A Beginner’s Guide to Guitar Chords

Guitar chords form the cornerstone of many songs and musical genres. Triads provide the easiest foundation, consisting of three notes – root, third and fifth note.

Dots on a chord diagram represent finger positions. Some include numbers which identify which fingers to use.

Beginning guitarists should start out learning level 1 chords – they are beginner-friendly! After that, move onto learning some real riffs and melodies!

Major Triads

Triads form the building blocks of tonal music. Each triad consists of three tones arranged either in parallel or dissonance; major triads feature the first, third and fifth notes from a major scale as its basis.

These chord forms are known as close-voiced triads because their highest note lies exactly a perfect fifth above their bottom note. By moving it up or down the fretboard, its sound changes while maintaining its major or minor characteristic.

To test how a chord inversion changes its sound, play a root-position C major triad and shift it up an octave so as to play all three notes but with the second chord shape – this provides a drop 2 voicing that’s useful when creating arpeggios and melodies.

Minor Triads

After reviewing major triads, let’s move on to some minor chords – these can be especially helpful when creating chord progressions that express emotion or tell stories through music.

Minor triads, like major ones, feature three stacked thirds (small gaps between notes) starting on the root note of a chord and can either be major, minor, augmented, or diminished in scale degree.

Chord tones make up a triad, and can be moved freely across the fretboard while remaining audible; however, changing intervals between these notes will dramatically alter its sound.

Dominant Sevenths

The dominant seventh chord is an extremely versatile chord that is used across several genres of music, particularly blues. It consists of a major triad with a lower 7th scale degree that may either be major (Cmaj7) or minor (Cmin7).

Addition of the flat 7th to a major triad creates an unique sound, sometimes dissonant and creating tension, giving power and tension to a chord and offering natural resolution back to tonic triad root when used as V chord in progressions.

The chart below features three movable dominant 7th drop 2 voicings and one inverted version, all using an open root note chord formula. These moveable shapes can be moved up and down the neck in order to play any dominant seventh chord.

Augmented Triads

Think of an Augmented chord as two stacks of major 3rds; just as a major chord consists of one stack of major thirds and two stacks of minor thirds, then an Augmented chord contains two stacks of major thirds but with an extra sharp fifth (1 3 #5=16 aug). Therefore it’s usually indicated with a + sign by its name such as C aug

The augmented chord has an aggressive sound that adds drama to your progressions. The Milk Carton Kids (commonly seen as the successors to Simon and Garfunkel) have taken full advantage of this sound when performing Stealing Romance by The Milk Carton Kids; check it out at minute 0:58 with capo on 7th fret).

Major-Minor Sevenths

Seventh chords can be complex to learn about and apply them into song progressions, with different varieties appearing across various genres.

Minor Major Seventh is a chord created by adding a major seventh (b7) to a minor triad (1-b3-5), giving rise to its name: mM7.

This chord is considered unstable and dissonant; nonetheless, it’s quite popular in blues music – think songs like Long Train Running and Ain’t no Sunshine as examples.

The diagrams of an mM7 chord below demonstrate how to create it using fingerings familiar from open triad shapes. Numbers and red crosses show which strings shouldn’t be played while also suggesting which left hand fingers (index, middle finger, ring finger and pinkie finger) to use (indices middle ring pinkie are ideal options). Finally dots above the nut indicate open strings.