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Open Chords

February 10, 2017

"When one door is closed, don't you know, another is open."
— Bob Marley

 

 

In this lesson we'll learn to play a group of chords called Open Chords, which are among the most used guitar chords.

 

If you want a quick rundown, go to the end of this post and grab the infographic.

 

 

It's very likely that you've heard about Open Chords at one point or another. It's usually on the top 3 things most players learn to play as beginners, and it was no different with me. My teacher taught these to me around the second class or so, so don't worry, it'll be easy to learn.

 

Easy, yet very effective. In fact, you'll soon learn that many, many popular (and successful) songs play virtually only these chords. Never underestimate the power of the simple things.

What is a chord?

 

Simply put, every time we play more than one note at the same time, we are playing a chord. The minimum is two, of course, and on a normal guitar, the maximum is 6 (assuming you are not playing on a guitar with more than 6 strings).

 

So, if we just play a bunch of notes together, will that be a chord and that's it? Well, yes, that would be technically correct, but there's a catch:

 

"Not all chords sound nice to the ear."

 

Yep, that's the truth, and it's why we have a set of chords that we tend to play the most, and others that are not played at all, but you don't need to worry about this right now.

 

We call these open chords because they use at least one open string.

How do we create chords?

 

In order to create a new chord, we have to define which notes compose it.

 

Remember the intervals we learned in the previous lesson about notes and intervals? We are now going to use those, so if you have not yet read that, I recommend you do before going further in this lesson.

 

 

What is a triad?

 

A triad is a group of three notes. Totally not talking about the organized crime.

 

The basic chords we are going to learn can be described in a single triad, which are in turn defined by a group of intervals:

 

  • Major Triad

This triad is defined by the following intervals: 1st, 3rd, and 5th.

We call this by the name "Major" not because it went to the Army, but because a chord built with notes in these intervals sounds quite "happy".

 

  • Minor Triad

This triad is defined by the following intervals: 1st, b3rd, and 5th.

We call this by the name "Minor" not because it's not allowed to drink alcohol, but because a chord built with notes in these intervals sounds quite "sad".

 

Yeah, I know, but I did not come up with those names, someone else did a long time before I was even born.

 

For our first chords, we are going to use these two triads to come up with the notes to play.

 

Before diving in, I'm going to be recommending that you play the chords with a certain combination of fingers. Practice it and, as you gain more experience, try to play it with other fingers and see if works best for you. This is going to be part of your homework, and let me know what you find out.

 

Let's start!

E major chord

 

This is usually the first chord every player learns. You can call it just "E major", or just E chord.

 

This chord is derived from the major triad, of course. Starting from the 6th string, we have the following notes:

 

EBEG#BE

 

The major triad for E has the following notes: E (1st), G# (3rd), and B (5th). This means we are playing all the notes, some of them duplicated; this is fine.

E minor chord

 

This chord is very similar to the major chord, we only need to lift a finger.

 

The notes, starting from the 6th string, are:

 

E, B, E, G, B, E

 

We derive this chord from the minor triad. For E this contains: E (1st), G (b3rd), and B (5th).

This chord is very easy to play as you need only use two fingers.

G major chord

 

There's actually two ways to play this chord: the easier way and the harder way.

 

Let's start with the easier one, shall we?

 

 

 

The notes, starting from the 6th string, are: G, B, D, G, B, E

G major triad has the following notes: G (1st), B (3rd), and D (5th).

 

 

 

 

 

Not that hard, right?

Now let's see what the harder way looks like:

 

 

 

 

The only difference with the previous version is that we are using an extra finger on the 2nd string. All the notes used are the same except for that string, so instead of playing the B open string (3rd interval), we play a D (5th interval).

 

 

 

Practice both positions and use the one you like the most.

A major chord

 

 

 

The notes, starting from the 5th string, are: A, E, A, C#, E

The major triad contains the following notes: A (1st), C# (3rd), and E (5th).

 

 

 

A minor chord

 

 

 

The notes, starting from the 5th string, are: A, E, A, C, E

The minor triad contains the following notes: A (1st), C (b3rd), and E (5th).

 

 

 

C major chord

 

 

 

The notes, starting from the 5th string, are: C, E, G, C, E

The major triad contains the following notes: C (1st), E (3rd), and G (5th).

 

 

 

D major chord

 

 

 

The notes, starting from the 4th string, are: D, A, D, F#

The major triad contains the following notes: D (1st), F# (3rd), and A (5th).

 

 

 

D minor chord

 

 

 

The notes, starting from the 4th string, are: D, A, D, F

The minor triad contains the following notes: D (1st), F (b3rd), and A (5th).

 

 

 

In case you want a quick cheat sheet, I've compiled these chord diagrams into one infographic.

 

 

 

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