Learning chord shapes

Learning chord shapes

Learning to play chord shapes is where most of us begin our guitar journey. This is the start of us teaching our fingers to obey our commands! Of course this is no easy task to begin with and progress can be slow and frustrating, as teaching guitar to my students in Bristol has shown. However following the procedure below should help you learn chord shapes faster.

But …first things first!

Make sure that you know:-

  • How to read chord diagrams
  • That you understand which strings you should be sounding (not all chords use all 6 strings)
  • Concentrate on a few chords at a time. My suggestions for your first 8 open chords:-
    • E, A and D
    • Then Em, Am and Dm
    • Then G and C

A procedure for learning chord shapes

  1. Hold the chord shape down on the fretboard
  2. Strum the whole chord – listen for any strings that do not ring out clearly.
  3. Play each individual note – adjust fingers if any notes are not clear (See below)
  4. Strum again – Listen – is the shape now good? – all the notes are clear – if so ….
  5. Hold the good shape down harder than usual for count of 10 (This seems to work but nobody knows why!)
  6. Repeat step 5 three more times

There are two main reasons why a note may not sound properly:-

  1. It is not fretted correctly – the finger should hold the string down just behind the fret wire with enough pressure to allow the note to sound clearly. 
  2. Open strings are often muted by being touched by a finger fretting another note. Often the fretting finger needs to be arched a little more

Making sure your thumb is positioned correctly on the neck and that your fretting hand wrist is straight (ie a good fretting hand position) will also help with avoiding muted strings


An exercise once you know the basic chord shape:  lift the chord shape off the fretboard, ensuring your fingers keep shape, then put the chord shape back on the fingerboard and strum to check that the chord shape is good.


One thing that helps with remembering a bunch of chords is relating them to each other where possible – for instance a C chord only requires one finger to move to form an Am chord. Moving the Am shape down one string forms the E chord. Taking one finger off the E chord forms the Em chord etc etc.


Once you have the shapes in your muscle memory then learn songs – http://terryteachesguitar.com/guitar-practice-tip-3/


Free PDFs




If you have any questions just leave a comment or send me a message.

Guitar lessons in Bristol, Backwell, Nailsea and Keynsham, UK.

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