Popular Guitar Chords – The Ultimate Guide To Some Amazing Chords

The most popular guitar chords are the ones that pop up most often in music everywhere – let’s explore their shapes!

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In this free lesson you will learn…

  • 6 popular guitar chord shapes
  • How to use these chord shapes together with one another
  • Tips for making your chords sound AMAZING
  • How each chord shape is constructed

Let’s Explore The Most Popular Guitar Chords

Guitarists are known for having a wide variety of amazing chords at their disposal.

Although the concept of having only twelve notes in the musical alphabet seems limiting at first, we soon discover that the possibilities for chord shapes are rather limitless.

Even though we have countless possible chord combinations at our fingertips as guitarists, there are quite a few popular guitar chords that every guitarist should keep in their bag of tricks.

These aren’t just your typical major and minor chords, however!

There are a few “secret weapon” chords that are ultra-handy to have on hand as well.

Popular-guitar-chords

In this lesson, we’re going to take you through the most popular guitar chords that we think you should learn.

Although this list is based slightly in our own opinions, we’ve also taken this information from the countless songs we’ve learned and taught over the years.

By studying the “common thread” chords used by most guitarists, we’ve been able to generate this list of popular guitar chords that will help you jam along to countless songs (and also make you sound super impressive at parties).

Before we get into the meat and potatoes of this lesson however, we need to talk a bit about what defines our choices on this list of popular guitar chords.

Popular-guitar-chords

Are There Characteristics That Define These Chords?

The short answer is yes, but there’s more to it than that. Let’s discuss.

When we speak about popular guitar chords, we’re speaking about the ones that we see most often in music.

These include our major and minor chords with a few common variations that we see pop up often.

Popular guitar chords are ones that are used commonly, so this automatically excludes virtually any chord you’d hear on a jazz record.

Many popular music recordings use these chords because they don’t contain an extreme amount of tension, meaning they can be used pretty well anywhere and be effective.

Popular-guitar-chords

This isn’t to say that popular music uses the same chords all of the time, only that there are select chord shapes that are preferable over others.

When we talk about popular guitar chords, they need to meet the following criteria in order to make our list:

  • Must not contain an extreme amount of tension
  • Must follow a (relatively) simple chord structure
  • Must sound relatively stable in their tone

With these characteristics in mind, we developed this list into six main chord types:

  • Major
  • Minor
  • Major 7
  • Minor 7
  • Suspended
  • Power Chords

We’re going to teach you about each of these popular guitar chords, what makes them so popular as well as how they are made up in terms of note choice.

Let’s go!

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Popular Guitar Chords I – Major Chords

Major chords are largely some of the first chords that we learn to play as beginner guitarists, and for good reason.

These chords make up a good portion of the musical foundation that we need, accompanied by minor chords (below).

What makes these so attractive as popular guitar chords is their stability and happy tone.

Many chords can be unstable with the right (or wrong) note choice, but major chords provide plenty of stability. This means they can be used effectively in all sorts of musical contexts.

Let’s have a look at three of the essential major chords you’ll need to know on our list of popular guitar chords:

C MAJOR

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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!)

E MAJOR

easy-guitar-chords

D MAJOR

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Let’s talk about the structure of a major chord for a moment.

These chords are made up of the following three notes in the major scale (using the example of C major):

Root (C)

Major Third (E)

Fifth (G)

Pro Tip: The big advantage with all of the popular guitar chords on this list is that they can be played in the open position.

Take a look at a few more open position major chords below, and try to work out all five of these chords before you move on to the next section.

A MAJOR

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G MAJOR

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Popular Guitar Chords II – Minor Chords

Much like major chord shapes, you’ll see minor chord shapes pop up literally everywhere.

These chords similarly do not have much tension to them, so they can be placed in a variety of different musical contexts to bring a bit of a moody atmosphere to the party.

If you’re relatively new to playing guitar, we’ve got the essential minor chords mapped out for you below to learn.

These chords are a bit less happy than their major counterparts, but they pair well with them regardless.

Thankfully, many of these chords occur in similar spots to their major chord cousins.

Let’s look at a few minor chords in the popular guitar chords category below:

A MINOR

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E MINOR

most-used-guitar-chords

D MINOR

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Minor chords are made up of the following notes (using the example of C minor):

Root (C)

Minor Third (Eb)

Fifth (G)

Did you notice the difference between this minor chord and the C major chord above?

The only difference is the third, which will be major or minor depending upon the chord your are playing.

On our list of popular guitar chords, these chord types are the ones you will encounter most often especially at the beginner level.

Now, let’s talk about a more stripped-back chord shape with plenty of force behind it:

The power chord.

Popular Guitar Chords III – Power Chords

If you’ve ever put on a rock and roll album of any kind, you’ve definitely heard the sound of a power chord somewhere before.

Power chords are exactly what they sound like: powerful chords – but with an added bonus:

The big advantage with these popular guitar chords is that they don’t require much in the way of note placement to make them work.

All you need are either two or three fingers and two frets – that’s it!

Have a look at the two power chord examples below to try them out, then let’s look at how they’re made. Use your index and ring fingers for the two-note example, and add your ring finger for the three-note example.

G POWER CHORD (2 STRINGS)

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G POWER CHORD (3 STRINGS)

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Unlike the major and minor chords above, these popular guitar chords are made up of only two notes: the root note and its most stable counterpart – the fifth.

By playing power chords, we can greatly reduce the amount of effort needed to play by comparison to the major and minor chords above. This makes these chords great for beginners, but you’ll find yourself using these popular guitar chords at every level of skill.

Pro Tip: On your bottom two strings, the fifth can always be found in the same place: two frets down and one string up from whatever note you are playing.

The octave of your root note can be found at the same fret, one string above the fifth.

A POWER CHORD (2 STRINGS)

A POWER CHORD (3 STRINGS)

Popular Guitar Chords IV – Major 7 Chords

Now that we’ve had a chance to sit with some two and three-note chords, it’s time to step up the heat a bit.

Major 7 chords are found sometimes in pop music, but quite often in jazz music. These chords use four notes, which gives them a bit more definition by nature than the other chords we’ve explored so far.

“What’s the big difference?”

Major 7 chords use the 7th interval of the major scale to add more pizazz to the original major chord shape.

Let’s have a look at what an Amaj7 chord looks like against an A major chord:

A MAJOR 7 (OPEN POS)

A MAJOR (OPEN POS)

With the addition of the 7th interval then, our chord structure would look like this (in the key of A):

Root (A)

Major 3rd (C#)

Perfect 5th (E)

Major 7th (G#)

Pro Tip: As we learn the different types of popular guitar chords, it’s important to keep the sound of them all in mind.

Try playing these different chord shapes against each other in the same key in order to help train your ears to hear the difference. The more you listen, the more you learn!

Bonus Pro Tip: You’ll notice that major 7 chord shapes are a bit more detailed in how they need to be played. Use wrist rotation to help ensure that all of your notes ring out evenly.

Have a look at another example in D below:

D MAJOR 7

D MAJOR

Download our lead guitar cheat-sheet to make things easier

It can be disorientating for guitarists to understand which scales work with which keys.

With this in mind, we created a cheat-sheet; a key and scale-finder that you can use again and again.

Popular Guitar Chords V – Minor 7 Chords

The minor cousin to the major 7 chord, the minor 7 chord is just as detailed in how it’s played.

Made up of the same four-note structure as the chord above, these chords are also seen quite often in jazz music due to their tonal flavour.

This chord is made by adding a minor seventh note to a minor chord, giving it four notes as follows (in the key of A):

Root Note (A)

Minor 3rd (C)

Perfect 5th (E)

Minor 7th (G)

Take a look below at an A minor chord against an Amin7 chord to see the difference first hand:

A MINOR  7 (OPEN POS)

 

A MINOR (OPEN POS)

Notice how the minor 7 version is a bit moodier? That’s the additional minor seventh note that you’re hearing.

Pro Tip: These popular guitar chords may seem a bit more difficult at the outset, but they’re incredibly important to learn – especially early on.

Remember, building good habits with your chords is important. Learn as many of them as you can!

As with all of the chords on this list, the more you play them the more you will understand about how they sound.

Now that we’ve learned our five main sets of popular guitar chords, we’ve got one more for you to spice things up.

D MINOR 7

D MINOR

Popular Guitar Chords VI – Suspended Chords

Suspended chords (or “sus” chords as they’re commonly referred to) do a very special thing the other chords on this list do not – let’s learn about it!

Suspended chords act as a great bridge between chords by slightly altering the shape of our traditional major or minor chord with just one note.

Suspended chords come in two varieties:

Suspended 2nd (Sus2)

Suspended 4th (Sus4)

Each of these chord names is characteristic of what takes place within it.

Let’s explore the chord structure below, but take a look first at what these two chords look like against a C major chord:

C MAJOR


C SUS2

C SUS4

Have a close look at how these three chords look next to one another. Notice the A string?

It’s the only string that changes position across these three popular guitar chords.

This is because the A string contains the 3rd interval of the C major chord, and this note gets altered in both the sus2 and sus4 chord shapes.

Suspended chords swap the 3rd interval of a major (or minor) chord for either a 2nd (sus2) or a 4th (sus4) interval.

This interval creates a pulling sensation that leads us to (or away from) other chords.

Pro Tip: If you play a Csus4, then a Cmajor, then a Csus2 in that order, you can hear the downward movement of the 3rd interval. This same principle applies to the Gsus chords as well.

So, how do we practice these chords?

G MAJOR

G SUS2

G SUS4

Pro Tips: How To Practice These Chords Effectively

Here are a few tips for playing these chords accurately:

  • Exercise wrist rotation to help sound out each of these chords on this list. Sometimes when we mute notes unnecessarily, we only need to turn our wrist a little bit to get that note to sound out.
  • Be conscious of your hand position – are you using the easiest chord shape for you? Is there an easier shape that you could try first?
  • If you’re unsure if all of your notes in a chord are ringing out, try playing an arpeggio of the chord to check each note individually. Adjust as needed.

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The key with learning any guitar chord is time, patience and practice.

If you’re a beginner guitarist, it’s important to remember that your hands are trying to adapt to positions that they’re unfamiliar with (especially if the guitar is your first instrument).

Give yourself the time to practice these popular guitar chords slowly so that your hands (and brain) can internalize everything in a way that makes them easier to recall.

One of the best things you can do for practice is to head to Ultimate Guitar and find your favourite song that uses popular guitar chords to learn.

The more you practice, the more you’ll remember.

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How To Master These Popular Guitar Chords & Keep Learning

One of the biggest concepts we need to grasp as musicians is that all chords are interconnected in some way.

Once you’ve learned these fundamental popular guitar chords, you’ll have laid an amazing foundation for yourself where you can branch out and learn other, more complex chord shapes.

Pro Tip: Look for similarities to these chords in other chords that you learn by studying the notes that they use.

Remember, learning the shapes is one thing – but we need to know how our chords are constructed in order to fully understand them.

The proof is in the practice, so put your time in and you’ll see results sooner than you think!

Recommended Resources

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

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