When you first get started learning how to play the guitar, the idea of rushing into your favorite songs and riffs can be exciting. But beginning with the basics – like practicing chord progressions – can make a huge difference in your progress. Here, Pacifica, CA guitar teacher Matt B. shares a few exercises to try…
Want to learn how to play the guitar? Fortunately, as with most instruments, getting started is no trouble at all. But getting good should take you the rest of your life with practice and effort.
One-on-one guitar lessons from a great teacher is the best way to make progress. You can look at pictures and videos and listen to tapes and read a lot of text, but I cannot begin to compare that to the value of having a face-to-face instruction, even if it’s only to learn how to hold the guitar and how to put your fingers on the fretboard.
Once the guitar is in tune, most beginners start out by learning “first position” or “open chords.” They are called this because they are played close to the nut and utilize a number of open strings. The best chords to start learning are G, Em, C and D.
Em is the first chord you should learn on the guitar. Not only is it a wonderful chord, but it’s easy. The small “m” after the E means minor.
Chord number two is C, or C major. You don’t have to say “major” in the name of the chord. If you just say C chord, it is assumed that it is a major chord. You only want to strum the top 5 (highest-sounding) strings.
As you’re learning these chords, there are two things that you should practice:
- Play the notes of the chord individually, making sure that all of the notes are sounding.
- Practice switching between different chords keeping a steady beat. Try not to stop; the goal is to learn to switch between the chords, getting the best sound possible without stopping. Fix any problems as you are strumming.
To help with this, try the following exercise for each chord progression:
- Strum only on beat 1 of each measure. This gives you plenty of time to get to the next chord.
- Next, try strumming only on beats 1 and 3.
- Finally, strum on all 4 beats.
Bass Guitar Chord Progression #1
(Play the 2 measures 4 times)
For the G chord there are two fingerings listed (below). The one in black is recommended. The one in red should be avoided if at all possible. The one in black may seem more awkward at first, only because you are using your 4th finger, which is your weakest finger. There are plenty of guitar players that use the red fingering. One good example for not using it, is when you are switching between a G and a C chord. It is far to much work to use the red.
Basic Guitar Chord Progression #2
(Play 4 times)
With the addition of D, you can play the chords to literally thousands of songs. The biggest problem encountered with this chord is getting the first string to sound. Make sure that your third finger is not touching the first string.
Basic Guitar Chord Progression #3
(Play 4 times)
Basic Guitar Chord Progression #4
(Play the 1st 4 measures 2 times, then end on G)
Yes, there are a lot more chords to learn and also different versions of these particular chords. But knowing these chords will allow you to play literally thousands of songs. Knowing these chords, as well as being able to switch between them fairly quickly and smoothly, should be any beginner’s first task.
Matt B. teaches guitar to students of all ages in Pacifica, CA. Matt joined the TakeLessons team in October 2012, with over 40 years of experience teaching music. His specialties include pop, jazz, folk, and rock guitar styles. Learn more about Matt, or search for a teacher near you!
Photo by Amy Willard