In this post we will look at how to play chords on the guitar as well as several tips, tricks and techniques which will make playing chords on the guitar much easier.

Have you ever heard someone playing some chords before and every time they switch chords everything goes silent for a split second (or more)? That’s probably because they aren’t using common fingers or guide fingers.

As a beginning guitar player it’s important that you learn how to play chords on the guitar using common fingers and guide fingers right away. You want these two things to become second nature (which they will with practice) because they’ll help you:

Common Fingers and Notes

Common fingers are made up of notes and many chords have notes and therefore fingers in common. There is no reason to lift fingers just because you are moving to a new chord. Look for common notes and common fingers. Take the E minor chord to the A minor chord as an example. You can see that the note “E” on the fourth string is in common between the two chords.

E minor
A minor

This Video Demonstrates How to Move Between Em and Am

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In each of the above chords the E at string 4 can be kept in common with the 2nd finger thus allowing you to simply pivot around that finger for stability and the sustained note. Lifting all your fingers is simply a last resort when there are no notes in common between two chords.

Applying this thinking to other chords will begin to make your changes simpler and make changing between chords easier and more musical. Some other common fingers between common changes are:

E – B7 finger 2 on string 5 common
C Major – Am finger 1 on string 2 common
G Major – Em finger 1 on string 5 in common
G Major – D finger 3 string 2 in common

Guide Fingers

A guide finger can remain on a string and lead to or guide to the next note on that same string without the need for lifting and replacing. As as example let’s look at two simple chords again, A major to D major. The notes in these chords as they are commonly voiced in open position from the root are:

A open E fret II A fret II C# fret II E open
D open A fret II D fret III F# fret II

When changing between these two chords finger 3 will be on string 2, II fret and will “slide” to the D note on fret III in preparation for the D chord change and the same will happen in reverse going back to the A chord. This type of guide finger approach will add stability to whatever you are doing in the future and is another reason you should carefully begin changes between common chord groupings. Some other guide finger changes are:

G – A finger 3 string 2 fret III guides to finger 3 fret II for A chord

These are both fingering principals and musical principals that will apply to everything you do on the instrument. It is not about the shapes of your fingers but instead about what is happening on the fretboard.

What Strings Should I Play?

When you’re learning how to play chords on the guitar it’s important to make sure that you are always beginning the attack of your chords on the root or naming note of the chord, do not just strum all the strings, in many cases you will be playing wrong notes if you do this. Chords are made up of specific notes and all the strings don’t necessarily belong in every chord. Find the root of the chord and let your pick fall from that root, this will work with most open position chords.

A digital tuner is almost a necessity and so we suggest you get one, it will help you to stay in tune and train your ears at the same time. Chords are especially nasty when being played out of tune so begin your practice and playing rituals by tuning. And one last thing, if you are using strings that are too heavy a gauge and you feel like your fingers are turning into vice grips change up the gauges until you are happy with what you are feeling under your fingers.

What Next if I Want to Learn More About How to Play Chords on the Guitar?

Thanks for reading this post on how to play chords on the guitar.  Read our post on the Nashville number system if you’re interested in learning more about chords and chord construction.  Chords come from scales and thus will often be found in very common combinations.  Once you understand the Nashville number system will get you’ll start to see and learn chords in groups rather than separate entities.

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