Beginner Guitar Lesson OnLine: Chords for the Key of C & AM


Beginner Guitar Lesson OnLine 

Chords for the Key of C & Am

The  6 Basic Chords in the Key of C and Am

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Chords for the Key of C Major

As you may have studied in our Chord Theory Section, the key of C Major has (3) basic chord and there is also a Relative Key associated with it of A Minor. The Relative key also has 3 basic chords. If you haven't already, you should study both Music Theory and Chord Theory to get a basic understanding on how chords are structured and how they are formed.

Chord Structure: C Major: C, F & G7

The following diagram illustrates how these (6) chords are most commonly played and fingered:

Rules Are Made to Be Broken

As you will commonly hear, a general rule is to place the first finger on the first fret notes, the second finger on the 2nd fret and the third finger on the third fret.

You will see this rule broken very often in playing chords, but if you look at the chords in the key of C and Am, the rule holds quite true with the exception of the Am.

At least this give you a good idea of where to  start when you don't have chord charts with fingering patterns in front of you.

I want to point out the green designation of the third finger used on the C chord, fingering the G note on the 6th string. This is fingering for an alternate bass strumming method. I will explain that in later lessons.

Place each finger directly behind each fret, just as it shows in the diagram. Not in-between the frets or directly in front of the fret. Place your fingers as close as you can to what is shown here for the best sound and the place where you will find is easiest to press down the string.

Key of C Major Chords
The Dreaded Bar Chord

Now lets look at that nasty "F Major Chord". The F chord is one of the hardest chords that you will encounter in playing on the guitar, because it takes a great deal of strength to execute this chord without a single buzz. It's right next to the nut - brutal. Also it's only the 2nd chord that you learn on the guitar. Life just ain' t fair!!

This is one of THE major reasons you will want your guitar to have great action (low) especially at the nut. Here is a little hint for you to try on your guitar....Try to play the F chord on higher fret like the 2nd or 3rd etc. If you can play it there, and not in the first position, it is likely your guitar nut is not set up properly.

How do you bar the first fret? Lay your index finger all the way across all (6) strings. Just what part of your finger you start and end with depends on the length of you fingers, where your joints fall with respect to the strings and your physical strength you have available. You may have to experiment a bit to get it right and find what is comfortable for you. If you just can't do it, don't give up. You may need to make some adjustments.

Also, with the F chord, there are (3) other fingers that are the "first defense" in relieving some of the stress placed on the barred index finger. Try to allocate most of the energy used on the first finger to the 1st, 2nd and 6th strings and don't worry too much about the 3rd, 4th and 5th strings right now.

If you absolutely can't get it to work, no matter what you do, don't despair. Drop to the fall-back "F" by barring only the 1st and 2nd strings and the remainder of the string fingerings remain the same. This means you are covering 5 out of the 6 strings. This will work while you build up your finger strength and this will allow you time to continue to work on it.

Try These Solutions to Play Bar Chords Easier

What gage are your strings? If you have an acoustic or electric guitar and you have medium or heavy gage strings, try the next lighter gage strings. If you have light strings, look around at the actual string gages and try to "lighten-up".

Check the height of your guitar nut. If you have access to a feeler gage ( this is used to measure the gap in spark plugs), finger  your string on an "F" on the first string. Now slip the feeler gage between the top of the 2nd fret and the bottom of the string. Find the nearest  gap measurement that will fit snuggly in the space without bumping the string upward. Write down the gap you measured.

Now, on the same string, played open, measure the gap between the  top of the FIRST fret to the bottom of the string.  Write this gap down too. Take a look at the difference...... The 2 measurements should be very close to each other if your guitar is set up correctly. That is the open string measurement can be slightly more, but never less. If the disparity is much greater, with a greater gap measurement with the open string/first fret, consider  lowering your nut action.

You should perform this gap test on every string, write down all the gap measurements and the story will begin to emerge.

Practice, practice, practice. As you practice you will slowly develop more strength in all of your left hand fingers. Even from the beginning of the week to the end of the week can make quite a difference.

How is your string action at the bridge/saddle end? Really high action down there can affect you playing performance - even in the first position. Most electric guitars are easy to adjust the bridge/saddle height, even with the strings on and in tune. The acoustic and classical guitars are a different matter.

Relative Key of A Minor: The Chords are: Am, Dm and E7
Key of A Minor Chords

The three chords in the key of Am are very easy to play and you should be able to master them in very little time.

Notice the 4th finger designation on the E7 chord. That means that finger is optional. It is an E7 with or without it. Also the notes below the strings show that it would add another "D" to the chord rather than a "B".

Another variation that could be used with the E7 in addition to the 4th finger is to add your third finger on the 2nd fret of the 4th string, making that a "E7" too, but you do need to add both of these fingers to make it an "E7"chord. If you added the 3rd finger and not the 4th finger you would wind up with an E Major Chord.

Note the red "X" designation on the 6th string of the Dm chord. That means the string is not played or strummed

So, there you have it - the 6 basic chords in the Key of C and it's closest relative the key of Am. If you play a song in the key of "C" and you want to accompany with rhythm, there is a 80% chance it will be one of these (6) chords. On some songs there is a 100% chance it will be one of these songs.

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

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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.