I’m super excited for this post as it’s the culmination of some of the biggest names in online guitar lesson providers coming together to offer their advice and insights on guitar chords. Understanding the right way to play guitar chords is one of the first things you’ll learn as a beginner guitar player. It can also be quite frustrating when you are just starting out.That’s why I decided it would be a great idea to get a bunch of experts together all giving their insight into learning more about the wonderful world of guitar chords. I basically asked everyone two questions:
That’s why I decided it would be a great idea to get a bunch of experts together all giving their insight into learning more about the wonderful world of guitar chords. I basically asked everyone two questions:
- Question #1: What are some of the biggest mistakes you see beginner guitar players make when learning: a) basic guitar chords and b) barre chords.
- Question #2: What are your personal favorite 3 “exotic” or less commonly known guitar chords that you recommend for intermediate/advanced guitarists?
I got a tremendous amount of response from the online guitar lesson community and think that these answers can really benefit you whether you are a beginner or advanced guitar player. If you’re just learning how to play chords, focus on answer #1. Alternatively, if you’re a more experienced guitar player, check out the awesome chord suggestions in answer #2.
Read on to start learning from some of the best in the business and be sure to share it with any of your guitarist friends!
JamPlay / jamplay.com
I think the biggest mistake I see players making when first starting to learn their basic chords is that they are not conscious of where their thumb is and what it is doing. For open position chords, it is ok to put it over the neck, and it is also ok to put it behind the neck to support your fingers, but you have to watch the angle. The best position when first learning is to have the joint closest to the tip of your thumb on the ‘hump’ or the deepest part of the guitar neck. This way you have the most finger length available to you and will avoid more dead notes and will also have more finger strength available in the beginning stages. Once you’ve tried this for awhile, try moving the thumb ‘over’ the neck and see if you can find comfortable positioning that way too. Practice both, but be intentional about what you are doing and make sure that you can do either way comfortably. You’ll end up using both techniques a lot as you continue your playing!
For barre chords, the by far worst mistake I see beginners doing is, believe it or not, practicing them for too long! Students think that they need to get them down quickly so they tire their hands out by trying to get them down with long, focused barre chord practice sessions. This simply doesn’t work. There are a lot of guitar players (myself included) that have been playing for decades that can’t practice nothing but barre chords for even 10-15 minutes straight without hand cramps and major muscle pain. When beginner students try this, they get frustrated and develop bad habits because they start practicing to avoid pain rather than keeping the best technique in mind. So keep it to short, 1-3 minute barre chord exercises; mix and match barre chords with chord progressions that include a lot of non barre chords so you don’t tire out too quickly and you’ll see better results without making your hand and surrounding muscles so tired!
Fret numbers for chords beside the name go from low E to high E
- Eadd9 – 024100: A nice substitution for the standard E major that sounds fresh and open. Works great for the last chord of the song!
- F#11sus2 – 244100: Works great to sub for an F# major or minor chord depending on the context. This chord sounds very wide and tends to catch the listener off guard but is pleasing at the same time.
- Amaj9 – X02425: Switch your standard A major out for this one, especially in a laid back, slower tempo strummed song. It sounds great arpeggiated as well
Guitarfella / guitarfella.com
Learning how to play chords is one of the first and among the most important things a new player has to deal with. Even though they are relatively straightforward, there are some common mistakes being made by beginners. When it comes to regular chords, the worst thing you can do is try to learn too many of them at the same time. A guitar chord is not just a set of notes you have to grip, it’s much more complex than that. You have to know which shape to use in a specific situation, how to transition from into and out from the chord and more. Instead of trying to learn 20 chords at the same time, limit yourself to 5 most popular ones. Once you’ve absolutely mastered these, start adding new ones to the pool.
Barre chords are an exemption since the shape is more or less the same for each chord. However, learning barre chords still leaves room for some pretty serious mistakes. The most common one is the position of your arm. Most new guitar players tend to have issues with barre chords where they can’t get all of the strings to sound clean. Instead of investigating why that happens, the natural response is to apply more pressure. If you look at the left arm (for right-handed players), you will most likely notice that their elbow is tucked in towards the body. This type of arm positioning essentially rolls the index finger, thus preventing it from applying even pressure across the fret. To fix this issue, simply make sure that your elbow is perpendicular to the neck of the guitar. This way your fingers will be able to naturally rest on the fingerboard, allowing you to apply even pressure across all strings with little force.
One great thing about chords is that there are so many of them out there. Once you learn the most basic ones, that’s when the real fun actually starts. Just by listening to your favorite bands, you will start noticing what sounds good and what you would like to use in your own music. This list will slowly grow over time, and at some point, you will probably choose three or more chords which are simply your favorite. In my case, they are inspired by two artists who have really shaped me as a guitar player. Let’s start with an exotic, yet simple chord by Satriani. In Cool #9, somewhere in the middle of the song, he does a cool little scale with heavy tremolo jumps, and walks straight into Cm11. If you are comfortable with barre chords, this Cm11 won’t be hard to learn. I’ve found it to be a great replacement for a straight C chord, although it definitely has its time and place.
The next chord comes from Mr. Hendrix himself. The guy was a master of making unique and odd chords fit in so well together. The one I’d like to show you is his legendary E7#9. This simple yet so attractive chord is present in a lot of Jimi’s songs. One of the best examples of E7#9 can be found in Purple Haze, during the first verse. I personally like it because it has that Hendrix vibe no matter how you use it. Lastly, I really like the Em11, especially if I’m playing an acoustic guitar. Em11 is a bit odd, but ultimately conventional chord that you can use instead of the standard Em. It sounds more exotic and refined. These three chords are the ones I like to insert into many of my jam sessions, as well as my own music. If you’re looking for something new, check them out.
Truefire / truefire.com
Mistake number 1 is worrying about getting every note to ring out perfectly each time you play the chord. When you are starting out you are going to have some ugly notes – it’s inevitable! Don’t spend time obsessing on getting each chord perfect, that takes the fun out of it and can actually just make you frustrated and want to quit! When you are playing through a simple three chord progression, get a chord as clean as you can, but then just move on to the next one. It is actually more important to try and establish a rhythm, even if it is super slow, than to play perfect chords at this stage. The longer you play, the more you can get in there and “fine tune” the chords, and if you are having a trouble spot or note that isn’t ringing you can work on just that one until you get it smooth, but in the beginning if your chords are 80% clean sounding, don’t worry – just keep playing and most of the issues will work themselves out!
For Barre Chords the thing I see students struggle with is just thinking “oh man, these are too hard,” instead of thinking, “OK, this is just the next thing I need to learn.” That is the key. Know that the barre chords might take you a little longer to master, but they are just the next step so dig in. Barre chords have this almost mythical vibe surrounding them as if they are nearly impossible. That’s not true. With work, they will be just as easy as any chord so just work on them like you would anything.
As for interesting chords – I think chords are made interesting by their usefulness coupled with their ability to add the proper color. So I would suggest students learn three chords in a progression like Cadd9, Dsus2 and E7 to create interesting movement and voice leading within. That is where the cool stuff is – so you don’t have to learn “weird” chords, just work on understanding combining chords that create interest.
Play Guitar / playguitar.com
One of the biggest problems I see beginners make when learning new chords is not taking the time to get each string sounding good individually. When you’re first learning a chord, pick through each string in the chord and adjust your fingers until you can get each one sounding clear with no buzzes or dead spots. If you don’t dial in each string this way, it’s too easy to develop bad habits, and have sloppy chords that don’t sound good.
Another mistake is not taking the time to learn how & why chords work together. Learning some basic guitar theory goes a long ways towards improving your creativity in how you arrange chords, learning songs faster, remembering them longer, and it ends up helping every other area of your playing as well.
For barre chords, one of the big mistakes is not learning how the fretboard works. Learning the chord shapes and how to play them is only half the battle… learning where everything goes is the other half. I’ve seen players who used F#m (barred) all the time, but kept on asking me how to play a G#m… all they had to do is move the chord they already know up two frets, and voila! The fretboard is nice and logical, so take the time to understand how it works and barre chords will make a lot more sense and become tremendously useful.
One cool chord I like is a variation of the A shape barre chord, off the 5th string. Take the E for instance, at the 7th fret, it looks like this: X 7 9 9 9 7. A fun variation that sounds really cool is to change your lowest note to a G#, like this: X 11 9 9 9 X. You have to change your hand position to pull that off, and you can also play the two E strings open if you want… Of course, that variation can be moved around, just beware of the open strings – in most cases other than E you’ll want to leave them out. I’d call this an E/G#, though I’ve seen it given different names.
Another idea isn’t technically a single chord, but something I love doing with my chords. Using your open chords, work with the relevant scale to identify the notes in the key you’re in, and then start modifying the chords you’re playing with. You might not know the name of what you come up with, but it could sound really cool, and it’s a great way to develop interesting mini-melodies you can work into your rhythm playing with picking patterns. I especially love the key of G for this, as the Em scale is right there and super convenient.
Another favorite is using triads – tiny three-note chords. There are many configurations of these around the fretboard, and even though you’re using common chords with names like G major, A minor, etc (ie nothing exotic), if you place them right they can sound incredibly tasteful. For instance, try playing this form of G major over top of a normal G major: X X 9 7 8 X. I wouldn’t typically strum these, but instead pick them or use them as a starting point or theme for a riff or something. Master your triads and you’ll have a rich source of creative – and tasty – ideas for all kinds of riffs and solos.
The Guitar Journal / theguitarjournal.com
a) Some common mistakes on basic guitar chords involve hand position. Two examples that I see in very early beginners are:
- Wrapping the thumb over the top of the neck. Instead, it should be against the back of the neck (unless your doing more advanced chord technique). And,
- Fretting the notes by placing the fingertips straight into the string, so that the finger is striking the string right below the fingernail. This is a really painful way to play. And it doesn’t sound good. Relaxing your finger position so your playing in the “meat” of your fingertip helps a lot.
b) A common mistake when learning barre chords is to expect too much too fast. It takes a while to develop the finger strength to play barre chords for an entire song (much less practice session). Instead of killing your hand on day one, try working these a few minutes a day until you build up strength.
My favorite 3 “exotic” or less commonly known guitar chords are probably:
- Em/G: You fret the 3rd (G) in the bass and have Root-5th-Root on strings 4-3-2. It shows up in the intro of Paul Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover”.
- Eb6/9 chord, voiced at the 6th fret: It’s the perfect chord to start off the jazz standard “The Way You Look Tonight”.
- Fmaj9 in open position: It’s so big and lush, really beautiful if you can get your fingers to stick the notes.
Garret’s Guitar Lessons / garretsguitarlessons.com
The biggest mistake I see beginners make in learning open chords is… patience. It takes some patience to get your muscle memory built up enough where you can move on without having to consult a PDF/Book for each chord!
One way I like to go through it is what I call the “Open Chord Boot Camp” where you play each open chord – strum it once – lift fingers (and stretch them!) – then play the open chord again. Repeat 10 times a day, with each open chord. By the end of a week or two you’ll have the muscle memory built up and you can start focusing on transitioning between chords and strumming.
When it comes to barre chords I think it’s important to try your index barre first. Be sure you lay your index finger flat and pick each string. Can you hear each note? If not try again making sure your index finger is flat. I also tend to use the side of my finger to barre as opposed to the entire surface.
Once you’re familiar with the barring technique, play around with whether it’s easier for you to put your index finger first or if it’s easier to put your other fingers first. I almost think of barre chords as having two halves to the chord: 1) index barre 2) everything else. I’ve seen different people find which order you place the halves being more comfortable. After that, the “Boot Camp” exercise works out in getting the muscle memory down.
I’m not sure I can pick my 3 favorite… but I think three more I’d love to hear more players utilize would be:
Their usage varies but I’ve always had a ton of fun adding those into my own vocabulary.
Guitar Lesson World / guitarlessonworld.com
a. Every individual is different, but a common issue is striking all the notes well. To do it well requires coordination of both hands. My friend, Bob, was learning to play and he seemed tense when he played. It affected his ability to strike all the notes. I noticed a common problem with his playing. His fretting hand elbow was not close to his body. This throws off the alignment of the wrist with the guitar neck. By adjusting his elbow, he was able to grip the chords more easily and play relaxed. This helped him correct the issue in his playing.
b. Beginners often struggle with three barre chord issues.
- They omit the higher notes of the chord. This usually means that they play a power chord instead (with the three lowest notes). Since power chords are not major or minor, the chord loses its chord quality (major or minor).
- Another common problem is that the barre does not hold down all the strings well enough. Sometimes the fleshy part of the finger fails to press the string enough. When this happens, the string is muted. I had this problem when I started. It was usually the 3rd of the chord too!
- A third problem is when the barred finger isn’t properly applied. Most barre chords use the index finger on its side rather than flat. When you play with it flat, you pull your elbow from the body and struggle to fret all the notes. When it is rolled partially on its side, your elbow is close to the body and your fingers can fret the notes more easily.
Exotic chords usually require a special rule to use it well. I don’t recommend them often, so I’ll try to give use cases with my chords.
- For blues, I always teach the dominant 9 chord rooted on the 5th string. You can replace it with just about any dominant chord in a blues progression. It is a fun one to slide into chords too.
- For a Jazzier feel, I like to use dominant 13th chords in place of dominant 7th chords. Specifically, the following voicing, G13: 3-X-3-4-5-X. This works very well in a ii-V-I progression.
- To get sporty, I sometimes use a diminished seventh chord as a “pivot” to change keys mid-song. One way to do this is to substitute a dim7 chord for the V chord. You can select one rooted on the flatted-tonic, but I like to select it by the 3rd of the V chord (hint: it’s the same note). Then you resolve the dim7 chord to a maj7 chord that is rooted a half step higher than any note in the diminished chord.
Example: In the key of C, you’d normally play a G7 as the V chord. You can substitute Bdim7 (the 3rd of G7), which includes the notes (B, D, F, and Ab). Then you can play any of the following that are rooted a half step higher than the dim7 chord tones: Cmaj7, D#maj7, F#maj7, or Amaj7. Cmaj7 is the current key, so there are three others to choose. For more information, I have a lesson on diminished chords.
Guitar Lessons / guitarlessons.com
a. Basic Chords
- Not getting a good angle of attack on the strings by starting with fundamental good hand posture.
- Not considering how they are holding the guitar to maximize great angle of attack on the strings (IE Classical method, Casual method, or using a strap while standing or sitting)
- Not bringing their elbow in closer to their body for a better angle of attack on the strings. .
- Not taking the time to get chord shapes down very well before trying to change between chords.
b. Barre Chords
- Not taking the time to really work on barre technique on it’s own before trying to make the whole barre chord shape with the rest of the fingers.
- Not taking the time to develop bar strength on it’s own before tackling the full bar chord shape.
- Not taking the time to make the open chord shapes that the bar chords are based on with the 2nd, 3rd and 4th fingers.
- Triads & Triad Inversions – Knowing all of your triads and triad inversions is extremely valuable no matter what kind of music you are into. They are critical for learning the layout of the fretboard, lead guitar, and rhythm guitar.
- Major 7th Chords – I just like the way they sound and the give you a richer harmonic background over which to solo.
- Add 9 (Sus 4) Chords
Guitar-Chord / guitar-chord.org
a) This is something the most succeed with pretty well, but one general mistake to point out may be the tendency of forgetting to mute strings. Most beginners learn the common chord shapes fast, but lack the techniques or knowledge in how to mute strings with the thumb.
b) Not a mistake per se, but many tend to give up playing these chords. Barre chords are not to be learned in an hour or a day, the fingers must be trained and that demands some patience.
Ok, let’s go for:
- Aadd9/E (077600): a nice partner to E open
- A variant of C/G (302013): together with G it is a fast way to sound like the early Dylan
- Dadd4add9 (X54030): not as advanced as the name implies
Guitar Answer Guy / guitaranswerguy.com
Answer #1 (a)
Mistake #1: not pressing close enough to the actual metal frets. Instead, their fingers are pressing down somewhere in the middle or back-side of the fret. Pressing just behind the metal fret requires less downward pressure to create a clean, non-buzzy note. Hand strength is one of the things beginners lack, so they need to make it as easy for themselves as possible by using proper fretting technique.
Mistake #2: Using strings that are way too heavy for a beginner. I always encourage beginners to use “ridiculously light” guitar strings. For an acoustic, this would be roughly a 10 – 47 set, and for electric guitar it would be roughly an 8 – 38 set. Only after gaining finger strength and calluses should they consider moving up to heavier gauges. When they ask “won’t my tone suffer?” I simply inform them guitar gods like Billy Gibbons, Tony Iommi, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, and Peter Frampton (just to name a few) all used ultra light guitar strings.
Answer #1 (a and b)
The biggest mistake I see here is thinking that the 1st position shapes are the only way to play them. Often times, I’ve seen beginners hit a brick wall as a result. Many beginners have written to me saying that they simply “can’t play an F chord” or “can’t play a B chord.” So, they completely avoid it or get discouraged when a song they want to play contains the problematic chord. When I dig deeper, it turns out they had no idea there were simpler ways to play the chord, either by using fewer notes (eliminating redundant notes) or using a different inversion.
Guitar Niche / guitarniche.com
Posture and finger positioning are huge for chording in general. Many new guitarists become disenchanted when trying to manage their first attempts at chords. It’s important they be instructed on how to sit properly and take advantage of better form. Otherwise, they often fall into “lazy mode”, sit in a slouch with the guitar sliding down their legs. Beginner guitar players also need to understand that there’s a certain uncomfortable element when they first start; from pressing tight strings down, to the slight hyper-extension needed in your wrist to gain advantage on the fretboard. But like all things worthwhile, perseverance will pay off – in this case, they gain a lifetime of enjoying the instrument and creating beautiful music.
- maj9/13: Example – eighth fret position C, E, A, D, G, B. Just a great mashup. Six different notes with a beautiful, airy top end.
- Any version of dim7: shuffle it up or down the neck in 3 fret steps then resolve to the 1 – brilliant!
- E7#9, seventh position: the grandaddy tension chord of blues, jazz and proto-metal.
Uberchord / uberchord.com
Great question! A lot of beginners (including myself, when I started playing guitar years ago) tend to limit themselves with learning just the basic chords and not exploring other beautiful sounding chords. I believe, the moment you are comfortable playing the basic chords, one should push themselves to learning a new chord every couple of days and integrating it in new chord progressions. This helps beginners with getting familiar with different chord shapes, chord tones, familiarity with the fretboard and creating some exciting chord progressions which can later turn into songs. To make this easier for beginners, we created a “Chord Finder” feature in the Uberchord app and as a web application. This allows you to experiment and play any chord shape on your guitar and discover what chord it is and how it is made.
Regarding the barre chords, rather than pondering over how difficult or annoying they are, I always suggest looking at barre chords from another point of view: how fun they are and what amazing level of dynamism and tonal quality they bring into your guitar playing. Especially if you interested in playing muted and percussive acoustic guitar rhythms. One has to change the perspective on barre chords and befriend them rather than avoiding them.
I am not sure how exotic these chords sound, but I surely love playing these 3 chords (individually) whenever and wherever I can. They are:
- D79/E: 0 5 4 5 5 0
- E13sus2: 0 5 4 6 5 0
- C#m/E: X X 2 1 2 0
Jazz Guitar Lessons / jazzguitarlessons.net
Hand Position and Body Posture.
Beginners tend to compensate with their wrists quite a lot. In general, I’m seeking to get students in neutral wrist position for the fretting hand (plus/minus 5-10 degree angle, TOPS!).
The “mistake” I see most often is the thumb-over-the-neck syndrome. It means the palm of the hand is actually hugging the fretboard. The result is shortening the “reach” of fretting hand, and the wrist stretching towards the floor. This hurts in the long run.
The other, less common “mistake” is overextending … think of trying to touch your shoulder with your fretting fingers. This is pretty bad too! But less common.
- The Beautiful 13th Chords: Bb13 as 6x653x … or even 6×6533 for the adventurous
- Play and open E instead and get your typical hendrix chord (E7#9 as 07678x) but with the neat b13 added, see: E7b13#9 – 0x6533
- More experienced players will go rootless with: Bb13 – xx6533 or Bb13b9 xx6433 or Bb13#9 xx6633
And variations … I also like to use the Bb note on the top string (instead of the G note, the 13th), for rootless situations.
LeftyFretz / leftyfretz.com
For me, the most important problem to address with beginners is playing with too much tension. Excessive muscle tension can be an issue early on, but if ingrained into someone’s playstyle it can become a huge obstacle further down the line. Most players aren’t even aware that they stiffen up while playing. And I’m not just talking about fingers – it’s the whole body! Many players try to combat tension by – adding more tension – so the problem only compounds.
So I always try and help students relax when first learning basic guitar chords. I ensure that they are fingering the chords with the minimum pressure required for each string to ring out clearly. They should also be aware of tension down their arm, shoulder neck, back etc.. It’s a little extra effort to begin with, but if they start off on the right path, it’ll pay dividends later on.
- Jazz chords are always great for adding interest. I love dom13b9 chords. The flat 9th adds dissonance, but in a ‘happy’ way.
- Diminished 7ths are always fun for adding a little drama to a progression.
- My absolute favorites are Sus2 and Sus4 chords for the suspense they provide. The kings of tension and release!
Zingstruments / zingstruments.com
Many beginner guitarists learn open chord shapes but stop there. A better approach is to learn the open shapes, but then take each chord and study how to play that chord up and down the fretboard. This not only helps to grow an appreciation of different tonal qualities of alternative positions but also provides a better understanding of the fretboard (which in turn helps with lead guitar and improvisation in general).
I’m a big fan of gypsy jazz guitar, so most of my favourite alternative chord shapes come from that way of playing guitar. My favourite is the simple minor6 chord shape which consists of just three notes but instantly delivers the gypsy jazz feel.
Guitar Adventures / guitaradventures.com
I would say the most common mistake I have seen beginners make is hunting for chords, placing one finger at a time as opposed to training their fingers to memorize the chord.
Bar chords are based off open chord positions that you should already know. You will need to adjust your hand position to free up your pointer finger in order to create the bar. When learning bar chords be sure to firmly press all of the strings as you play to play the correct sound and avoid buzzing.
A good chord to practice on is F major. Simply use the same finger shape as an E major one fret down, But instead place your pinky where your ring finger would go, your ring where your middle should be, your middle where your pointer originally was, and use your pointer finger as the bar. You can slide this shape down your fret board to create each of the major notes.
- Barre Chords are important to learn.
- The suspended 4th chord.
- D7 is also a good intermediate note that everyone should know. It is much like the D chord, except your first finger is on the B string in the first fret, second finger on the G string second fret, and third finger on the high E string second fret, not playing the low E or A strings.
Mastering Guitar Chords – In Summary
With this post, I set out to gather a bunch of really valuable information from some of the top online guitar lessons providers out there today. The information that everyone came back with top-notch. If you’re serious about learning guitar chords (whether you’re a beginner or advanced player) the suggestions provided in the post deserve an in-depth read through.
Although all answers differed, many touched on a major beginner’s mistake when learning guitar chords. That was:
Although with certain chords you should (and sometimes need) to have your thumb on top of the fretboard, in most cases your thumb should be situated behind the fretboard at the deepest part of the neck.
Be sure to check out the websites that participated in this roundup post and share this post with any guitarist friends you have to help spread the word.