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Welcome to video three in the How to Play Guitar series. In this lesson, I’ll show you how to make your first chords. New guitar players often ask me if they should start with scales, melodies, or chords first. I like to start with chords because then you can easily make real music and play songs.
First in this lesson, I’ll go over important numbering systems that you need to know to play guitar, including a numbering system for your fingers, the strings on the guitar, and the frets on the guitar. Once you’re comfortable with these numbering systems, I’ll show you how to play four different chords: G major, C major, D major, and E minor.
As you learn these chords, I’ll also be giving you some tips to make your chords sound clean and free from buzzing. I’ll also show you how to keep your chord transitions smooth and sounding great.
The numbering systems may seem simple to you, but it’s important to understand the numbering systems so you’ll be able to learn chords and scales faster later on. The first system is for your fingers, and it’s really simple. Your index finger is your first finger, middle finger is your second finger, ring finger is your third finger, and your pinky is your fourth finger.
Whenever you see a chord diagram, like the one shown on-screen, you’ll see dots with a number in them. The numbers inside the dots are telling you which finger to use to press that note down for the chord.
The next numbering system is for the strings of the guitar, and it can feel a bit counterintuitive for some people. Many people think the thickest string is the first string, but the first string is actually the thinnest. The next thinnest string is the second string, and so on from there. Just remember that your thinnest string is the first string, and the thickest string is the sixth string.
The last number system we’ll go over is for the frets on the guitar, and it’s another easy one. The frets are the thin metal strips you see going all the way up the guitar. The first fret is the one closest to the headstock of the guitar, and then it just moves down from there.
If someone instructed you to put your first finger on the first fret of the sixth string, you would place your index finger down right behind the first metal strip on the thickest string on the guitar. As another example, if someone told you to put your third finger on the third fret of the fifth string, you would place your ring finger down behind the third metal strip on the second thickest string.
Moving on to chords, we’ll start with the E minor since it’s the easiest of the four chords we’re going to learn. When it comes to making chords, here is a quick tip for good hand posture. Put your hand out in front of you and pretend you’re holding an apple or softball. This is an easy way to start with great posture.
On-screen you’ll see the chord diagram, and it has a dot with a two in the middle that’s on the second fret of the fifth string. This means you need to put your second finger on the third fret of the A string.
As you place your finger on the note, remember to keep good, relaxed hand posture. Try not to kink your hand too far forward or too far back. You also need to come down on the very tip of your finger, which helps keep your chords sounding clean and free of buzzing. Place your finger as close behind the fret as you can too, which also helps keep your chords sounding great.
The second note of this chord is made with your third finger. Place your finger on the second fret again, but this time on the fourth string. Remember to come down on the tip of your finger, right behind the fret. When you make this note, it will push your second finger away from the fret a little, but try to keep them both as close to the fret as possible. Now that you’ve got the E minor shape down, you can strum all six strings.
It may take some time for you to learn this chord shape, and that’s okay. One tip for memorizing chords is to make the chord shape, take it off, shake your hand out, and then make the shape again. Make the shape for twenty to thirty seconds, take it off, and repeat this process a few times to help your muscle memory kick in.
If you notice that your strings are buzzing or muted, like I play in the video, go through the tips I gave you again. Make sure you’re coming down on the very tips of your fingers, right behind the frets, and with good hand posture.
Our next chord is a D major, and this chord points out some trouble areas to watch out for. Place your first finger on the second fret of the G string, and then put your second finger on the second fret of the high E string. For the last note, place your third finger on the third fret of the B string.
The third note can be a problem area for newer guitar players because your third finger might get lazy and accidentally mute the high E string. A tip that will help you with this is to watch your posture. If your hand is kinked too far outwards like I show in the video, your fingers won’t be at a very good angle with the strings. Instead, bring your elbow down and closer in to your body to keep good posture and make a clean D chord.
For the D chord, you only need to strum the top four strings, leaving the low E and A strings out completely. Again, try making this shape for thirty seconds, shaking it out, and trying again a few times over. This will help you memorize what the chord feels like and what it looks like. It may take you some time to build up finger strength and dexterity, so don’t feel pressured to have this down before the end of this video.
The next chord we’ll learn is the C major, and there is an area with this chord that can be tricky so I’ll help you with some extra tips. Place your first finger on the first fret of the B string, and then your second finger on the second fret of the D string.
Next comes the tricky part of the chord, where you need to reach your third finger up to the third fret of the A string. A lot of people have trouble reaching that far, and this is the same kind of problem people have with the D chord when their hand posture isn’t good. Remember to bring your elbow in closer to your body and then it will be easier to reach for that third note.
Once you have this chord shape, strum only the top five strings, leaving the high E string out. Make sure you’re coming right down on the tops of your fingers so you don’t end up muting the other strings.
Another tip for learning the C chord well is to try starting with your third finger when building the chord. This lets you get the hard to reach note first, then your second and first fingers. Both ways of building the chord work well, but eventually you want to be able to build the chord quickly altogether.
The last chord I’ll show you in a G major chord. There are two different fingering styles you can use for this chord, so you can choose the one that works best for you. For the style I like to use, place your fourth finger on the third fret of the high E string, your second finger on the second fret of the A string, and your third finger on the third fret of the low E string.
Reaching your third finger to the low E string can be difficult, so make sure to keep good posture following all the tips I’ve given you. Once you have made the G major shape, you can strum all six strings. Practice making this chord, placing on the fretboard and taking it off over a few times so your muscle memory kicks in until you get this chord down.
The second fingering style for this G chord uses your first, second, and third fingers instead of your second, third, and fourth fingers. Place your third finger on the third fret of the high E string, first finger on the second fret of the A string, and then your second finger on the third fret of the low E string.
I would recommend using your second, third, and fourth fingers to make the G major chord though, because switching from a G to a C is a common chord change. Using this fingering style makes the change much easier, especially when you have to change quickly.
I’ve got a couple of tips to help you memorize new chords. The biggest tip is the one I already gave you, where you make the chord shape, leave it on for thirty seconds, shake it out, and repeat several times a day. This will help both your muscle memory and your long-term memory kick in.
You should also try to memorize what a chord feels like. Try making the chord, looking away, and recognize the feel of the chord you are making. You can also memorize what the chord looks like when you make it. The more ways you can try memorizing the chords, the better off you will be.
Now I’ve got some tips for making your chord changes smooth too. The biggest tip I have for you is to make sure you have the individual chords down by themselves before you try to switch between them. If you don’t fully know your chords before trying to switch, you’ll end up frustrating yourself.
The next tip I have for switching chords is to anticipate the next chord. You don’t want to rush into the next chord, but be aware of what chord is coming up next. If you’re playing a G, and you know a C is coming up, then think about how that chords and how it feels. Stay engaged in the song you’re playing.
I know that’s a lot of information to take in for this lesson, so don’t feel like you need to have it all down today. Take as much time as you need to get these chords down cleanly. In the next lesson, we’re going to cover how to strum the guitar. We’ll get your strumming hand up to speed so that you’ll soon be ready to play your first song.
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