Learning chords is an important part of playing guitar.
No matter what style of music you want to play, chances are playing chords will be a big part of what you do on the guitar.
For many of us, chords are one of the first things we learn - I know I still remember playing my first chord on the guitar.
(It was an E Chord).
A problem I’m seeing more and more is that people go about learning chords the wrong way.
If you do it right, playing chords will be a fun and creative part of learning guitar.
In this lesson I will show you how to learn chords in a way that will make it easier to learn songs, write your own, and become a better guitar player at the same time.
Let’s start with some pointers on learning chords:
Don’t be a collector
There are lots of guitar students out there who know a lot of chords, but don’t know how to use them. They’ve worked through books of chords, and probably have a big poster of different chords on the wall in their room.
While there’s nothing wrong with knowing a lot of chords (after all, we guitar players spend most of our time playing chords), this approach isn’t necessarily the most effective way to go about learning music.
You can learn a large number of chords over time, while still actually playing songs, writing music of your own, and jamming with friends - you just have to approach it the right way.
Don’t just learn songs
At the other end of the spectrum, there are students who only learn chords as a sequence of moves to play a specific song.
Out of context, they don’t have a working knowledge of how the chords work together, or even what the chord names are.
This problem appears to be the result of students learning guitar through apps, video games, and online “how to” tutorials on playing specific songs.
While there is nothing wrong with learning guitar from any of these resources, it seems like a lot of work for a relatively small reward.
Meanwhile if you spend the time to learn how a few chords work together, you can open up a whole new dimension to your guitar playing.
Learning how a few chords work together will let you play way more music, with less time invested overall.
So how should you learn guitar chords?
Use chord progressions
One of the most useful things you can do for your guitar playing is learning chords come from the same key. For our purposes, a key is a group of chords that go together.
When you learn chords from the same key, you can be confident that they will sound good when played together.
When you arrange chords in different orders, this gives you different chord progressions. A chord progression is simply moving from one chord to the next.
Chances are, your favorite songs are built out of chord progressions.
Don’t overthink this - the more you play guitar, the more ideas like keys and chord progressions will make sense.
Play by the numbers
Advanced musicians use a number system to help them memorize songs, melodies, and chord progressions more easily. It also helps them be able to play songs in different keys if they need to.
I’ve found that if beginners start learning this system from the start it is no more difficult than just learning the chords.
As a bonus, you will know more than most of the other guitar players at your level.
In any given key, each chord has a number.
The numbers will make it easier for you to play songs in different keys down the road, and help you work your way into more advanced concepts.
For now, we are just going to focus on the four chords that are most often used in popular music: 1, 4, 5, and 6. Let’s look at a few rules that apply to playing chords in major keys:
• The 1 chord is major
• The 4 chord is major
• The 5 chord is major (or a seventh chord, ex: D7)
• The 6 chord is minor
So what do I do with all this?
As you learn guitar, try to figure out what chords go together in a key, and practice those chords together.
When you learn a song, take the time to figure out what key it is in. Find a guitar teacher who can help you figure out how the chord progressions work in songs.
A good teacher can also explain how to apply the number system to the chord progressions and songs you are learning.
Are you struggling with learning chords? Let me know in the comments below.