Beginner's Guide to Open Position Chords

Beginner's Guide to Open Position Chords

One of the first things that new guitar players learn are some of the basic open position chords such as G, C, D, Em, Am etc. For lots of students, these seemingly illogical shapes are so hard to remember, let alone change quickly between, that they give up in frustration - or come and get some guitar lessons! The key is to start with only a few chords and slowly work your way up to learning enough so that you can play a whole song - even if it includes the dreaded F chord!

To start, we’re going to learn two chords, G and Em and I’m going to explain the best ways to practise swapping between them and how to get a clean sound without any buzzing. Then we’re going to learn two more, C and Am and see how we can put them all together to play a song.

First, these are the chord diagrams for G and Em:   



To read the diagram, remember that the strings are the vertical lines and the frets are horizontal (with the thick line up top the nut of the guitar). The strings on the left are the lower sounding strings (E,A,D) and the strings on the right are the higher strings (G,B,E).The dots represent where to put your fingers and the numbers on them tell you which finger to use (1=pointer, 2=middle, 3=ring, 4=pinky). An X over a string tells you not to strum that string (although this isn’t in the above diagrams as you get to strum all of the strings for these chords) and an O demonstrates that that string is left open to ring out.

Hopefully that makes enough sense, to figure out the shapes above but getting the chords to ring out nice and clearly can be a little bit tough at first. Here are some troubleshooting tips to help you out:

Make sure your left hand fingers are as close to the front of the frets as possible, they should be just behind the the fret itself, not in the middle or at the back.
Make sure you are playing right on the top of your fingertip not on the pad of your finger.
Make sure your fingers are curled with both knuckles in the fingers bent. This will help with step 2.
Make sure you’re not resting your left hand fingers on the strings below.
Make sure you’re pressing down with enough pressure to make the string touch the fret on the neck of the guitar. This is slightly harder if you play a steel string guitar as opposed to a nylon (classical) guitar.
Watch that you’re not strumming strings that have X’s in the diagram.

Now that you’ve mastered G and Em, it’s time to learn C and Am! Using the exact same steps as before try to figure out the chords from the chord diagrams below:



As quickly as possible, try to memorise these shapes so that you no longer need to consult the diagrams. This will help to speed everything up and lead to smooth and clean chord changes.

Start practicing them in this order to help prepare yourself to learn a new song, Paul Kelly’s “From St Kilda to Kings Cross”:

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Let’s take a closer look at the strumming pattern:
                          1            2        +       3          +        4         +               

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                        ↓            ↓        ↑                  ↑          ↓       ↑

The arrows below the rhythms demonstrate which direction to strum with your right hand and the numbers above help you to count out the bar to show where the rhythms fall. Practice this very, very slowly at first and make sure you are playing in time. As it becomes more comfortable speed it up. I encourage students to “fill in” the gaps of the strumming, in which the right hand goes up and down in quavers (eighth notes) even when it is not playing the strings. This will help to keep you in time!

Hopefully this has gotten you started with some strumming and learning a new song. For the full progression of “From St Kilda to Kings Cross”, here’s the rest of the chord progression:

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Here’s a couple of other simple songs that use the same chords:

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Words by Matt

Josh Kreusler - Foxymorons

Josh Kreusler - Foxymorons