Playing Your First Guitar Chords

How to play the guitar - The parts of a guitar

Once you have the gear, the first step towards learning how to play the guitar is nailing some chords…

If you’ve decided to learn how to play the guitar, there’s a very strong possibility that you want to be the guy or gal at the front of the stage, ripping out incredible solos, or throwing rockstar poses whilst delivering killer riffs. The person further back, keeping everything together with their rhythm guitar playing possibly isn’t the person you aspire to be. However, everything on the guitar is essentially underpinned by the use of chords. If you want to be a great soloist, you really need to learn how to play chords well first.

The great news is, for a beginner who is learning how to play the guitar, with a few simple chords, you will have the ‘building blocks’ needed to play a huge number of songs…

How to Play the Guitar

Holding the guitar correctly

Firstly, I should state that there is no substitute for a great teacher– you will always progress faster if you are taking lessons. Dawsons has a number of music schools should you wish to do this, the details of which can be found here.

For the sake of this article, we will assume that you are playing an acoustic guitar, and are sitting down to do it. Select a chair or stool on which you can sit upright comfortably. If you are playing a right-handed guitar, rest the guitar with waist (the ‘pinched’ indented curve of a guitar body) on your right thigh, with the guitar neck to the left. If playing a left-handed guitar, this should be reversed (i.e. neck to the right, with guitar on your left thigh)

Your fretting hand (the hand you use on the guitar neck) should be placed so that your thumb is resting behind the guitar neck. This makes speedy movement around the neck far easier. There is a temptation to grip the neck, with the thumb anchored over the top of the neck, but this is a bad habit to get into, and will hamper your progress in the long-term…

How to Play The Guitar - Wrong Hand Position

How to Play The Guitar - Correct Hand Position


Your first three chords

A chord, put simply, is several strings played, or strummed, at the same time. By string together chords, you can create an accompaniment to the melody line of a song.

If you want to learn how to play the guitar, you’ll need to know how to understand chord boxes. These are a means of demonstrating where your fingers should be placed to play the chord. To read them, imagine you are looking at the guitar’s fingerboard, when the guitar is upright. Each of the vertical lines represent a string, and each of the horizontal lines, a fret, with the top horizontal line representing the guitar’s nut (the bit where the fret board joins the headstock) unless it states otherwise. If a string has ‘x’ above it, this means that the string should not be played in this chord, and if it has an ‘O’, it means play the open strings.

The dots are where your fingers should be placed. Sometimes, in tuition books, these will be numbered to indicate which finger should be placed where. Fingers are numbered from 1 to 4 from the index finger to your pinkie. You may or may not wish to use a plectrum to strum, but if you do, you should hold it between the side of the index finger and the thumb.

So, here are you first three chords…

Place your fingers just behind the fret (‘behind’ meaning towards the guitar headstock), and use only the pads of the fingertips to hold down the strings at the frets indicated. This will minimise the chances of accidentally dampening strings and causing ‘buzz’. As with all things, practice makes perfect… 😉

G Chord

G Chord

C Chord

C Chord

D Chord

D Chord

One you have nailed these three chords, practice strumming them to a rhythm, and changing between them, until you can change smoothly from one to another. As mentioned, with these three chords you can play a huge number of songs – check out the chord books at our stores to see for yourself!

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Joe is a contributor for the Dawsons Music blog. Specialising in product reviews and crafting content to help and inspire musicians of all musical backgrounds.

Joe is a contributor for the Dawsons Music blog. Specialising in product reviews and crafting content to help and inspire musicians of all musical backgrounds.