Guitar Chords for Beginners: Guitar-Elite’s General Review
What is the first step really to become a great guitarist? It’s not just about the gear or the guitar. The first and foremost thing a guitar player should learn is chords. Almost all of the songs made are based on chords and chord progressions. You’ll be able to make your own chord shapes easier and more effective once you understand how these are formed. You will find it handy especially when writing your own songs. If you haven’t already, check out our music theory and scales discussion.
So what exactly is a chord?
A chord is simply a group of 3 or more notes played at the same time. A basic chord only needs 3 notes to function: the root, the third, and the fifth. A triad is another name for a three-note chord.
To be able to understand chords further, you must know the intervals within a scale. An interval is simply the distance from one note to another. There are a total of 13 basic intervals in a scale. You can use the image below as a reference.
You’ll only have to bother with the Major / Minor / Perfect Intervals in the chart above. The Diminished / Augmented column can be used later on in a more advanced lesson, once you have a better understanding of chords. So to plot it out in a more understandable manner, let’s do a chart in C:
Creating basic chords
So to make a C Major triad, you will need: (1) the root which would be C; (2) the major third which is E; and (3) a perfect 5th which would be G. With C-E-G, you now have a basic C Major chord.
Let’s try another chord – E minor. First, you’ll need the root which would be E. The second note would be the minor 3rd (m3) from E which is G. For the final note for this triad, you will need the Perfect 5th (P5) which is B. So with the notes E-G-B, you just made an E minor chord.
To sum it up, making a chord is as easy as picking a note, getting its third and then the fifth. Try making a major chord with G. What will you need? The major third would be B, and the fifth would be D. Easy! Now trying making it’s minor version: G-Bb-D.
Playing triads in a progression gets boring after a few rounds. Later on, when you find that triads are lacking, you’ll start to add sevenths (7ths) to your chords to add more color to the music. We can move to that later on in this article.
Another thing you should know is that chords shouldn’t exactly be in the format as shown above. When I say “format”, this is how it looks – root at the bottom, 3rd in the middle, and 5th at the top. This “format” is called an inversion. A C major chord can be written three ways: C-E-G; E-G-C; and G-C-E (see image below). There are three basic types of inversions: (1) root position; (2) 1st inversion; and (3) 2nd inversion.
Take note that the initial order of C-E-G must still be followed. C-G-E is an entirely different chord and that would be an E minor with an augmented 5th in the 2nd inversion. Complicated, I know, but you’ll later have a use for that. For now, let’s go back to discussing the basics.
But why should I learn about inversions if chords are easier written and read in the root position?
First off, inversions are important because it affects how you will be playing them. Technically, almost all basic guitar chord shapes are already inverted. You’ll find that each inversion is played differently – you can see that in the image above. Secondly, playing chords in a progression strictly in the root position makes it sound very bland and a little comedic. Third, playing all chords in the root position is much more difficult than switching between inversions. Check out the image below and see the difference between playing all chords in the root position as compared to switching inversions.
So to sum up chord inversions, it’s basically moving the lowest note to the top. As mentioned above, you will also find later on that most guitar chord shapes are already inverted. While root position chords may be easier to look at on a staff, you will see that inverted chords may sound much better than their root position counterparts. This goes especially well for guitar.
Let’s do a quick exercise – I’ll give you a few chord progressions and try playing them using strictly root positions, or use their inversions.
- D – A – Bm – G
- G – Em – C – D
- C – Am – Dm – G
Let us know how the inversions work for you in the comments below!
If you still don’t get it, worry not – we have in-house guitar teachers to help you understand all these things about chords! We also have the Guitar-Elite community forum for you to share your experiences in creating your own chord variations, so feel free to join!
Now that you’re familiar with triads, let’s put in some flavor to those chords! Simply put, a seventh chord is a triad with a fourth note added. There are several types of seventh chords, but when it’s not specified, it usually means that it’s a minor 7th (m7) from the root. So technically, a C Major chord with a 7th would be C-E-G-Bb. It is written as C7 in some songbooks. A CMaj7 would be C-E-G-B (don’t mistake this for a C7 chord). There is also the Cm7, which would be C-Eb-G-Bb. Finally, a C minor chord with a major 7th is C-Eb-G-B.
It sounds so complicated – why should I even bother? Guitarists should also learn about seventh chords because guitarists need to know every chord there is! Sure, it might not be used in the genre you’re playing, but variating your chords will surely make your songs sound much better. Moreover, learning about how to make seventh chords will prove useful in the long run. You’ll find that this will be useful with jamming with other guitarists!
Seventh chords are mostly used at the end of a progression before going back to the initial chord. So in a simple progression such as I-IV-V or C-F-G, you’ll want to add a 7th to the last chord, or G. It gives the impression of something coming next. Listen to the following chord progression to see the difference between a G without a seventh, and a G with a seventh.
There is also music that has a full seventh chord progression throughout most of the song. The octave is not the end of intervals at all – later on you’ll see that there are 9th intervals, 11th and 13th intervals. Jazz music uses a lot of complicated chords! Try listening to Take the A Train, a 1940s classic by Billy Strayhorn made popular by Duke Ellington.
Why should I learn how to make guitar chords myself?
Chord charts basically make things easier for guitarists everywhere. However, it is impossible to memorize the hundreds of variations of chord shapes which is why it is important to understand how to create chords yourself. It may not be as easy, but it will be useful in the long run. When you’re on stage you suddenly might feel the need to improvise! Aside from being one of the few people who actually understand how to make chords, you’ll also have enough knowledge to optimize or make your chord progressions more efficient. Furthermore, being able to create your own chords will make you stand out in the world of standard guitar chord shapes.
If you have any questions, feel free to use the comment section below. We have teachers in the house to help you out with creating your own chords! Join the Guitar-Elite community and learn with the best of the best at your own time and pace!