Learning your first chord (10 Steps to playing any chord)


TIME TO COMPLETE: 15 minutes
WHAT YOU NEED: Guitar, Open Chords Pack


Learning some basic open chords is the first step for the majority of people. Open chords are great for beginners because so many popular songs use them. So you will almost straight away be able to play some real songs. Some of the chords are incredibly easy so you shouldn’t find the learning curve too steep.

The 50 Essential Chords Pack is recommended for this lesson because it gives you all the information you need to work through the chords. It’s also a great way to gauge your progress.

Before you have a go playing chords, make sure you have read the Holding the guitar lesson. Read this lesson before watching the video lesson.


The first chord you should have a go playing is E minor. This is one of the easiest chords to play on guitar and is very common with guitarists. We start with this chord because it only uses two fingers and uses four open strings. If you have the 50 Essential Chords Pack, take out the E minor card and lay it in front of you so you can clearly see the diagram. The white numbers in the blue dots on the diagram tell you which fingers to use. The O’s above four of the vertical lines tell you to play those strings as ‘open’ which means you strum the string without placing a finger anywhere.

The video lesson will walk through how to read the diagrams so don’t worry if you don’t understand them yet.


To learn any chord, follow the steps below. Doing this every single time you play a chord will make sure you are using the right technique. If you don’t follow these steps, you are very likely to develop bad habits which are very hard to break.

The basic idea to this method is to start with your first finger (if it is used) and work your way one-by-one to the fourth finger. This method takes the guesswork out of which order you should place your fingers down.

  1. Hold your thumb behind the centre of the neck pointing up in the air (not out to the side). Your thumb should not reach over the top of the fretboard.
  2. Reach your hand around the neck and place your first finger just to the left of the fret. If the chord doesn’t use your first finger, use the next finger it asks for (eg: if the lowest finger number is 2, start with your 2nd finger).
  3. Make sure the finger you have in place doesn’t touch any adjacent strings and that your hand isn’t touching the high E string. This is tough for many beginners so take your time on this step. You should only be touching the neck with your fingertips and your thumb, not the palm of your hand.
  4. Place the next highest finger into position without moving your first finger. If you move your first finger out of correct position, go back to step 2.
  5. Make sure that both fingers are not touching any adjacent strings. If they are, go back a couple steps to correct.
  6. Continue placing your fingers down in the 1, 2, 3, 4 order until all the fingers needed are in the right place.
  7. Have a look to make sure your thumb is still pointing up and is still around the centre of the neck. If not, adjust it. Check to make sure your palm isn’t resting against the neck.
  8. Strum all the required strings. Listen carefully to hear if any of the notes aren’t ringing out clearly.
  9. Play each string separately to make sure that all the notes are ringing out clearly.
  10. If one of the notes isn’t ringing out clearly, find out where the problem is then work backwards through the steps to correct it

IMPORTANT: Notice that you do not play anything until step eight. The biggest problem with beginners is they rush into the chord and try to strum it as soon as possible. The result is a sloppy sounding chord and bad habits. Take your time through the steps. If you rush the chord will sound rushed.


Once you get past Step 10 and the chord rings out perfectly, congratulation! You have passed your first milestone in learning guitar. You have properly played your first chord. It may take you quite a few attempts to get the first chord right so don’t stress if it takes a while.

Now you can move on to your second milestone – play the same chord again. Unfortunately it will take some time to memorize chords. Being able to play it once won’t mean you will remember it tomorrow; it will take a while to memorize and perfect it. But the good news is all you need to do is repeat the steps over and over until your fingers remember where to go. We call this ‘muscle memory’. Muscle memory is how guitarists can play songs without even looking at their hands or thinking about where their fingers need to go – their fingers simply ‘know’ where to go. Keep this in mind whenever you feel frustrated, eventually you will be able to play this chord without even thinking.

All you need to do now is take a deep breath, start at step 1 and work your way to step 10. Once you do that, take your hand away and start again at step 1. Go through the steps 20 times. It has been said that the brain will start to memorize something it has done over 20 times. So if you haven’t played the chord at least 20 times, you probably won’t remember it. Play the chord 20 times every day and before you know it you will be able to run through the steps in an instant.


It may take you a while before you can play the chord properly with all the strings ringing out nice and clear. Don’t let any mistakes or problems frustrate you. Even the best players once struggled with the easiest of chords. The key to success is quality practice. It must be ‘quality practice’ and not just ‘practice’. There is a big difference. Practice the right techniques with the right hand position and you will succeed. Practice without thinking about technique or posture and you will develop bad habits.

Take your time and once you can play this chord with ease, move on to the next lesson. Don’t even look at the next lesson until you can play E minor perfectly every time – you don’t become a pro by rushing through lessons. Good luck. Make sure you check out this video lesson for a demonstration on practicing chords.

If you don’t have the 50 Essential Chords Pack yet, visit the online store to buy it because it will make your practice sessions so much easier.

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