Jacob just came home from his first summer volunteering at a sleep-away camp. Every night the camp director would take out her guitar and play a few songs.

People sitting around a campfire. People wonder how to learn guitar chords?

The way the guitar united the staff and campers really inspired Jacob to learn how to play it. He aims to learn the basic chords needed to play the songs at next summer's campfire.

If you're like Jacob and want to start strumming your first chords, follow these 4 easy steps to get comfortable with the instrument.

Step 1: The Basics

Strong musicians know their instrument well. This begins with knowing the parts of the guitar:

  • Body — where sound is amplified.

  • Strings — where sound is created. You'll strum strings above the tone hole and press on strings on the neck.

  • Tone hole — where sound resonates out.

  • Frets — where you'll place fingers to make notes and chords. Each Fret is numbered starting with 1 (closest to the head).

  • Fret rods — separate each fret along the neck.

  • Neck — houses the frets and fret rods.

  • Tuning pegs — you'll twist these to make sure your strings are in tune and ready to play.

  • Head = houses the tuning pegs.

How to learn guitar chords: Image of guitar with parts labeled: body, strings...

Image of Guitar by macrovector on Freepik. Labels added by Rumie Author.

There are 3 main ways to hold the guitar:

Camp-Fire Style

  • Musician sits

  • Head of guitar is slightly above the tone hole

  • Typically used by non-classical guitar players (most common)

Man holding a white electric guitar that is plugged into an amplifier. Photo by Alex Suprun on Unsplash

Classical Style

  • Musician sits

  • Left leg is propped up (usually a stand or wooden block)

  • Head of guitar is parallel with your head

  • Typically used by classical guitar players

Man holds a classical guitar. Photo by Ilse Orsel on Unsplash


  • Musician stands

  • Uses a strap that connects to the guitar's body

Man stands holding an acoustic guitar. Woman stands beside him holding sheet music (as if about to sing). Photo by Max Ovcharenko on Unsplash


Recall Jacob's reason to start learning guitar (to play at camp next summer). Which playing position(s) is/are best for him to learn while playing guitar? Select all that apply.

Step 2: Tuning the Guitar

Each string on your guitar is an individual note with its own name. Let's look specifically at the names of the strings to help you with tuning.

Use the saying "Elephants And Donkeys Grow Big Ears" to help remember the order. You can make up any mnemonic device to help you remember! Another commonly used one is "Eddie Ate Dynamite, Goodbye Eddie".

A diagram of strings from thickest to thinnest, lowest to highest notes: E, A, D, G, B, E. The strings will sound the deepest the closest to your head (starting with low E — Elephants) and the highest the closest to your feet (ending with high E — Ears).

Flaticon Icon Using atuner, you need to individually pluck each string and turn the tuning peg to get your guitar tuned. Watch your tuner turn green to know that the string is in tune!

Flaticon Icon Alternatively, you canuse your ear to tune. When your guitar matches the sounds being played, you're in tune.

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Check out the video below for a tuning tutorial:

Step 3: How to Read a Guitar Chord Diagram

A chord is a musical term to describe when 3 or more notes are played at the same time. Typical pop songs will only contain about 4 different chords played in repetition.

To read a guitar chord diagram, it's important to know how to label your left-hand fingers. If you've played piano before, this is VERY similar!

X = Closed string (do not strum), O = Open string (strum with no left hand fingers). Numbers tell us where to place left hand

In piano, you begin labeling your fingers with your thumb as number 1. But since we don't use our thumb as much when playing the guitar, we begin labelling with our pointer finger as number 1.

Picture of a hand (palm up). The fingers (starting from pointer down to pinky) are labeled 1-4. The thumb is not labeled.

What does your right hand do?

Strum = your right hand will quickly graze the strings over the tone hole.

Cartoon man strums a guitar with his right hand.

This is typically done with a guitar pick but can also be done with your thumb and fingers.

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How to read a chord diagram:

An explanation of how to read a chord diagram. Click on the audio file below for audio description of image.

Click the play button on the audio player below to hear a description of the diagram above.

Step 4: Your First 6 Chords

Have a look at some of the most common chords you'll play. Once you feel comfortable playing each chord individually, you can begin moving from one chord to the next. See the "Take Action" section for links to play along songs.

F Major: 1st finger-B string 1st fret; 2nd-G string 2nd fret; 3rd -D string 3rd fret; low E & A strings closed, high E open. Note: This is a simpler way to play F major. Check here for more ways to play.

C Major: 1st finger-B string 2st fret; 2nd-D string 2nd fret; 3rd-A string 3rd fret; low E string closed, G & high E open. Click here for a video demonstration of the C major chord.

A Minor: 1st finger-B string 1st fret; 2nd-D string 2nd fret; 3rd- G string 2nd fret. Low E string closed, A & high E open. Click here for a video demonstration of the A minor chord.

E Minor Chord Diagram Click here for a video demonstration of the E minor chord.

D Major: 1st finger-G string 2nd fret; 2nd-high E string 2nd fret; 3rd-B string 3rd fret. A & low E strings closed. D open. Click here for a video demonstration of the D major chord.

G Major: 1st finger-A string 2nd fret; 2nd-low E string 3rd fret; 3rd-high E string 3rd fret; D, G & A strings open. Note: This is a simpler way to play G major. Check here for more ways to play.

How to Learn Guitar Chords: Helpful Tips

Don't be discouraged if you have difficulties at first! That's common. Beginner guitar players like you can use these tips to play better and faster.

Woman saying

  • Tune your strings. If even 1 string is out of tune, the whole chord will sound wrong.

  • Place your fingers slightly behind the fret rod that's closest to the guitar's body (see the image below for example). Fingers directly on the fret will mute the sound while fingers too far from the fret will create a buzz or unclear sound.

    Image of person playing guitar. Their fingers are closed close to (but not on) the fret rod closest to the tone hole. Photo by Paulo Goncalves on Unsplash

  • Stretch your fingers before and after playing. This will enhance flexibility as you continue to learn more complex chords and can also help prevent playing-related injuries in the future.

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Take Action

Wondered how to learn guitar chords? It's time to apply your learning and make some music!

Two men from the TV show


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