – IV D – V

Melody and Harmony

Reading chord diagrams is a simple matter and rather necessary when getting started with your first open position chord voicings. The variables with reading a chord diagram are:

1. The Strings – Vertical lines

2. The Frets – Horizontal lines – Roman numerals indicate fret spaces

3. The Fingers – Arabic numbers on strings

4. The Open Strings – indicated by 0 above the nut or top line

Strings and Frets

The diagram is laid out as if the frets were facing you with the head of the guitar pointing at the ceiling, “*the nut” would be the top line of the diagram and is sometimes shown as a slightly thicker line. The strings are therefore indicated as 6 vertical lines, high E on the right and low E on the left. The headstock of the guitar is not normally shown or indicated in a chord diagram but if it were it would be at the top.

The Frets are horizontal lines with the top line indicating the nut (as mentioned), the space between the top horizontal line and the 2nd horizontal line will be Fret I. Frets are the spaces between the lines and are normally indicated as Roman Numerals.

The Fingers

The combination of strings and frets forms a grid on which we place our fingers to form a chord. The fingers are numbered:

index – 1 middle – 2 ring – 3 baby finger – 4

When a number (finger ) is placed on the string/fret grid this number indicates a finger or “fingering”.

Open Strings

When a chord requires “open strings” these are indicated by an “0” above the top line to indicate that the string should be played as an open note. Remember that “open strings are notes” and when indicated as open are a part of the notes in the chord. In the case of the E minor chord the notes in the chord are E – G – B , as a first position chord in open position these notes would appear as follows:

(bottom) 6 – open E 5 – B – II fret, finger 1 4 – E – II fret, finger 2 3 – G – open 2 – B – open 1 – E – open (top)

As you can see there are only *3 notes in the chord but they are duplicated in order to fill out the sound of the chord. In the case of E minor in open position we have 3 E's, 2 B's and one G note.

When an open string does not belong in a specific chord that string will have a mute string indication marking, usually a wavy line or sometimes an “m” for mute. It is important to avoid open strings that are not a part of the chord.

* a three note chord is called a “triad”

* the nut is the piece of bone or plastic that the strings cross over at the top of the fret board, it is between the fret board and the head stock.

Note: There are different ways of describing a chord. One is as a “voicing” which refers to the arrangement of the notes of the chord, another is “fingering” which refers to the finger placement and yet another is “chord form” which refers to the “shape” your fingers form when put in place for a specific chord.

Em and how to Read Chord Diagrams
Am Common Fingers and Root Notes

A minor to E minor is a common minor progression in the key of A minor, the I chord to the V chord in the Natural minor. This is an excellent progression to practice for keeping fingers in common, the fingers that remain in common will have to do with the “notes” that are in common between the two chords.

A minor – A – C – E

E minor – E – G – B

Because both chords have an E note in common there is no need to move that note on string 4 between the chord changes.

Root strum means that you will attack the root or naming note of the chord first as:

4/4 – Root – Strum – Root – Strum equals one complete measure in 4/4 time.

Listen for the root as being a separate part, as an independent bass part. When playing the root let the pick fall to the adjacent string as a rest stroke, coming to rest on the adjacent string.

Am to Em and Root Strum

4/4 time is 4 beats or pulses per measure and each of the beats is the duration of a quarter note. Tempo is the speed at which this pulse takes place. A measure is a division of the pulse into groupings of 4 in the case of 4/4 time. Underlying all rhythm is a pulse which is like a heartbeat. Rhythm is usually a further division of the pulse into rhythmic figures and phrases.

4/4 time is typically accented on the 1 beat of each measure with a less strong accent on beat 3. Chord charts are most often written using measures and bar lines.

Chord Chart

4/4 Em / / / | Am / / / | Em / / / | Am / / / |

The above is a 4 measure phrase or 4 “bars” long. When chords are written in this way it becomes easier to memorize progressions and song form. Songs are typically made up of 4 measure phrases which often when grouped become 32 measure or 16 measure or 12 measure forms.

When chord progressions are written without the use bar lines and chords are written only above the words this can cause a considerable amount of confusion when trying to understand and memorize the form of a song. The best chord charts separate the chords into bar lines and can even go so far as to include sections as Chorus, Verse, Bridge.

Counting Measures and Beats

The two most common time signatures are 4/4 and 3/4. 4/4 time has 4 pulses of beats per measure whereas 3/4 time has 3 per measure.

These pulses or beats are typically played with consistent accents on specific beats. In 4/4 those accents are found on beats 1 and 3, the accent on beat 1 being strongest.

1 -2 –3 -4

In 3/4 time there is one accent on beat 1 of the measure

1 -2 -3

Think of the right hand being the drum of the rhythm guitar and practice these times with the necessary accents without changing chords. In fact you can practice these time signatures without chords at all and just mute the strings in order to work on the accents and time with your right hand only. Make sure to work on attempting to think of your right hand independently and don't let it speed up or slow down while making chord changes once you do combine the right hand with the left and chord progression.

Remember that “rhythm” is the division of pulse so what is being discussed in this lesson is not as much about rhythm as it is about keeping a solid beat or pulse and being aware of where the accents are placed.

Time Signatures

The G major chord and the E minor chord are relative to each other, E minor is the relative minor to G major and vice versa. Because the chords are relative they share two of the same notes:

G major – G – B – D

E minor – E – G – B

This is reflected on the fretboard in that there are notes in common between the chords that do not change. In the case of the change from G to E minor the B note on string 5 remains under finger 1 while the open G note and open B note are in common between both chords.

These harmonic observations are essential when it comes to making your playing efficient, musical and ultimately musically creative.

G to Em

In 4/4 time there are 4 pulses or beats per measure and these are known as the downbeats. Think of your foot tapping in time and every time your foot hits the floor it would be on a downbeat, 1 – 2 – 3 – 4. The same will hold true for your right hand striking the strings and playing a chord in 4/4 time, your right hand would be synchronized to your foot tapping essentially.

For every downbeat there is an upbeat. Let's think of the foot tapping again. When your foot strikes the floor by moving down it also has to move back up to get ready for the next down beat, so the foot is alternating between down and up as is your rhythm playing hand. Every time your pick attacks on a down stroke it returns on an upstroke.

When we attack the strings on the upstroke this is called the up beat or “off the beat”. When we attack only on the down stroke in 4/4 we would be playing solid quarter notes, when we attack on the down and the up we would be playing solid 1/8 notes. The same duration of time but twice as many attacks.

This understanding though seemingly simple will provide scores of variations as you move forward. Pick a simple chord and work only on your hand attacking both on the down and the up stroke and make sure to count. The up stroke is always counted as “and” , 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and.

All instrumentalists refer to the “downbeat” and the “upbeat” although on the guitar it is literal with the movement of the right hand. The more the rhythm emphasizes the upbeat or up stroke the more the music is off the beat of “syncopated”.

In all of your rhythm playing make sure to always be aware of where the down beat is and synchronize your foot and your rhythm hand.

Down and Up Strumming

It is important to group chords into their keys as well as to understand the common notes between chords and how they are related so that you are not creating unnecessary movement from chord “picture” to chord picture.

The progression of C major to A minor is an excellent example of that. These two chords are called relative, A minor is the “relative” minor to C major and vice versa. They are called relative because they are so closely related, they in fact share two of the same notes and are derived from the same scale of C major:

C major – C – E – G

A minor – A – C – E

Because of this the change between the C major and A minor chord need only move one finger in order to make the chord change, the notes of C and E remain in common and thus do not have to move.

Awareness of the harmonic underpinnings of chords is essential to making chord changes both easier and more musical while providing an understanding that can eventually lead to “creative” musical direction.

C to Am

The 3 chords in this progression can all be derived from the scale of C major as:

C major – C – D – E – F – G – A – B – C – D – E – F – G – A – B – C

A minorC – D – E – F – G – A – B – C – D – E – F – G – A – B – C

E minor – C – D – E – F – G – A – B – C – D – E – F – G – A – B – C

The notes in a C major chord being C – E – G in an A minor – A – C – E and in an E minor – E – G – B

This progression is therefore a “diatonic” chord progression meaning that all the notes are derived from one scale. These chords therefore sound right together and provide some nice material to practice common fingers and pivot fingers. The progression is:

| C / / / | Am / / / | Em / / / | Am / / / |

Pay careful attention to the fact that the chord of C major and A minor have two notes in common while the chords of A minor and E minor have the E note in common. Understanding common notes between chords will help in understanding how to most effectively move from one chord to another while at the same time providing musical understanding.

C to Am to Em to Am

The E major chord and the A minor chord both use exactly the same finger “shape”. This makes them ideal for learning to “block” your fingers while at the same time providing a nice I to IV minor chord progression.

Blocking is a technique that forms the chord in your hand away the fretboard and then returns to the fretboard in a block of fingers that are in the shape of the chord.

This technique is valuable to learn for those chords not having common and guide fingers and can be used with any chord.

With the two chords specific to this exercise group your fingers and get to the point that you can place all your fingers on either string set 3,4,5 or string set 2,3,4 in a block. Do so carefully and check the chord each time by playing and listening until you can begin to make the changes in time.

E to Am and Blocking

Typically when in 4/4 time we attack each of the beats of the measure with a downstroke of the pick.

1 – 2 – 3 – 4

down – down – down – down

On the way back up we just miss the strings and this gives us solid quarters in 4/4. However when we attack the strings on the up stroke or on the way back to the down stroke this gives us 1/8th notes. When we attack with every down and every up it gives us solid eighths with down strokes on the down beat and up strokes on the up beat.

1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and

down up down up down up down up

This technique can be used to create a host of different strumming patterns by simply missing or “phantom” stroking either the down stroke or the up stroke. The hand always moves in the same direction but does not always strike the strings, this creates new rhythms.

In this lesson we examine the logic of this with a couple of different rhythms while changing between the chords C and A minor. Remember to always keep your hand moving down and up and always count and be aware of where the downbeats are, especially the 1 beat. Carefully observing this technique with counting and moving your forearm in a solid down and up has the potential to drastically improve your understanding and execution of solid rhythm playing.

In guitar rhythm “Down beat” literally becomes the pick moving down while “up beat” literally becomes the pick moving up. All musicians refer to down beat and up beat but on the guitar it becomes literal.

The less the emphasis on the down beat begins to create syncopation or rhythms that are “off” the down beat.

C to Am Strumming Patterns

The G chord with the doubled 5th moving to the Cadd9 is one of the most common chord progressions. The voicing of the G with the doubled 5th allows for a simple seamless change between the G and the Cadd9 because two notes are in common between the two chords.

G with doubled 5th – G – B – D – G – D – G – strings 6 and 5

Cadd9 – C – E – G – D – G – strings 6 and 5

The musical result of this simple change creates interest in the lower notes moving while the top two notes are pedaled or repeated.

A Cadd9 is derived from the C major scale as:

C1 – D – E3 – F – G5 – A – B – C – D9 – E – F – G – A – B – C

It is a C major triad with the 9th degree of the scale added. This creates an interesting and useful tension within the chord.

The importance of this progression and chord sound can't be over emphasized so work it out slowly and carefully and listen for the sound of the 9 as well as the sound of the pedaled (repeated) notes over both chords.

G to Cadd9

These chords have some valuable lessons to teach in how to alter chords simply. Think of these chords first of all as being derived from the D major chord. The D major chord is built from the D major scale as:

D – E – F# – G – A – B – C# – D

The 2 and the 4 are found in this scale as well

D – E2 – F# – G4 – A – B – C# – D

In both the D2 and the Dsus4 chords the 3rd is replaced by either the 2 or the 4. The spellings of the chords would therefore be:

D2 – D – E – G Dsus4 – D – G – A

Chords are always moving and these sounds create movement within the chord, this movement is between the 2,3 and 4 of the chord with the 3 typically being the point of resolution.

The sus is an abbreviation for suspended and this refers to the 4 “sounding” like it is “suspended” above the 3.

Begin by placing the chord of D and the drop your finger 4 on the 3rd fret for the sus, then back to the D and then lift the F# to open up the E string thus creating the D2.

D Dsus4 and Dsus2

The C add9 chord is one of the most common and important chords in the rhythm chord repertoire. It is most often used in progression with a G major and D major chord. In this lesson we also alter the D chord to include the Dsus4 and the D2 as well as these are also very commonly used.

These changes are comfortable for the hand as well as musically interesting while at the same time having a modern sound. When making the changes between the chords of Cadd9 and G you will note that there is no need to move fingers 3 and 4 when using the G major voicing that uses the doubled 5th. This makes for a super quick and nice sounding change in that you only have to move fingers 1 and 2 in order to execute the change. Not only is this sound easy to play it is also musically iconic.

When changing to the D chord, finger 3 stays in common and the exercise of keeping that finger down is important not only for the purpose of technique but for the purpose of having that common voice sounding or “pedaling” throughout the progression. In other words the chords of G and Cadd9 and D all have a D note in common.

G major – G – B – D

Cadd9 – C – E – G – D(9)

D major – D – F# – A

The Dsus4 chord “suspends” the 4 by dropping baby finger on string 1 at fret 3 thereby replacing the 3 of the chord and “suspending” the 4 above the 3. By lifting finger 2 and playing the open E note this creates the D2 chord, a D chord without a 3rd which is replaced by the 2nd.

The D major chord tones are counted from the D major scale as:

D1 – E2 – F#3 – G4 – A5 – B6 – C#7 – D1

A Dsus4 is spelled using the 4th instead of the 3rd, the D2 is spelled using the 2 instead of the 3, both chords don't have a 3rd.

These sounds can be heard in everything from the Beatles to Taylor Swift so a comfortable command of these chord sounds and voicings is an essential part of developing the chordal material necessary to play literally hundreds of different songs.

Keep in mind as well that these progressions can by moved and the keys can be changed simply by using a capo which is very common for these simple and effective voicings.

Cadd9 to G to D to Dsus4 and D2

The notes in an A major chord are A – C# – E, the notes in an A minor chord are A – C – E. The difference between an A major chord and an A minor chord is found in the 3rd of the chord:

A minor chord – A1 (minor 3rd) C3 E5

A major chord – A1 (major 3rd) C#3 E5

The distance of a major 3rd is a tone plus a tone, the distance of a minor 3rd is a tone plus a semitone. On the guitar fretboard therefore the difference between any major and minor chord of the same letter name will be found in the distance of the 3rd.

In this lesson we examine the A major chord using root – strum technique while using the progression A to D or the I to IV progression in the key of A.

We also examine the technique of resting the pick at string 1 which is a very valuable technique when emphasizing different notes in the top voice, being able to control the pick in this way is essential.

When attacking the root of the chords make sure to let the pick drop and rest on the adjacent string, rest stroke.

A Major Chord and Common Fingers

The A2 and Asus 4 chord should be thought of as variations of the A major chord. The A major chord is spelled:

A major – A – C# – E

It is best to think of this chord as derived from the A major scale which will come later in the series, but we don't want to wait for this chord. The A major scale with degree numbers is:

A1 – B2 – C#3 – D4 – E5 – F#6 – G#7 – A8

An A2 chord replaces the 3rd of the chord with a 2 instead and is thus spelled:

A2 – A – B – E

The A suspended or sus 4 chord is spelled using the 4 replacing the 3 of the chord like so:

Asus4 – A – D – E

Begin with placing the A major chord and then add the sus 4 and then let it resolve of move back to the 3 and listen to the sound. Then begin with A and lift off the C# to open up the open B string or the 2 of the chord.

The same logic holds true for the Dsus4 and D2 chords.

A2 and Asus4

It's important to always be aware of the root or naming note of each chord you play. It is a common problem for developing guitarists to not be aware of the root of the chord and to simply strike all 6 strings with every chord. This opens up the strong possibility of playing wrong notes which is not good.

The root of the chord is the most important note of the chord and an awareness of it will not only help you avoid wrong notes but will also eventually lead to new harmonic opportunities not least of which is eventually creating connecting bass lines in your chord progressions.

When we build bass lines we begin to think of chords in two parts, bass and chord. By beginning to separate these we begin to think of them as independent parts each with their own identity. Learning root strum technique is a great way to get started down the path of thinking in independent parts.

In this lesson we examine the common progression of D – G – A or the I – IV – V progression in the key of D with the count of: Root – Strum – Root – Strum – each attack having one count and thereby in 4/4 time filling one complete measure.

As for technique let the pick “drop” to the next string and don't try to avoid the adjacent string, this is called a “rest stroke”.

The 4 measure progression with root – strum count is:

|D / / / |G / / / |D / / / | A / / / |

r s r s r s r s r s r s r s r s

Roots being on beats 1 and 3 in every measure.

D, G, A and Root Strum

Tones and Semitones are distances between two notes. A Semitone is the shortest distance between two notes while a Tone is two semitones. On the guitar a semitone is the distance of a single fret and a tone is the distance of two frets. Scales are made up of arrangements of tones and semitones, let's take a look at a C major scale as an example:

C tone D tone E semitone F tone G tone A tone B semitone C

A Major scale therefore is constructed as follows:

Tone – Tone – Semitone – Tone – Tone – Tone – Semitone

A Chromatic scale is made up of only semitones like so:

A A#/Bb B C C#/Db D D#/Eb E F F#/Gb G G#/Ab A

Note that between B and C and E and F there are no sharps or flats. Consider the piano and note that there are no black keys between the notes of B and C and E and F. All the notes shown above that are joined with a slash are the same note except with a different name, these are known as enharmonic (same note, different name). With the chromatic scale in mind let's raisesome notes a semitone:

B raised a semitone moves to C, D# raised a semitone moves to E, F moved up a semitone moves to F#, G moved up a semitone becomes G#.

When we move down a semitone or lower a note a semitone:

G lowered a semitone becomes Gb, F moved down a semitone becomes E, D moved down a semitone becomes C# and so on.

The same principals apply to movable chords and to all instruments.

Lets try the same thing moving by tones:

A tone above E is F#, a tone above G is A, A tone above A is B, A tone above C# is D#, a tone above B is C#.

Now a tone below:

A tone below C is Bb, a tone below E is D, a tone below F is Eb, a tone below B is A, a tone below Ab is Gb and so on.

Try this logic on the guitar fretboard by thinking of each fret in semitones.

Tones and Semitones

The musical alphabet is a rotating alphabet that can start at any point. For the purpose of this example let's look at it from A over 2 octaves:

A – B – C – D – E – F – G – A – B – C – D – E – F – G – A

This musical alphabet beginning on A is a natural note scale, actually A Natural minor. The common major and minor scales are in alphabetical order with added sharps and flats to keep the distances correct for the specific scale.

Between the notes B and C and E and F there is only a semitone distance, all of the other distances are a full tone. Examine that logic on the piano keyboard where the B and C and E and F will have no black key between these notes.

Locate these semitone distances on the guitar fretboard in open position and remember that an open string is a note and that tones and semitones are distances between two notes.

Since chords come from scales it is essential to internalize the musical alphabet for chord spellings as well as chord functions.

Musical Alphabet

The major scale is the most common of all scales, this is the do – re – mi – fa – so – la – ti – do scale. What we need to start a scale is a starting note, this note is called the root note and gives the scale its letter name. In order to build a major scale we begin with a series of relationships. These relationships are made up of Tones and Semitones, a tone is a distance of 2 frets, a semitone is a distance of 1 fret.

The series of tones and semitones in a major scale are:

C Tone D Tone E Semitone F Tone G Tone A Tone B Semitone C

In the above example we used C as our starting note thus building a C major scale. When we use G as our starting note:

G Tone A Tone B Semitone C Tone D Tone E Tone F# Semitone G

This gives us the notes of a G major scale but notice that the relationships of tones and semitones remain constant. In fact the best definition of a major scale is that it is a TTS TTTS scale.

Try the logic of constructing a major scale on a single string using only one finger to play the scale. From an open string to the II fret is a tone, then 2 frets tone, 1 fret semitone and so on. When you start on an open string and follow TTSTTTS you will end up at the octave at fret XII and the scales name will be derived from the starting note.

The Major Scale

The C Major scale uses only natural notes which are the same as the white keys on the piano. The notes are:

C – D – E – F – G – A – B – C

The distances are:

Tone – Tone – Semitone – Tone – Tone – Tone – Semitone

This scale is played in open position and will be helpful in building your left hand coordination while at the same time teaching you the names and locations of the notes in open position. Chords come from scales and so learning to see chords as coming from the template of scales is important to building an understanding of how harmony works. Melodies also come from scales so the more comfortable you are with scale forms the simpler it will be for you to eventually learn songs.

Remember to stick to the positioning rule of 1 finger for each fret. The root chord of the C major scale is the C major chord, think of them as being related.

C Major Scale

Because chords come from scales it is important to begin to learn scales and to see them as the foundation of chords. Not only that but scales are an excellent way to build left hand coordination as well as provide the material necessary to ear and learn single note line melodies and to eventually build connecting bass lines.

In this lesson we focus on the C major scale in open position. The C major scale uses only the natural notes, no sharps or flats so it is like the white keys of the piano.

C – D – E – F – G – A – B – C the natural notes, C root

When practicing the scale always start on the root or naming note of the scale and play all the notes available in the position and then return to the root or naming note. The reason for this is so that the “tonality” of the scale is not confused. In fact by emphasizing a different note in the scale you could be playing all the same notes but be playing a different scale in a different key!?

Always make sure that you are using one finger for each fret, fret I – finger 1, fret II – finger 2, fret III – finger 3, fret IV – finger 4. This position playing is how the guitar is designed and is important in achieving a nice comfortable technique moving forward.

C Major Scale Part II

The A Natural Minor scale is relative to the C major scale. This means that both scales share exactly the same notes as:

C Major Scale C – D – E – F – G – A – B – C

A Minor Scale A – B – C – D – E – F – G – A

The difference between the two scales is a matter of emphasis on the root note or naming note of the scale. The C major scale has the C note at its tonal center whereas the A Natural minor scale has the A note as its center. This emphasis in fact changes the key and shifts the relationships of the notes to each other.

When practicing this scale make sure to listen for this difference and also make sure to place the emphasis on the A note in order that the tonality of this minor scale is captured. Use the A minor chord as the root chord.

A Natural Minor Scale

Scales are important! Not only do they get your fingers working the way the should, independently, but as well they teach you hand positioning and the names and locations of your notes.

The G major scale in one octave is a great place to start finding you fingers and notes. The scale is a

Tone – Tone – Semitone – Tone – Tone – Tone – Semitone

and the notes are:

G – A – B – C – D – E – F# – G

Therefore the key signature of G major is F#.

Make sure to use identical fingerings when practicing this scale, always 1 finger for each fret and always identically ascending and descending.

G Major Scale One Octave

Chords come from Scales. Learning chords in groupings is essential because that is the way they happen in music. Chords are named according to the scales they are derived from. Using the G major scale for our example the scale degrees are numbered as:

G1 – A2 – B3 – C4 – D5 – E6 – F#7 – G8

Chords are built in tertian harmony or harmony built on thirds. A third from G is B:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

G(1) – A – B(3) – C – D – E – F# – G

A third from B would be D so to build chords we

Take – skip – Take – skip – Take

G(1) – A – B(3) – C – D(5) – E – F# – G

Thus giving us the notes in the G major chord being G – B – D.

This same process can be repeated beginning on any note in the scale. If we begin this same process from the IV degree of the scale we would build the chord of C major using the notes C – E – G, from the V degree the chord of D major would be built with the notes being D – F# – A.

C Major – IV chord in G – G – A – B – C – D – E – F# – G – A – B – C – D – E – F# – G

C Major – V chord in G – G – A – B – C – D – E – F# – G – A – B – C – D – E – F# – G

These 3 chords are known as the I – IV and V chords in the key of G major. The I – IV – V progression is the most common of all progressions and takes place in all keys. In this lesson we take a look at the key of G because it is a very popular key. Listen to the sound of the progression and learn the chords in the key of G by grouping them according to this I -IV -V method.

Remember the musical alphabet:

A – B – C – D – E – F – G – A

This will be very helpful in counting out the I – IV – V progressions in the rest of the common keys of C – A – E and D. Simply count the degrees of the alphabet to arrive at the groupings.

A – B – C – D – E – F – G – A A – B – C – D – E – F – G – A A – B – C – D – E – F – G – A A – B – C – D – E – F – G – A – B

A – D – E C – F – G D – G – A E – A – B

As you progress learn to group your chords into keys with I – IV – V's.

Note that in the musical language numbers are used to explain different things and this can sometimes be confusing. In the case of chords being constructed they are built from a given scale degree in thirds. The degree they start from is the root of the chord and these are written in Roman numerals.

Chord spelling – take – skip – take – skip – take

Chord Function – I – IV – V beginning at the root or naming note of the chord.

Introduction to I IV V's

The F major chord can be derived from the C major scale as:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8


thus making it the IV chord in the key of C major. Chords are not fixed objects, in order to play a chord we only need the notes in that chord and there is more than 1 way to play any chord. In the case of the F major chord it is often pictured as a chord using a small 2/6 bar on strings 1 and 2, this is a difficult technique even for a more advanced player and thus can be a frustrating learning experience.

Rather than succumb to frustration let's instead examine some alternative happy and musical ways to play an F chord using the notes of F – A – C. When learning any new chord always think of it in a broader context than just a chord diagram. For instance as suggested in the opening line,an F major chord is the IV chord in the key of C and the notes of the chord can be derived from the C major scale.

Thinking in this way with all the chords you play will eventually begin to build an understanding of how chords are constructed and how they support melody.

The F Chord

Chords come from scales. We build chords using scales as the chord construction blocks. Chords are constructed in Tertian harmony or harmony based on 3rds. When we build a C major chord from a C major scale for example we do so by beginning with the C note and then Take – Skip – Take – Skip – Take, every second note or in 3rds as:

(C Take) D (E Take) F (G Take) A B C

These are the notes we need in order to spell a C major chord, since we are using a C major Scale and are starting on the I degree of the scale this chord of C would be called the I chord in the key of C major.

A chord may be constructed in this was on every degree of the major scale so in total there would be 7 different chords in each major scale:

I Major II minor IIIminor IVMajor VMajor VI minor VIIdiminished

Try imagining your chords more and more as coming out of scales or as “sitting on” a scale.

Constructing Chords

Chords come from scales and the chords in the key of C are derived from the scale of C major. Chords that are derived from the scale notes are said to be diatonic or “according to the scale”. Chords are constructed in Tertian harmony meaning in thirds or by taking every other note from the scale as:

C – D – E – F – G – A – B – C

The chord built on the I degree of the scale of C would be called the I chord, the chord built in the same manner beginning on the IV degree of the scale would be an F major chord and the chord built on the V degree of the scale would be the G major chord. Therefore a I – IV- V chord progression in the key of C major would be

|C / / / |F / / / | G / / / | C / / / |

Because the relationships between notes in a major scale remain the same this same I – IV – V progression in the key of G using the G major scale would be:

|G / / / |C / / / | D / / / | G / / / |

The same will hold true for other keys as well as:

key of D – |D / / /| G / / / |A / / /|D / / /|

key of A – |A / / /|D / / / |E / / /|A / / / |

key of E – |E / / /|A / / / |B / / /|E / / / |

Learning chord progressions in these groupings will be very important in moving forward and understanding and hearing how chord progressions work in all musical styles.

I IV V in C

A 7 chord is a 4 note chord. The A7 chord can be derived from the D major scale by beginning the chord on the V degree of that scale like so:

D – E – F# – G – A – B – C# – D – E – F# – G – A – B – C# – D

In the key of D major therefore the A7 chord is the V chord in the key because it is constructed from the V degree of the key. The notes in the A7 chord are:

A1 – C#3 – E5 – G7

The root of the chord is called the 1, C# is the 3, E the 5th and G the 7.

7 chords have a considerable amount of tension and usually want to resolve to their I chord, in this case to the D major. It is a good idea to practice new chords within common harmonic contexts because these are the same progressions you will be changing when making music. Practice the A7 chord resolving to the D chord and try playing it both with fingers 1 and 2 as well as fingers 2 and 3. Try guiding your finger 3 to the D note on string 2.

Note as well the difference between the A major chord and the A7 chord. The A major chord is a 3 note chord whereas the A7 is a 4 note chord. Remember that an open string is a note, you don't have to have a finger on a string in order to hear a note.

Introduction to 7 Chords and A7

It is a good idea when learning new chords to learn them within a harmonic context or in other words within a commonly used chord progression. This lesson is a good example of that, D7 is very often found moving toward the G major chord and D7 is often preceded by a D major chord. The notes in a D7 chord can be derived from the key of G like so:

G – A – B – C – D – E – F# – G – A – B – C – D – E – F# – G

The notes of the D7 chord therefore are D – F# – A – C.

A D major chord is a 3 note chord made up of D – F# – A while the D7 chord is a 4 note chord, adding the 7 to the D major triad as:

D(1) – F#(3) – A(5) – C(7)

This 7th creates a strong movement toward the chord of G major with the F# “leading” to the G and the C “falling” to the B of the G chord. Listen for that common movement when practicing this progression while at the same time considering each note as a different moving “voice” within the chord progression.

Consider the words “tension” and “resolution”. The chord of D7 is tense and wants to resolve to the G.

D7 Chords and New Voicing of G

A 7th chord is a 4 note chord. When the chord name uses a combination of the letter name and the number 7 as E7 this chord symbol designates a dominant 7 chord sound, being different from a minor 7 or a major 7. It is often referred to as simply a 7 chord. The “7” chord most typically functions as the V chord in a major or minor key. The 7 chord can be thought of as a major chord with an added 7, the notes of the E major chord being E – G# – B with the added 7 being D.

In this lesson we are taking a look at two common E7 chord voicings, the E7 being the V chord in the key of A major or A minor.

Let's take the spelling of this chord out of the A major scale.

Ex. A – B – C# – D – (E 1) – F# – (G# 3) – A – (B 5) – C# – (D 7) – E – F# – G# – A

We begin the chord spelling on the V degree of the scale and count that as the root or 1 of the chord and then count 1,3,5,7 or take-skip-take-skip-take-skip-take thus giving us a 4 note chord derived from the A major scale beginning on the V degree thus functioning as the V chord in the key.

Provided the notes of the chord are present they don't need to be in any particular order. When the notes of a chord are ordered differently this is called a voicing, each note of the chord being referred to as a voice.

This lesson examines the two most common “voicings” of an E7 chord and how those chords resolve to the A major and A minor chords. Listen for the “resolution” of the chord and the V – I progression in both the major and minor keys.

E7 Chord

The D minor chord is a common and important open position chord. It is often used in the key of C major as the II chord, in the key of A minor as the IV chord, in the key of D minor as the I, key of A major as the IV minor as well as other many other harmonic possibilities.

The notes in a D minor chord are D – F – A , for example these notes and the chord of D minor can be derived from a C major scale :

C – D – E – F – G – A – B – C

Note that the difference between a D major chord and a D minor chord is found in the 3rd of the chord and this of course will hold true for all major to minor chords.


D Major – D(1) – F#(3) – A(5)

D minor – D(1) – F(3) (natural) – A(5)

In other words to make a D major chord a D minor chord the 3rd is lowered by a semitone. Test this logic on the guitar fretboard and keep your eye on the movement of the notes and not the movement of the fingers.

When fingering a D minor chord don't shy away from using your baby finger on the D note on the second string. Chords are often fingered in different ways depending on what comes before and after (progression).

An excellent progression for practice in the case of the D minor chord is the I – IV – V chords in the key of A minor, this is a very common use of the D minor chord.

| Amin / / / | Dmin / / / | Amin / / / | Emin / / / |

When learning a new chord try simply squeezing the notes of the chord when you have them in place and do this over and over until you begin to feel the chord in your hand and then slowly begin to remove and replace your fingers as a block.

When practicing progressions always be aware of common fingers and guide fingers. If you are careful to build these principals into your chord playing it will speed up the learning process and make you playing a lot musical and enjoyable in the future.

Dm and Common Fingers

Dropped D tuning is the most common of all “alternate” tunings. There are a number of ways that the dropped D tuning can be used to great effect but we are going to focus on the most practical for now.

The key of D major is a very popular guitar key because the voicings of the chords sound good in open position and because the primary chords in the key are relatively easy to play. There is an inherent weakness however with the D chord and that is that the lowest note of that chord is the open D at string 4. If you consider the chord of E for example you can see that this chord has a low E on the bottom string making this chord big sounding with a nice low bass note. In order to achieve this same “bigness” from the D chord we have to tune the low E string down to a D thereby giving us a low D an entire octave lower than the open D4.

Standard Tuning – E6 – A5 – D4 – G3 – B2 – E1

Dropped D Tuning – D6 – A5 – D4 – G3 – B2 – E1

Naturally because of this altered tuning some common chord voicings will have to be refingered to accomodate the new tuning on the bottom string. Since you have tuned down a tone you will have to compensate by moving up a tone with chords using the bottom string. For this reason it is a good idea to think of alternate tunings as suiting specific keys.

Begin by using a digital tuner to get string 6 perfectly in tune as a low D and then try changing through some of the primary chords in the key of D such as D – G – A – Em. Note that the G chord root will now be on fret 5, for the A avoid the 6th string altogether and for the Em the new fingering will require playing the root at fret 2 instead of as an open string.

If you get comfortable with the key of D in this dropped D alternate tuning using the refingered chord forms keep in mind that these can also be reused in other keys by simply using a capo.

Introduction to Dropped D Tuning

The capo is really a marvel of simple and musical engineering and over the years has come a long way in delivering the desired result in a simple and easy to use form. Put simply the capo is designed to quickly change key by shortening the length of all the strings by placing it over a fret, it essentially acts as a new nut or a complete barre.

This simple mechanism not only allows for quick and simple key changes but at the same time will change the timbre or color of the instrument. When placed higher up the fretboard as in “Here Comes the Sun” at fret VII it takes on a mandolin kind of quality or in “Free Fallin” or “Soak up the Sun” placed at fret II just gives the instrument a brighter sound.

The capo can be used very creatively in a host of different ways and should be a part of every rhythm guitarists tool kit.

Remember that in most cases the chord shapes are still named the same even though “in fact” the notes of the chords are different. This would become plainly obvious when playing with a piano for instance when you would quickly discover that all of your chord names had in reality changed. Don't let this deter you from exploring and using the capo, when you are playing alone it doesn't matter that the keys have changed and it won't be long until you understand how to rename your chords in new keys.

Introduction to the Capo

The 12 Bar or 12 “measure” blues is probably the most common song form of all and is a great place to start to learn how to memorize form. The “form” of a 12 Bar blues simply repeats the same order of chords over and over as they happen within the 12 measures. In other words there is only one section in a 12 bar blues and that 12 measure section repeats itself.

In this lesson we take a look at the 12 bar in the key of A using the chords of A7, D7 and E7. The form of the 12 bar we are using is as follows:

|A7 / / / |A7 / / / | A7 / / / |A7 / / /|

|D7 / / / |D7 / / / |A7 / / / |A7 / / /|

|E7 / / / | D7 / / / |A7 / / / |E7 / / /|

The roots or naming notes of each of these chords can be played on the bottom 3 open strings, this is a great way to get started learning the form. Once comfortable with playing the roots alone then move to a root – strum pattern using the chords indicated.

There are thousands of songs that have their basis in this essential progression.

12 Bar Blues in A with Root Strum
Beginner Essentials - Level 1 Quiz
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