Beginner Guitar Lesson OnLine: Chord Theory 101


Beginner Guitar Lesson OnLine 

Chord Theory 101

Know How They Are Formed Before You Start Strumming

Georgia Luthier Supply
Ultimate Guitar OnLine on Facebook

Bookmark and Share Subscribe

Chord Theory

Ready for a little more theory? This series is based on chord theory and how chords are formed. Make sure you read and understand the Music Theory 101, 102 and 103 before proceeding with this section.

Just as scales are built on certain rules, chords have their own set rules. Once you understand the patterns for construction of chords, you will be able to construct chords yourself.

First we will discuss how to actually read notes on the guitar diagrammatically.

Note Chart
Let's Look At The Illustration Above For A Moment

This is a note chart superimposed on top of a graphic of the guitar fingerboard.  The guitar nut is at the top of the diagram and the shaded horizontal bars represent each fret. This diagram shows (4) frets.

The strings are represented by the vertical lines, starting with the high "E" string to the far right and ending  with the low "E" or 6th string on the far left. The diagram shows all the notes played in the open position.

We will concentrate on this position as it is kind of like a "home" position and the one we use the most. We occasionally will visit other positions on certain songs, but will almost always come back to the "home" position.

This diagram also shows 2-1/3 Chromatic Scales. Starting with the low "E" on the 6th string to the "E" on the 2nd fret of the 4th string, which is one octave. From that "E" to the open "E" on the first string is another octave. Finally from the open "E" on the first string to the G# on the fourth fret is 1/3 of an octave.

The fingering for the notes is illustrated on the right side of the graphic.

When you play notes on every fret, it is called the chromatic scale. The chromatic scale includes all the natural notes plus sharps and flats. A chromatic scale written out would look like this, with Flats:

Ab A Bb B C Db D Eb D F Gb 

-or- like this with all sharps..

 A  A#  B C C# D D# E F F# G G# Now It's Time for Some Definitions:
  • Open Position: Refers to playing notes on the open strings, first fret, second fret, third fret and fourth frets only.
  • First Position: Refers to playing notes on the first fret, second fret, third fret, fourth fret and fifth frets only.
  • Second Position: Refers to playing notes on the second fret, third fret, fourth fret, fifth fret and 6th fret only.
  • Continue up the neck as high as you can go. Usually this is about the 9th or 10th position on a classical or acoustic guitar without a cut-away. If you have a cut-away that usually extends the range by about 3 positions or so. Electric guitars can usually play all the way up the neck to about the 17th or 18th position.
  • In the diagram above, notice how the notes progress up to the 4th fret only, then on to the next string which starts open, (or no finger on a fret). This is typical with all strings with the exception of the third string, which only goes up to the 3rd fret before continuing on to the next string.
  • Just a special tip on left fingers for these notes:
      Always play the first fret notes with the index finger (finger #1)
      Always play the second fret notes with the middle finger (finger #2)
      Always play the third fret notes with the ring finger (finger #3)
      Always play the fourth fret notes with the pinky finger (finger #4)

    Do not stray from this fingering rule. This is extremely important and will govern how well you can play the guitar now and in the future.

    Also, just a side note: Use all the above fingering in every position position, like 2nd, 3rd, 4th etc. But wait! We run out of fingers don't we? We only have 4 fingers and 5 frets to cover. The answer is to get that last note, slide the pinky finger up an additional fret, so the pinky gets a workout with 2 frets to cover, while the other fingers only get one. There are some variations to this usage of fingers and you will discover those as we progress.

    Recommended Publications

    First Guitar Power Chords

    First Guitar Power Chords

    Instructional book and examples CD for guitar. 31 pages. Published by Amsco.


    The Complete Book Of Chords, Scales, Arpeggios For The Guitar

    The Complete Book Of Chords, Scales, Arpeggios For The Guitar

    Written by Al Politano. Instructional book for guitar. 88 pages. Published by Centerstream Publications.


    You Can Teach Yourself Guitar Chords

    You Can Teach Yourself Guitar Chords

    By William Bay. By William Bay. For Guitar (All). Chord book. You Can Teach Yourself. All Styles. Level: Multiple Levels. Book+DVD. 112 pages. Published by Mel Bay Publications, Inc.



    Essential Chords and Progressions for Acoustic Guitar

    Essential Chords and Progressions for Acoustic Guitar

    By Artie Traum. Guitar Educational. Softcover with CD. 48 pages. Published by Hal Leonard.


    Whole Book of Guitar Chords

    Whole Book of Guitar Chords

    Guitar Technique. By Dan Fox. This edition: ED3034. Guitar Method. 158 pages. Published by G. Schirmer, Inc.


    Melodic Chords for Guitar - Vol. 1

    Melodic Chords for Guitar - Vol. 1

    By David Bloom. Guitar Educational. Softcover with CD. 116 pages. Published by Bloom School of Jazz Publishing.



    Click HERE to go to Next Lesson