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Playing chords on the guitar is not as difficult as it may sound. In fact, if you are playing three or more notes on the guitar at the same time, you are already playing a chord. Most guitar chords are made up of a combination of 3 different notes. These notes are also known as a “triad”.
But does every chord actually sound nice on the guitar? Well, that’s a matter of taste, but there are certain rules around guitar chords that will help you to play the songs you love on the guitar.
To get started, you can learn the chords and play them in many different ways on the guitar.
In general, chords are divided into major and minor chords.
A major chord (also known as major triad because it contains three different notes) has a major third interval on them bottom and a minor third on the top. You can count a major third as 4 semitones on the guitar and a minor third as 3 semitones.
A minor chord has a minor third interval on the bottom and a major third on the top. When you compare the structure of minor and major chords, you can see that they are both made up of two thirds stuck on top of each other. The only difference is that the major and minor thirds are inverted.
A major chord sounds brighter and more joyful, and provides a lighter atmosphere. A minor chord can be described as melancholic or sad.
Here are two examples for you: one song is played using major chords, the other song is made up of minor chords. Can you hear the difference?
Example of a major key:▶️ All You Need Is Love - The Beatles
Example of a minor key:▶️ Dance Me to the End of Love
Learning to play music might feel like learning a new language at first. Musical terminology is quite unique with a wide range of terms that you might never have come across before. But don’t worry, we’ve got you covered!
Here is the basic Guitar Chord Vocabulary you should know when starting to play chords on the guitar:
What is an interval in music?
An interval describes the distance in pitch or relationship between two notes. You have already come across two different intervals in the text above: major and minor thirds (or 3rds).
What is a root note?
What is a major third?
A major third is an interval of four semitones between two notes. The interval between the first and the second note in any major chord is a major third. E.g. 'C’ and ‘E' in ‘C Major’, ‘F’ and ‘A’ in ‘F Major’, etc. You can count a major third as a distance of four frets on the guitar.
What is a minor third?
A minor third in an interval of three semitones between two notes. The interval between the first and the second note in any minor chord is a minor third . E.g. ‘A’ and ‘C’ in ‘A minor’, ‘E’ and ‘G’ in ‘E minor’, etc. You can count a minor third as a distance of three frets on the guitar.
What is a perfect 5th?
A perfect fifth (or 5th) is an interval of seven semitones between two notes. The interval between the first and third note in a major or minor chord is a perfect 5th. E.g. ‘C’ and ‘G’ in ‘C Major’, ‘A’ and ‘E’ in ‘A minor’, etc. To identify a perfect 5th on the guitar, you can count seven frets up from the root note. You can also try finding the perfect fifth one string higher. E.g. ‘C’ in the ‘A’ string and ‘G’ in the ‘D’ string.
What is a chord progression?
The term chord progression is used a lot in guitar books and tutorials. But what does it actually mean?
A chord progression, also known as a harmonic progression, is a term used in musical composition that describes a succession of chords. So simply put, it means to play different chords in a particular sequence.
What is a chord inversion?
Another term which you have most likely come across when learning to play the guitar is “chord inversions”.
A chord inversion occurs when you play any note other than the root of a basic chord as the lowest note (bass). For example, when you play a basic C major chord, it includes the notes C, E and G. C, the root note of the chord, is placed at the bottom of the chord. The chord inversion occurs when G or E are found at the bottom of the C major chord (e.g. G, C, E or E, G, C).
What is an augmented chord?
An augmented chord is made up of two major thirds (an augmented fifth). An augmented chord symbol is notated by "aug". For example, the augmented chord (triad) built on C, written as Caug, is made up of the notes C, E and G♯ (G-sharp).
What is a diminished chord?
A diminished chord (also known as the minor flatted fifth) is a triad consisting of two minor thirds above the root. It is a minor triad with a lowered (also known as flattened) fifth. For example, the diminished triad built on C, written as Cdim, is made up of the notes C, E♭(E-flat) and G♭(G-flat).
Here is an example of a sheet music title containing diminished chords: ▶️ Michelle - The Beatles
What is a seventh chord?
A seventh chord is made up of 4 notes: a three-note chord (triad) plus a note forming an interval of a seventh above the chord's root note. Seventh chords are particularly popular in jazz music but they are important in any style of music as they enrich different harmonies and keys.
Here is an example of a sheet music title containing seventh chords: ▶️ Killing Me Softly With His Song
What are power chords?
If you have ever listened to rock music, you already know what a power chord sounds like. A power chord is a two note chord consisting of the root note and the fifth. E.g. ‘C’ and ‘G’ in the C chord. These chords are neither major or minor because they do not contain the third note of the chord.
Here is an example of a sheet music title containing power chords: ▶️ Rock You Like a Hurricane - Scorpions
So now that you have some of the basic chord vocabulary under your belt, let’s continue to expand your guitar chord skills and knowledge!
Most of your favourite songs and pieces on the guitar are made up of chords and chord variations. Whether you want to play rock, pop, jazz or classical pieces on the guitar, chords are the musical foundation.
So let’s jump straight into learning some basic guitar chords! In the following paragraphs, we will share some of our best tips and tricks to get you playing your favourite songs on the guitar in no time!
There are some easy guitar chords you can learn straight away. These chords are very useful if you want to play any rock, pop or jazz music.
You can start off practising the chords by placing your left hand in the correct position and playing down the strings with your right hand.
Some of the most popular songs have been written using just four chords. “Imagine” by John Lennon is a great song to get started with because it only has four chords.
Tomplay sheet music title example: ▶️ Imagine (John Lennon)
Let’s start with a fun introduction to the topic of Four Chord Songs. The comedy rock band “Axis of Awesome” made a hilarious video to show that many pop songs only use the same four chords :
You can learn these same four popular guitar chords and play hundreds of songs straight away.
Here are the four “magic” chords:
C Major (I), G Major (V), A minor (vi), F Major (IV).
C Major (I) – C, E, G
G Major (V) – G, B, D
A minor (vi) – A, C, E
F Major (IV) – F, A, C.
If you are a beginner, the F Major chord can seem a bit hard at first, but don’t worry. You can substitute it with a much easier chord: The Fmaj7.
(This is the Fmaj7 we are referring to. It is a good substitution for beginners because it is not a bar chord.)
These four chords are also part of our free guitar chord chart.
Would you like to play songs that use these four chords? We’ve got you covered with a selection of Four Chord Songs from our Tomplay sheet music catalogue:
Once you have learned your first guitar chords, you will probably find that playing chords the same way over and over again can sound a bit boring.
So let us show you three easy tricks to make your guitar chords sound richer and more varied:
1. Strumming: Try playing different strumming patterns with your right hand while making a chord progression. This is a great way to accompany yourself on the guitar while you sing.
2. Fingerpicking: Instead of strumming all the notes of the chord together, try plucking one string at a time with your right-hand fingers.
3. Mix it up: You can also mix strumming and fingerpicking while playing a song to create an even more unique accompaniment.
Well done, you have successfully learned the basics for playing guitar chords and your favourite music!
To recap, there are different ways you can use guitar chords in your playing.
Here are the three most popular ways you can try for yourself:
1. Sing and play guitar - This is a very popular way of playing the guitar and it is suitable for musicians of all levels (including beginners).
2. Add other musical elements to the chords - For example, try emphasising the bass notes of a song while playing the chord progression.
3. Play the melody and the chords at the same time - This is a great way to play popular songs if you are not a fan of singing.
To get you playing straight away, discover our guitar sheet music catalogue which gives you access to thousands of songs and pieces to play on the guitar.