Chords, chords, chords ... I have been playing since 1961 and I still learn more about chords just about every time I pick up the guitar. I find them endlessly fascinating and never tire of exploring them. You will see, as you progress, just how important chords are and how powerful they are, not just sonically, but as tools to help you track melody and harmony.
Chords are the movie soundtrack composer's best friends, for they are the quickest way to tell the viewer what they should be feeling about the scene they're watching. Their qualities are often compared to colors, as in 'bright' or 'sombre' or 'dark', and these qualities are simply the result of the intervals between the notes in each chord. Major chords, for example, are often called 'happy', whereas minors are called 'sad'. The only difference between the two is a one semitone interval.
Chords are also the building blocks of songs. You will quickly find that learning a song really means learning the chords that make up the song and that many songs use the same chords in the same order. So, never underestimate the importance of chords, but don't be daunted by the subject. You may be happy to hear that after 49 years of playing, in my mind's eye there is just one chord, one chord that can be transformed into countless flavors and pitches with just a bit of mental workout.
The five chord shapes on this page are by far the most important to learn, so burn them into your brain asap and include any open strings in those shapes. You will learn why they're so important when we have a look at barre chords.
Chords are the most important thing to concentrate on. Names of notes, scales, modes, key signatures — all of that stuff is important to know — but put it on the back burner for now. Chords underlie every piece of music you will ever encounter, chords are what you'll be following when you join a band or learn a song, chords determine what notes your melody lines, riffs and licks will need to consist of, so I highly recommend that you learn as much about chords as you can and that you always make it your priority. There is a lot to learn about music, but you will find that chords encapsulate a good portion of it all, so by knowing chords, you'll also be learning a lot of the other stuff. Lets first look at what are known as the open chords which are those that use some of the open strings of the guitar. They are the most basic of guitar chords, so learn them well.
There are two main flavors of chords in music: major and minor. We'll look at the majors first as they are the 'standard' against which all other chords are measured. On a guitar, there are 5 open major chords. It's the way the guitar is tuned and the fact that it has six strings that determines the 'shapes' of these five chords, nothing else. Alphabetically, they are A, C, D, E, and G (there's no need to add the word 'Major' after these letters; when nothing is written, they are understood to be major). There are no open B and F open chords. You'll be finding out more about these five chords later on, and you'll find them written in a different order, one that forms a word: CAGED. Let's stick to referring to them in that order from now on. 'Caged' just happens to be the word formed by these five letters, there's no hidden meaning.
The green dots show you where to put your finger tips. The red crosses mean 'Don't pluck/play this string'. The blue numbers indicate the best left hand fingers to use.
1 = index; 2 = middle; 3 = ring; 4 = pinkie.
The important thing to remember about these five chords is that they all have the same quality, or 'flavor', they are all major. They look different because of the way the guitar is tuned and because the strings end at the nut, but they are all made up of the same ingredients, namely the first (1), third (3) and fifth (5) notes of their scale, and therefore they all have the same sound quality: major.
Chords are usually played with the root as the lowest note in pitch and it's the note the chord is named after. The root is also known as the tonic, 'The One' or the number 1, meaning the first note of the scale. That's why in three cases there are bass strings you should not play because the root is on a higher string. The red crosses show that in these diagrams.