What chords should you learn first?

The typical beginner guitarist starts with the open chords. Depending on the style of practice, it can take weeks or months until these chords are internalized enough that you can make music with them. Weeks or months! Nobody should have to wait that long to really make music. Wouldn't it be much better if you had the first chord in your fingers after just a few minutes?

If you think now, yes that would be nice, but aspiring guitarists have to go through that, you are mistaken. You don't have to learn to grasp the whole chord right away. And in my opinion, it is a crime that average guitar teachers around the world expect beginners to pick up the whole chord right away. This leads to frustration among the students and in the worst case scenario they think that playing the guitar is just too difficult for them. Good guitar teachers don't do that.

Instead, it's best to make the chord shapes simpler. Let's take the typical open C major chord:

Instead of playing all five strings, you could limit yourself to three strings. For example, you could play the first three strings. All you have to do is put a finger on the first fret on the second string and voilá! You play a C major chord.

Internalizing this chord and anchoring it in your fingers is a lot easier and sounds pretty good quickly.

The same principle can be applied to other open chords.

Here is a typical open G major chord:

You can use the same principle here as well. Just play three of the strings and the chord will sound good. I prefer to play strings two, three and four here because then I don't have to grab anything at all. But be careful not to hit the first string. If this is difficult for you, grab the third fret on the first string and you are on the safe side.

As a side note, this is a good test to find out if a potential guitar teacher is any good. If he asks you to do the whole chord right away, you know that there is at most an average guitar teacher before you.

So keep your ears stiff and don't make it too difficult for you to get started!

About the author: René Kerkdyk is teaching guitar in Hildesheim, Germany. He is part of a special group of guitar teachers that exchange ideas regularly to provide the best possible learning environment for their students.