Chords are the building blocks of songs and are some of the first things you would learn when applying for music lessons. Basic, diminished, augmented – there are all kinds of guitar chords, and today we’ll stick with the basic ones.
The following chords are not too hard to learn, hence they are called “Basic”. If you want a more comprehensive list of chords, check out our guitar chords chart as well as our guitar chords experts roundup article.
In this article, you will learn how to play the best basic guitar chords, recognize them in songs and apply them to your own.
What Are the Best Basic Guitar Chords?
A Major is the happy-sounding representative of the A Major scale and A Major key – it’s also one of the simplest chords ever to be invented, as you literally need a single finger to play it – although it’s easier if you use three.
It is comprised of the notes E, A, and C#. Beginner guitar players may struggle to find the perfect finger positioning, as all three fingers are supposed to be on the same fret on the guitar. The easiest way to perform it is to press the index finger on E; your middle finger on A, and your ring finger on C#. Alternatively, you can “bar” it (press on all three notes with one finger).
The A Major chord is most popularly used in Beethoven’s symphonies. A good chunk of his 7th Symphony is written in the key of A; it opens up with A Major, and it sets the tone for the remainder of the composition.
As far as popular music is of concern, you can hear A Major in “Africa” by Toto, or “Lullaby” by The Cure. There are hints of A Major in Tool’s Schism, but due to its overly technical nature, dozens of other chords are diminishing A chord’s presence.
D Major is what “Eureka!” would sound like. It’s often found at the top of any guitar chord diagram due to its significant presence in many songs. It’s also a guitar chord that often evokes an exhilarating emotion in the listener (and often the player) while being sonically neutral enough to fit in any chord progression.
You can start a happy song with a D Major before making it rain with a heavy minor chord after; continue along the joy-filled path while staying in major, or add a bit of crunchy distortion to stay on the fringes. Not many major guitarchords sit so well with nearly all other chords as D Major.
In comparison to A Major, D Major is a bit more complex to play. Place your index finger on the A tone; your middle finger on F#, and your ring finger on D. You can bar A and F# tones if it feels easier, but this may make playing successive chords slightly less accurate.
D Major can be heard in “Fields of Gold” by Sting, “Jeremy” by Pearl Jam”, “Rock the House” by Gorillaz, and “I’ll Be There for You” by Bon Jovi.
Although G Major isn’t necessarily a “hard” chord to pull off, it’s certainly among the most difficult basic guitar chords. The fact that you’ll have to jump three strings to reach the high G tone is what makes it hard to implement in “naturally flowing” chord progressions, but it’s super-fun and sounds exquisitely cheerful.
Breaking G Major down, place your middle finger on the lower G note (on the lower E string) and your index finger on the B note just below it. Then, place your ring finger on the high G note (upper E string) and leave the D, G, and B strings open.
For beginner guitarists playing with a pick, you can strum the open D, G, and B strings to create a fuller G Major chord without changing its sonic nature. Alternatively, palm mute these strings, or practice fingerstyle just for this occasion.
“Sweet Home Alabama” by Lynyrd Skynyrd is probably the most popular song in G Major, followed by “Ziggy Stardust” by David Bowie, “Lithium” by Nirvana, and “The Dance” by Garth Brooks.
E Major is among the first chords guitarists learn, but if by some chance you’ve covered A Minor before it, you’ll find playing this one a breeze.
Its finger positioning is the same as with A Minor, only one string lower – fret the B note with your middle finger; the E note with your ring finger, and G# on the first fret with your index finger. Just like G Major, you can strum the open E, B, and E1 strings for a fuller sound.
Many rock bands have made their careers with the famous E Major chord, especially Kiss with “I Was Made for Lovin’ You”, Queen with “I Want to Break Free”, Robbie Williams with “Angels”, and especially Twisted Sister with “We’re Not Gonna Take it” (which is coincidentally one of the most licensed songs of all time built almost exclusively on the E Major chord).
C Major is a beautiful-sounding chord that can easily fit in any part of almost any song. One of its unique characteristics is that it’s a perfect fit for section-closing chords when down-picked, whereas it flows naturally among other major guitar chords when used in complex chord progressions.
Place your ring finger on the C note; your middle finger on E, and your index finger on C. Again, if you wish for a fuller sound, especially when playing on an acoustic guitar, simply strum the rest of the strings as open notes except for the top E string.
Van Halen’s “Jump”, “November Rain” by Guns N’ Roses, “Piano Man” by Billy Joel, and Eric Clapton’s “Old Love” all feature this chord.
B Major is A Major upped by two semitones. It has an identical sonic structure and sounds just a bit higher, but what makes it so different is the fact that now you will have to fret five strings instead of three (plus two open ones).
The easiest way to learn this chord is to simply place your middle, ring, and pinky fingers on notes F#, B, and D#. Then, form a bar with your index finger by pressing on B and F#. Don’t worry about touching the other strings, as the higher ones “override” any fretted lower notes.
What makes this chord one of the best basic guitar chords is the fact that its learning curve nearly flattens once you get the gist of it. Holding two bars above one chord may sound intimidating, but it doesn’t require nearly any finger dexterity.
F Major can be a tricky chord but the diagram above shows a simplified version of it. Therefore, no need to use a barre chord for this one.
Starting with the bottom of the fretboard, press the F and C notes with your index finger. Practice using your middle finger to fret the A note, and using your ring finger to press another F note.
Once you’ve got the chord’s formation down, you’ll need to focus on only strumming the bottom 4 strings. Avoid the open A and E.
F Major is present in quite a few bittersweet-sounding songs, such as “Bed of Roses” by Bon Jovi, “Torn” by Natalie Imbruglia, “When the Levee Breaks” by Led Zeppelin, and “Wherever I May Roam” by Metallica.
D Minor is one of the simplest sad-sounding guitar chords, as well as one of the most versatile ones for rock, metal, and heavier genres of music. It can be used for a ballad’s intro or be chained to gloomy diminished chords; it sounds quite spooky on a distorted guitar while it’s absolutely serene on an acoustic one.
This chord begins with an octave comprised of D and D1 notes; the first D note is open, so press your middle finger on the A note above it, fret the D1 with your ring finger, and press the F note with your index finger.
Its versatility has been widely used by artists of all genres. You can hear a D Minor in “Another Brick in the Wall” by Pink Floyd, or Michael Jackson’s “Bad”. Tevin Campbell’s “Can We Talk” also features a few D Minor chords.
I would argue that the metal acts popularized this chord more than anyone else, with hits such as “Mr. Crowley” by Ozzy Osbourne, the infamous “Fear of the Dark” by Iron Maiden, and Alice Cooper’s “Poison”.
The synonym for sadness, nostalgia, and regret, the A Chord is all you need to write a breakup song. The fact that it is simple to play does not take away from its unparalleled power when it comes to evoking the strongest emotions from the listener.
What separates A Minor and A Major is a single note. Where you would fret C# to play A Major, you should now fret C in its spot to form the A Minor. It’s mind-boggling how such a small change can drastically alter the sonic environment of two nearly identical guitar chords.
In case you’ve skipped the A Major part, to play A Minor you should play the open A string, fret the E note with your middle finger, fret the A1 note with your ring finger, and C with your index finger.
“Still Got the Blues” by Gary Moore is one of the most popular songs with an intro written in A Minor, but I would also recommend listening to “Heaven” by Bryan Adams, “Angie” by The Rolling Stones, “Losing my Religion” by R.E.M., and “For the Love of God” by Steve Vai.
Bordering between the ominous and foreboding sounds, I believe the G Minor chord was invented (or discovered) to provide beginners with something worth experimenting with.
You won’t have as much trouble fretting this chord as you will probably face difficulties figuring out where to place the chord itself. With upstrokes, it sounds like a difficult question is being asked; with downstrokes, it effectively closes off the section and narrows down your options to pretty much octaves only.
What’s difficult about G Minor is that you’ll need to form a bar with one finger. Press the G note on the low E string as well as the high E string (this will form a bar). Then, place your ring finger on the D note of the 5th fret and your pinky on the G note.
“Roxanne” by The Police features several G Minor chords, but you can also hear it in “Tainted Love” by Soft Cell, “If I Ruled the World” by Nas, “Let Me Ride” by Dr. Dre, “Dance Me to the End of Love” by Leonard Cohen, and “I Might Be Wrong” by Radiohead.
F Minor is another chord comprised of a barre chord. With your index finger, fret F, G#, C, and F2; with your ring finger, press C and with your pinky finger press F1. It is pretty easy to learn, although its ominous sound means that it is mostly used in rock, metal, and heavier music styles.
“Ain’t No Sunshine” by Michael Jackson features a variation of F Minor; “All the Things She Said” by t.A.T.u., 2Pac’s “When Thugz Cry”, and “Eraser” by Nine Inch Nails are also popular songs with F Minor chord in them.
C Minor is the second most difficult basic chord for guitar players. You’ll essentially need to make a “spider” formation with your fingers to play it; I recommend being patient, as most newcomers to guitar don’t succeed on their first attempt.
Practice creating a bar above C and G1 notes with your index finger. Put your ring finger on the G note; your pinky finger on the C1, and your middle finger on the D#. A few popular songs built with C Minor are “Gangsta’s Paradise” by Coolio, followed by “Enjoy the Silence” by Depeche Mode, “It’s My Life” by Bon Jovi, and “Don’t Speak” by No Doubt.
I realize that some of these guitar chords are a bit more difficult than what a beginner may expect, but by learning these note formations, you will be able to play virtually any song in existence. I recommend starting with chords that are present in the songs you love first, it doesn’t matter whether they are major or minor.
If you need a bit of inspiration for which songs to start out with check out this list of easy guitar songs or easy guitar pop songs.