Mastering Open Chords – Part I

Have you ever felt like chords are something that every guitar player should be able to do, yet you feel like they’re something really hard to master or play? Maybe you’ve been playing guitar for some time, you see some of your friends or other people on YouTube play them so well, yet it’s something that doesn’t feel naturally to you?

You’re not alone.

Let’s get something out of the way first. Learning open chords, in the traditional way (i.e. learning open chords on the first frets of the guitar) is NOT the easiest way to learn. This is because that area of the guitar is actually one of the hardest to play anything on, since it’s one of the extremities of the guitar, forcing you to move your hand farther away from you and leaving you with an uncomfortable hand position (since you have to twist your wrist more than usual to press the strings). I always recommend all my students to start with power chords in the middle of the neck (around the 7th fret). This is because these chords are way easier to play – not only are they way more simple than open chords, but they can also be played everywhere over the neck. I have an article coming up talking about what power chords are and how to best learn and use them, so please keep coming back to learn how to play those. Another thing I’d like to note here is that this article is mainly focused on practicing open chords – if you want to master chords in general so you can play them effortlessly, please check out this article here instead.

For now, let’s keep focusing open chords. To make the learning of this specific and important skill easy, you should NOT start with trying to play open chords in their it’s entirety. Let me explain what I mean by this with the following example.

This is how a G Chord is supposed to be played:

As you may have guessed already, this is a not an easy chord to play or learn. The reason this is a harder chord is that you are using all 4 fingers to press on the strings, while at the same time twisting your wrist and angling all fingers in a way that it allows you to let the 5th string ring (if your middle finger is touching it), as well as letting the 4th string ring (if your index is touching it) and trying to press the 2 bottom strings at the same time. Not an easy task.

What you can do to learn the right-hand position faster is to start using something like this:

Now, granted, this does not produce the same powerful sound as a full G-Chord, but it does allow you to play something that sounds clean! You still use the 4th finger to press the note, but nothing else. Note also that you are only playing the bottom 3 strings. You can use this in songs or any other musical context and, not only will it be much easier to play, it will also allow you to start getting used to the right-hand position and fingering for the G chord. You will see that you’ll be able to apply this much faster than a full G chord.
Once this is easy, you start practicing the next level of the same chord, which will be this:

Notice how we just got closer to a full G chord. This now sounds much more like a complete chord, with only one note missing. If you practiced the initial version of this chord above well, then this step should feel a lot easier. This is obviously also applicable to songs or exercises you’d like to play (to about 80%) and, again, is getting you ready for the last step.

Now refer back to the full version of the G chord. Once you’ve mastered the 2 previous steps, getting the index finger to press on the 2nd fret of the 5th string is going to be MUCH easier. This is because your wrist and other fingers have gotten used to the position that is required to play the chord, pressing all strings correctly and having all other strings ring out clearly. You now only need to pay attention to the middle finger, so that it doesn’t mute the 5th string (being pressed by the index finger) and the index finger so that it’s not muting (touching) the 3rd string, which should ring open and clear.

(This article continues on part II that can be found here.)

About the Author:

Based in Zurich Switzerland, Gonçalo Crespo is a professional guitar teacher and musician. He has taught guitar for over 8 years covering a variety of styles but focuses mainly on getting his students to guitar playing success in the most efficient way possible. Founder of Music&Co. guitar music school, Gonçalo also offers tuition for acoustic and electric guitar.