How To Play Guitar Chords: A Beginner’s Guide

Wondering how to play guitar chords? We’ve got your back. In this beginner guide we’ll break it down & explain how to play guitar chords simply.

In this free guitar lesson you will learn

  • How to use stepping-stone chords to learn guitar at light speed
  • The 5 best beginner chords
  • Correct finger and thumb placement (left-hand technique)
  • The all-conquering importance of posture
  • Correct right-hand technique and 2 strumming secrets
  • How to use a pick & how to stay in time
  • How to read chordboxes

Sound good? Let’s dive in!

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Before we explain how to play guitar chords we need to cover some basic guitar anatomy.

This is the fretboard:

how to play guitar chords

This is where we press down to make chord shapes.

This is the sound hole:

how to play acoustic guitar chords

We strum over this part of the guitar. (Ideally, strum directly over the sound hole, but it doesn’t matter if you strum an inch or so to either side.)

How To Play Guitar Chords: Left Hand Technique

Having the right technique when we play chords is vital.

I’m going to show you a couple of cool tips which are great for your left hand guitar technique.

When you play guitar chords your thumb should be halfway down the neck. You don’t want it be far over to the top, or too far to the bottom. It should be halfway sitting nice and comfortable.

how to play guitar chords thumb position

Press down with the tips of your fingers. (Not the fingerprints.)

how to play guitar chords finger tips

If you use the flat part of your fingers, flesh will block other strings and make your chords sound messy.

Play with the very tips of your fingers.

If you want to learn how to play guitar chords properly you must make sure your fingers stand up nice and tall on the strings.

how to play guitar chords straight fingers

This gives your fingers space between one and another and allows each string to ‘breathe’.

By doing this, we can hear each note clearly and the chord rings out.

When you know how to play guitar chords correctly you should be able to feel the wind blow through the space between your fingers and the fretboard. This big space makes is easier to be precise.

how to play guitar chords

It is essential that you have short nails

how to play guitar chords short nails

Long nails prevent accuracy because they force your fingers to be angled down more than we want.

Learning how to play guitar chords is hard enough without having a physical barrier to contend with. Trim those nails!

how to not play guitar chords long nails

Of course, sometimes having long nails on your RIGHT hand can be really useful for fingerpicking and classical style guitar.

Learn the 12 EASIEST beginner chords with our famous FREE guide

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How To Play Guitar Chords – Right Hand Technique

When we first start out as guitar players, it can often seem difficult to know what to do with our right hand. Do we go for strumming patterns? Do we just go for it and hope for the best?

Guitarists use their right hand to strum the strings. The basic concept is to go from the top string to the bottom string and to hit everything in between.

We usually do this with a down and up motion.

  • When we go down, we go towards the floor.
  • When we go up we go towards the ceiling.

Strumming can be a tricky for beginners, but it’s essential that they master it because it’s strumming with the right hand that brings the musicality and rhythm to guitar playing.

This is one of our popular guides and a must-read for beginners:

How To Strum A Guitar

how to play guitar chords

How To Use A Guitar Pick

‘Picks’ and ‘plectrums’ are the same thing. Using a pick when we first start playing helps us learn how to play guitar chords quicker. It makes strumming easier.

I often see many beginners strumming with their thumbs across all the strings as it often feels ‘easier’ and sounds nicer than a pick. Although this is possible it’s almost as twice as hard in the long run.

Using a pick may feel hard at first, but if you stick with it for about an hour it will get easier.

Here’s how to hold a pick:

Do a thumbs up with your right hand…

how to use a pick

…now place the pick on top of your fingers with the pointy edge facing you…

how to play guitar chords with a pick

…now clamp your thumb down…

how to play guitar chords with a plectrum

That’s it. All together, your pick position should look a little like this.

It’s ok if your pick position looks slightly different to this (it’s a personal preference), but it really shouldn’t look very different to this.

A pick thickness of 0.65-0.73 is perfect for beginners. Any thicker and you will find it difficult to strum with fluidity.

Strumming is crucial to our guitar playing, when we strum we shouldn’t even have to think about what we do. It should just happen naturally. That should be your goal.

If you want to learn how to play guitar chords cleanly, a pick is very useful.

The biggest mistake a beginner can make is bad posture

The most common mistakes I see beginners make are all related to their posture. Having bad posture makes learning how to play guitar chords a lot more difficult.

How you hold the instrument is critical to your chances of successfully learning to play it.

‘Posture’ is the least sexy part of learning guitar, but it’s the most important.

Before we look at how to play guitar chords with our arms and fingers, we need to explain how to play guitar chords with our body.

how to play guitar chords correctly

How to play guitar chords with great posture (remember this makes it EASIER to learn guitar)

Here’s 3 things you should avoid:

1) Don’t slump down into a low sofa

This restricts your movement and makes the guitar harder to play.

best way to play guitar chords

2) Don’t sit in a chair with arms

This restricts the movement of your arms and encourages you to keep your left elbow tucked in. This is a big no-no.

how to play chords on guitar

3) Don’t perch on a high stool

Low stools are fantastic to play on but high stools (eg kitchen island stools) are awful.

On these higher stools the guitar will slide away from you while you play because your thighs tend to slope downwards. You will get into a situation where you are ‘chasing’ after the guitar or having to pull it back towards your body mid-song. No! 🙂

Learning how to play guitar chords can be tough. We don’t want to have worry about the guitar sliding away.

how to play chords

A few other common mistakes you should avoid:

  • Don’t tuck your left elbow in close to your stomach. It should be raised outwards, away from your torso.
  • Don’t rest your left elbow or forearm on your thigh. This is very common and it’s a chord killer.
  • Your left arm should be free to float in mid air, this is what allows your wrist to move.

You play chords with your whole left arm, not just your fingers.

how to play guitar chords

The Thing You Sit On is important

Why? Because it affects the height of your bottom. This affects how the guitar sits in your body.

Your thigh should be at a 90 degree angle to your torso, or angled ever so slightly towards you. This makes the guitar ‘stable’ and stops it from potentially moving away whilst you’re strumming.

Both arms should be completely free from obstruction, this helps chord changes become easier and allows you to move your whole arm when changing chords rather than just using your fingers. Your left arm should be able to move around in any direction to help these chord changes easier.

These mistakes are very common. You will be making some of them. Check them out one by one. 🙂

Learning how to play guitar chords correctly takes time. Even after you nail this, you’ll probably relapse and make these mistakes again, but don’t worry, that’s all part of learning how to play guitar chords!

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