Guitar Chords For Popular Songs

Learn some of the most popular guitar chords used for popular songs in this in-depth chord lesson.

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In this free lesson you will learn…

  • Five different types of popular chords
  • Why stepping stone chords help beginner guitarists in a huge way
  • How to practice these chords
  • Song examples that you can learn

What Are The Best Guitar Chords For Popular Songs?

When it comes to learning popular music, most often we can go with very well-known chord shapes to play the parts correctly.

This is one of the best things about popular music, is its ability to capture so much with such simplicity.

Another amazing thing about using common chords in popular music is that it makes those songs accessible for more people to learn, regardless of their skill level.

Let’s face it – everyone from Neil Young to Ed Sheeran and Maroon 5 have played a C major chord at some point in their discography. If it worked for them, it can work for you!

guitar-chords-for-popular-songs

Guitar chords for popular songs are typically easy to play, no matter the level you play at.

In this lesson, we’re going to discuss the most popular (and most accessible) guitar chords that you will come across in popular music.

If you’re a beginner guitarist, many of these shapes will be ideal for you. We recommend taking a fair amount of time with each section to practice the chords as they’re presented to you.

Focusing on each set of chords as they come up will give your fingers and brain time to coordinate with one another, resulting in better muscle memory in the long run.

This lesson will give you all of the essential guitar chords for popular songs that you’ll need to approach most radio songs with confidence.

Let’s dive in!

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What Is It That Makes These Chords Work So Well In Popular Music?

Although there are a few different varieties that we’ll come across in this lesson, not many of them are exceptionally difficult.

Barre chords are the exception to this rule, but we won’t be covering those in this lesson on guitar chords for popular songs.

We want to focus on simplicity for this lesson, and barre chords are a little outside of that scope for what we’re after.

These chords work so well because they are simple in their structure.

All of the guitar chords for popular songs in this lesson have either two or three notes in them, meaning they don’t have the same amount of specific definition that other chords do.

guitar-chords-for-popular-songs

With that in mind, we’re going to look at five types of guitar chords for popular songs:

  • Power chords
  • Stepping stone chords (Stripped down versions of popular chords)
  • Major chords
  • Minor chords
  • Suspended chords

 This specific list will give you a colourful arsenal of guitar chords for popular songs that will work just about anywhere.

Pro Tip: Practice these chords slowly to get the most out of them. Remember that each chord has a unique sound that we’ll want to study in order to understand them more. Slow and steady wins the race!

Let’s start by examining power chords and how to play them.

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Guitar Chords For Popular Songs I: Power Chords

Of all the chords on this list, power chords are by far the easiest to get under your hands.

Unlike the other three-note guitar chords for popular songs on this list, power chords contain only two notes – the root and the fifth interval.

These are the two most stable notes in any guitar scale, meaning that these chords fit in just about everywhere without hesitation.

The big thing we want to look for in guitar chords for popular songs is their ability to fit in without changing the arrangement of the song or adding unnecessary notes.

Power chords do this perfectly.

Found in rock music as well as other forms of popular music, power chords look like this:

A POWER CHORD

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(If you don't understand the above image please read our article "How To Read Guitar Chordboxes In 60 Seconds". It will make everything clear!)

C POWER CHORD

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Power chords can be played primarily on the E or A strings and across two to three strings at a time, making them ideal for a tight-sounding chord inside a progression.

These guitar chords for popular songs also serve as a wonderful primer for pretty well every other chord you will learn as a guitarist.

Pro Tip: These chords can serve as an easy-to-play substitute for major and minor chords.

This is because major and minor chords have another note – the major or minor third – that defines the chord. Power chords do not have this defining note, which means they can replace either chord in a pinch.

You can also play entire chord progressions using only power chords, which makes them especially handy as guitar chords for popular songs.

G POWER CHORD

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D POWER CHORD

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Guitar Chords For Popular Songs II: Stepping Stone Chords

After we’ve gotten through power chords, the next step is to start working our way up to larger chords.

The best way to do this is through learning how to play stepping stone chords.

Stepping stone chords serve as a great entry point to guitar chords for popular songs, as they’re simply the same chords – just cut in half.

To start with, let’s take a look at the C major and G major chords in the open position.

We’re only going to use the lowest three strings in each chord in order to make them easier to play. Give it a shot below:

C MAJOR (STEPPING STONE)

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G MAJOR (STEPPING STONE)

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The best part about the principle of stepping stone chords is that they can be applied to any chord that you’re trying to learn that uses more than three strings.

If you’re looking for a good song to practice stepping stone chords over, we recommend trying “Helpless” by Neil Young.

This song uses three chords, two of which can be stripped back to make them easier (A and G).

The strumming pattern is easy on the hands, making it the perfect tune to warm up for other guitar chords for popular songs.

Click here to check out a chord chart for this song.

Check out a few more stepping stone chord examples below before we move on to major chords.

 A MAJOR (STEPPING STONE)

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D MAJOR (STEPPING STONE)

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Guitar Chords For Popular Songs III: Major Chords

Once we’ve conquered stepping stone chords and power chords, the next logical step is to move on to full major chords.

Major chords have a happy sound to them due to their included major third interval that we mentioned above.

The difference between these full chords and stepping stone chords is that the notes of the chord repeat in two octaves, whereas stepping stone chords use each note only once.

Now that our hands are all warmed up, take a look at the same two chords from above in their full glory:

C MAJOR


G MAJOR

Pro Tip: To play the C major chord easily, start with your ring finger at the third fret of the A string and work backwards instead of forward.

Starting from the bottom of the chord gives you room to set up the rest of the chord easily. This principle can be applied to almost any chord.

Let’s try it with the G major chord: Begin with your middle finger at the 3rd fret of the low E string and work your way up to the high E string. You can play the B string either at the third fret or open, so use whichever works better for you!

Once you’ve gotten through these two guitar chords for popular songs, try these other two full chords below before moving on to minor chords:

A MAJOR

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D MAJOR

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Guitar Chords For Popular Songs IV: Minor Chords

Minor chords are more similar to major chords than you might think.

These chords contain the same root and fifth intervals, as well as a minor third interval instead of a major third.

This minor third interval gives these chords a darker quality, but that’s not a bad thing!

These chords mix well with other guitar chords for popular songs like major and suspended chords.

Let’s start by taking a look at two very common minor chords: A minor and D minor.

A MINOR

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D MINOR

The A minor chord is super easy to play!

Using the same bottom-up principle from before, start with your middle finger on the D string at the 2nd fret and stack your ring finger on the G string at the same fret.

Finish up with your index finger at the first fret of the B string, and leave the high E string open.

The D minor chord uses only four strings. Keeping the D string open, use your middle finger at the second fret on the G, your ring finger at the third fret on the B, and your index finger at the first fret of the high E string.

Try playing these chords together side by side, and then try the E minor chord to pair with the other guitar chords for popular songs below:

E MINOR

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Guitar Chords For Popular Songs V: Suspended Chords

Our final section deals with chords that provide a different level of tension than the other guitar chords for popular songs on this list.

Suspended 2nd and suspended 4th chords remove the third interval from major and minor chords and replace them with either the 2nd or 4th interval.

This means that we can often get more mileage out of a similar chord shape without having to move our whole hand!

These guitar chords for popular songs can provide some awesome movement without switching the root of the chord, so give these Csus2 and Csus4 chords a shot below:

CSUS2

CSUS4

If you’re feeling comfortable with the Csus2 and Csus4 chords, you can try out Dsus2 and Dsus4 as well.

These two guitar chords for popular songs turn up in a variety of places, but a great example lies in “Patience” by Guns N Roses.

This song does a great job of showing us how we can use both of them to accent the D major chord without moving the root note around or switching to another chord.

Suspended chords work great in a variety of musical contexts, so make sure you get these under your belt!

DSUS2

DSUS4

The Best Ways To Practice These Chords

If you want to get better at playing guitar chords for popular songs, you’re going to need to put in some practice.

Learning songs is a great way of helping us get new chords under our fingers, so make sure to explore as many popular songs from different genres as you can!

Rock tunes will do a great job of teaching us how to use power chords and stepping stone chords effectively, while many acoustic and pop tunes will teach us how to use a variety of larger, open position chords.

It’s important to keep your horizons wide, so practice everything as much as you can!

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If you’re having trouble getting some of these chords under your hands, here are a few other pro tips to help you practice:

  • Work in small chunks of the chord if you need to. Splitting up a chord into stepping stone shapes will help you get the chord under hand in pieces before putting it together
  • Use the bottom-up method for building chords whenever possible, as it will make it a bit easier on your hand and will encourage better wrist rotation for sounding out chords
  • Use arpeggios to sound out chords that you’re not familiar with. Arpeggios are simply chords that have had their individual notes played one-by-one. Give it a shot!
  • Listen to as many songs as you can! You’ll get a feeling for how different guitarists approach chords, and this will leave a mark on your playing over time.

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Song Recommendations

We couldn’t write a lesson on guitar chords for popular songs without recommending some popular songs to learn.

These are just a few of the tunes that we feel truly help beginner guitarists master a variety of chords that will help them on their musical journey.

Hit the links below to listen to (and learn) a few awesome and easy-to-play tunes:

We encourage you to seek out and learn as many songs as possible along the way. Guitar chords for popular songs have a unique way of teaching us not just how to play them in song, but also how they interact and play with other chords.

Remember, experimentation is everything!

Recommended Resources

If you liked this lesson on guitar chords for popular songs, you’ll love the other lessons we have for you below:

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