What Is A Guitar Chord? – A Brief Beginners Introduction!

Young Lady Playing A Guitar Chord

“What Is A Guitar Chord?” Great question! A guitar chord is likely one of the most common topics your mind will jump to when thinking about the guitar. Notes are the building blocks of scales and Chords, and scales and Chords are the building blocks of songs. Simple right?

Three or more musical notes played simultaneously are called a Chord. A chord is named according to the first note of the chord. So, for example, the first note of an A Major Chord is an A Note. Nothing too hard there.

One thing worth noting is that there are many combinations that can be employed in music. I will try to cover as much as I can but it is possible that I have missed something. If that is the case please feel free to ask or tell in the comments section.

Easy Explanation Of Chords – The Best Kind!

D Major Open Chord

Your Guitar Strings are all team players! They like to work together to produce beautiful sounds, that what we call music. A chord is a group of notes which are all played at the same time. So practically, if you place your finger on the A string, 2nd fret and then pick the A string that is one note (B note if you were wondering).

If you keep your finger there and add another finger directly below it on the D string,2nd fret (E note) and then say you were to strum across all six of your guitar strings, you would have just played an E minor Chord! Great Job! An important aspect of chords is that all the notes are played and heard simultaneously. That is why they are strummed.

Often when you are learning chords, you will be taught that you should play the notes as close to the fret as possible. The reason for this is because when you fret a note, you are actually pressing the string down into the fret. This is how you change the string tension (pitch) and play different notes on a single string.

You should try to do this but it isn’t always possible especially when playing a stretched out chord but try it anyways!

Where Do They Come From – A Galaxy Not So Far Away!

B Major Guitar Chord

Chords are not just magical entities that present themselves with no explanation. They have a set structure and formula giving them their own distinctive sound. An example of this formula is the A Major chord. The formula for a Major chord is:

  • 1st
  • 3rd
  • 5th

These are notes derived from the Major Scale. The 1st note is also called the first scale degree or the Tonic ( no gin included :)). Every note after this is referenced to the tonic. So the 3rd scale degree is 3 positions above the tonic in the Major scale. The 5th note is 5 scale positions above the tonic in the Major Scale.

If this is a bit confusing for you, do not worry! Take it slow and try to understand rather than just remember. This will set you up to learn more complex concepts a lot quicker and for longer than just trying to remember all this stuff (and trust me there is a lot!)

Types of Guitar Chords – Simple breakdown.

The fact that chords have formulae makes it easier to understand them. I have included chord spellings (the notes that make up the chord). To refresh your mind a flat note is one fret to the left of the original note and a sharp note is one fret to the right of the original note.

A triad is simply three notes played together (tri means three, tri-cycle, triangle, triglyceride etc.) This will help you understand how chords are built up.

The Chords you can get are:

  • 5th(Power Chord)    (1, 5)
  • Major                         (1. 3. 5)
  • Suspended 4th        (1, 4, 5)
  • Minor                        (1, b3, 5)
  • Augmented              (1, 3, 5#)
  • Diminished Triad    (1, b3, b5)
  • Major 6th                 (1, 3, 5, 6)
  • Major 7th                 (1, 3, 5, 7)
  • Major Add 9th          (1, 3, 5, 9)
  • Dominant 7th sus4  (1, 4, 5, b7)
  • Dominant 7th           (1, 3, 5, b7)
  • Minor 6th                  (1, b3, 5, 6)
  • Minor 7th                  (1, b3, 5, b7)
  • Diminished 7th        (1, b3, b5, bb7)
  • Major 9th                  (1, 3, 5, 7, 9)
  • Major 6th Add 9       (1, 3, 5, 6, 9)
  • Dominant 9th           (1, 3, 5, b7, 9)
  • Minor 9th                 (1, b3, 5, b7, 9)
  • Dominant 11th         (1, 3, 5, b7, 9, 11)
  • Dominant 13th         (1, 3, 5, b7, 9, 13)

If you are wondering why there are no examples her it is because I am putting together a Chord Library so you can see all the examples you mind can handle! If you feel overwhelmed, don’t be! Just take it one chord at a time.

Open Chords vs Bar Chords – Adding Variety To Your Diet!

G Major Open ChordF Major Bar Chord

For simplicity let us define these terms as follows:

  • Open Chords: Chords which have one or more notes which are not fretted (no fingers pressed down to play the note).
  • Bar Chords: Chords which require one finger to fret multiple notes simultaneously (this is the bar).

Beginners usually learn Open Chord first as they are generally easier for untrained hands (bar chords require a bit of finger strength). While this may be the case for some, I think many would find Bar Chords quite easy as well. Once your hands have adjusted to the strength level required, you can simply shift the same Bar Chord Shapes along the neck.

This means it will be easier to play different chords by simply sliding the Bar Chord shape up or down the neck without having to change finger positions (which can be difficult for beginners who are not comfortable with the Open Chord shapes).


“What Is A Guitar Chord?” This question is now less intimidating to you because you have read the (brilliant :)) post above. My hope is that you will now be more comfortable when learning chords because you understand more about them. This is by no means an extensive look at chords but should be enough to get you going.

Chords are fundamental to songs so it is always nice to learn as many as you can. I find that understanding how they are built can help you remember them a lot better. I truly hope this helps you out!

Please feel free to comment below with any thoughts or questions.

See you!





10 Replies to “What Is A Guitar Chord? – A Brief Beginners Introduction!”

  1. Hi, I keep trying to exercise some of these chords.

    Too bad I have small hands with rather short fingers and it is not easy to get a good grip on the chords.

    I don’t know, maybe I let my daughter now learn to play the guitar. She already shows interest, that makes me happy.

    I think though it would be better if she would try to play the ukulele first, what do you think of that?

    She’s now getting five soon and has my hands lol, I’m afraid if she tries to play guitar it gets frustrating for her like it is for me.

    1. Hi Stefan thank for commenting! I dont think you should give up just yet! Yo can get smaller guitars like 3/4 size guitars (i had one when I was younger). There are guitars designed for kids as well and I would suggest getting an entry level one first to see if she is really interested and because she will out grow it pretty quickly.

      Ukulele seems similar to guitar but I would prefer a nice 6 string (but thats just me). Kids have an incredible aptitude for learning any skill, so if she finds it interesting, iit should be no problem to help her pursue her musical path. Music can actually be stress relieving one you know how to enjoy playing it!

  2. Thank you so much for such a simple explanation as to what guitar cords are – I now even know the main notes from the major scale that make up a chord! 

    I do have one question though that I was wondering if you could help me with. I am a beginner musician on the acoustic – I was wondering what were the best chords to start off with? Should I stick with open chords or force myself to learn with the more difficult bar chords?

    1. Hey Chris, Thanks for the comment! I am glad you found this post valuable. I think that as a beginner open chords are generally easier, but once you build up your confidence learn the bar chords. I know that it is difficult to hold the shape at first, but one your hand and your fingers adjust it becomes second nature.

      Take it slow and help your fingers by placing one finger down at a time so literally 1st finger, then second finger, third finger and lastly 4th finger. Moving very slowly now is a good way to teach your fingers what you want them to do.

      The easy aspect to open chords is they are often easier to play, but one downside is there are many shapes to learn and remember.

      The easy aspect of the bar chords is that you can learn one shape (lets say the e shape bar chords) and then slide that along the neck to play every chord you need. The downside here would be the initial difficulty in terms of holding the shape and fretting the notes clearly.

      Keep practicing and playing, I am sure you will not regret it!

  3. I’ve always wanted to play guitar. Always! I was a lead singer in a rock band and I would always get so caught up in watching my lead guitarist work out a solo. Often times, I’d lose time and end up making the solo go another four measures.I am not certain how important music theory is, for example, if you are just playing a guitar alone, however, if there is another artist playing, theory is relevant.There’s a lot to cover when you get into theory. Overall, I think your article did a great job of explaining a chord.

    The guitar fascinates me. I could never play one, but I have also played keyboard in a band. For future articles, the relationships between the guitar and other performing instruments should be addressed…mostly because it’s fascinating. Especially when you start to compare the rhythm and bass line against a lead solo. How everything works together is incredible, to say the least.

    1. Hi John. I am glad that you now understand the basic of chords. I think everyone need basic theory but I know brilliant musicians who don’t know that much theory. It depends on your individual preference as some people literally just want to learn songs which only requires you to be able to listen to the song and maybe read a tab.

      I would wager that you could learn a song purely from a good tab without knowing the chords or scales (although they would make it easier.) Your suggestion about addressing other instrument is interesting, but I will be focusing on guitar because that is what I know best (for now :)).

      I think the guitar can get pretty complex on its own without including other instruments as well, so for simplicity sake we will take it one step at a time.

      The way instruments blend is incredible, and complex too. A guitar is versatile because it can be played with other instruments but hold its own as well, when it is played solo.

      1. Renton,
        Perhaps I worded it wrong. I was mostly talking about the interaction between the guitar and other instruments. An example might be how a lead solo might be played seamlessly through a five chord progression.

        Teaching the guitar is awesome. I wasn’t suggesting that you teach the other instruments…or that isn’t what I meant to say.

        Take care!

        1. Oh, ok. I see. I definitely understood that wrong! Thank you for clarifying John. That does sound like an interesting post idea. I think I will build up to that though. I think that I first need to explain chord progressions and help people get a firm grasp of exactly why certain scales work over certain chord progressions. This way even a beginner can confidently approach the content and put the theory into practice.

          Thanks for the great feedback and ideas, check back here after a while and I am sure you will see the pieces of the puzzle woven into a useful resource that any musician can use to further their understanding of the guitar and music as a whole!

          Keep Well!

  4. Hello Renton. I am commenting just like you asked :). Once I was also a beginner guitarist and I figured out forever the chords of the five basic keys.  I agree with the content of this post, your students will like it. You are good at presenting it. 

    Success to you. Mark

    1. Hi mark thanks for commenting. I think that figuring out the chords could be fun but also time consuming due to the numerous possibilities you could come up with, but is still an interesting exercise. . I hope this post will be of true value to many people. 

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