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How to Play Open Chords on the Guitar

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One of the first big hurdles you need to deal with as a guitar player is making clean open chords. We are going to separate our eight fundamental open chords into a few different lessons, but we will go over all of the tips you need to make these clean chords right now. I’ll go through the tips and explain them even more as we learn the open A major, D major, and E major chords in this lesson. Keep these ten tips in mind as you learn all of your open chords.

1 - Get your guitar set up by a professional, so it plays as easy as possible. A guitar that’s tough to play can be dangerous. It can open the door for injury or strain, and it can frustrate you to the point of quitting altogether. A good setup can cost anywhere from $40-$70, but it’s worth it.

2 - Start with a relaxed posture of holding an apple or a baseball out in front of you with your palm facing the sky. This will set you up for success when fretting the notes of these chords.

3 - Bring the guitar neck up higher with a strap or footstool. This will put the guitar neck in a better position for a good angle of attack on the strings. It will also keep you from kinking your wrist too far one way or the other.

4 - Don’t kink your wrist too far one way or the other. Kinking it upward can make it tough to get a good angle of attack on the strings, and kinking it downward can hurt after a while.

5 - Put your fingers right behind the frets. If you put your finger in the middle of the frets or toward the back, you will increase the chance of a buzzing sound.

6 - Curve your fingers and use your fingertips to fret the notes. This will keep your fingers from brushing up against the neighboring strings and muting them.

7- Keep your elbow close to your body for a better angle on the strings. If you hold your elbow up, it will be tougher to get a good angle of attack.

8 - Experiment with how much pressure is enough. You want a clean sound, but you don’t want to unnecessarily overexert yourself.

9 - Put one finger at a time down at first, then work toward putting the entire shape on all at once.

10 - Repetition is key. Put the chord on and take it off over and over again and practice as often as possible. Multiple shorter practice sessions every day can be very effective.

It’s a good idea to come back and review these tips until they are second nature. Don’t worry about switching between chords yet. The more time you spend learning to play the individual chord shapes cleanly, the easier it will be when you start to switch between chords.

Let’s kick things off with the open D major chord. Place your 1st finger on the 2nd fret of the G string, 2nd finger on the 2nd fret of the high E string, and your 3rd finger on the 3rd fret of the B string. Do you see how we created a little triangle? That's the open D chord. Now strum only the D, G, B, and high E strings. Leave out the low E and A strings. You will have to work on your aim with your strumming hand to make sure that you don’t hit the low E and A strings. The best thing to do to get this down is to look back at your strumming hand and only work on hitting the four strings in the D chord. Concerted practice like this is super-effective. I also like to mute the low E, and sometimes the A string, with my thumb by wrapping it around the fretboard.

Strum through each string and listen to see if they are ringing out clearly. If you are getting some buzzing or muted strings, just go down the ten tips on the Clean Chords Checklist. It will take time for the physical part of this to become second nature, but if you implement these tips on a regular basis, you eventually won’t have to think much about it.

There are two basic ways to play the open A major chord. We will go over both, and you can pick the one that works best for you. The first way is to put your 1st finger on the 2nd fret of the D string, 2nd finger on the 2nd fret of the G string, and 3rd finger on the 2nd fret of the B string. You strum all of the strings except for the low E string that as the “X” over it on the chord diagram.

You will probably notice that your fingers feel pretty squished with this shape. You may like it, or if you have bigger hands, you may find it pretty challenging. That’s why I wanted to give you an alternate shape for the open A major chord. All you have to do is switch your 1st and 2nd fingers around. You end up with your 2nd finger on the 2nd fret of the D string, 1st finger on the 2nd fret of the G string, and 3rd finger on the 2nd fret of the B string. This way feels a little less squished to me. You still strum all of the strings except for the low E.

The open E chord uses all six strings, so you don’t need to worry as much about working on your strumming aim for this one. Put your 2nd finger on the 2nd fret of the A string, 3rd finger on the 2nd fret of the D string, and 1st finger on the 1st fret of the G string. Strum through each string and check for buzzing or muted notes. If you hear either of them, just run down the Clean Chord Checklist and make adjustments.

Your fingers are probably feeling pretty sore by now. I want to let you know that this is normal and it will get better with time. A big part of playing the guitar is going through a time of toughening up your fingers and building calluses. This is just part of the process and a right of passage for guitar players across the earth.


If you need to get the basics of playing the guitar down, you should go through the Guitar Foundations course here. You can also invest in the accompanying Ebook here. Let us know how things are going for you and if you have any questions by leaving a comment below.

Need advice on what strings, picks, accessories, or gear to use? Check out our list of recommended products here.

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