Fret Farm

Complete Reference Books for Guitar, Bass and Mandolin
Including Chords, Keys, Scales, Capos, Modulation and Songwriting

Playing Basic Chords

This tutorial shows you how to use the full chord charts to find the easiest way to play each chord.

You could simply use the mini-chord diagrams to find a simple way to play the chord, but learning to use the main chord charts will provide you with more flexibility and potential.

In the diagram above, you can see two chords, A major on the left, and A major seventh on the right. The fretboard diagrams show all possible ways to play each chord (ignore the voicing diagrams, they give you some quick ways to play the chord). To play the chord on your guitar you need to decide which voicing to play: which of the possible notes to play on each string.

To create a voicing, you need to follow these steps:

The symbols represent the role of a note in the chord, and their color represents how 'exotic' that note sounds in the overall chord. You will be able to use this eventually to create interesting variations on chords. For A major there are three different symbols: the root 'R' (the note A), the third '3' (the note C#) and the fifth '5' (the note E). The major seventh chord adds another symbol: the seventh '7' (the note G#).

To make the lowest note the root note, we can simply miss out the lowest string, and play the second string open as the root note. The top string can also be open, giving us the fifth. The other three strings can be played at the second fret, giving us the third we need (as well as one more root and fifth).

So the final chord plays at fret two on strings 3,4 and 5 and open on strings 2 and 6. Basic voicings are given next to each chord in the book. This diagram shows the basic voicing for A in a standard chord frame; it can be written as x02220 (see footnote [1] for an explanation of this).

We can work through the same process with the A major seventh chord. In this case we could play the same chord as before (all the same notes are still allowed), but we wouldn't have any seventh note at all. Instead we can not play the middle root note (since we have another root note already in the chord), and play the seventh on that string instead. This diagram shows the summary chord, it can be written x02120 [1].

The chord shapes we've created in this tutorial are given in the book in a chord box format. Each full chord chart has at least two simple voicings next to it, with the summary numbers above it. You can rely on these voicings all the time, if you want to, and never use the main chord chart.

Once you get used to reading the chord charts, however, you can use the techniques in the advanced chords tutorial to play many more forms of the same chord; something that the box diagrams alone wouldn't help you with.

[1] The six digit voicing summary of a chord shows which fret to play on each string: x02220 indicates that the first string should not be played, the second and sixth strings should be left open and the third through fifth strings should be played on the second fret. These voicing summaries are a more efficient way of representing the box diagrams. In the book they are given across the top of each box diagram.