Guitar Chords and how to build them!

Learn how chords are built and learn a few easy chords on guitar

Thanks for checking out my page on Guitar Chords and how to build them.

This video is from a live stream I did on this topic.  It goes with the material on this page however I will make a shorter video that is not a live stream shortly.

Oh and I just edited the video so that painful, what is going on beginning is gone.  It is processing and should be up soon.


The first thing we need to know is that chords are built from scales.  So let's start by building a C major scale.

C major scale showing Whole steps and half steps on the staff
Diatonic chords in the key of C on the staff.

Diatonic triads are triads or chords that belong to a key.  In this case, the key of C.  The definition of a triad is 3 notes and the definition of a chord is 3 or more notes so you can call these either at this point.  Once we add more notes to our triad we will want to call them chords.

We end up with a series of major and minor chords with the seventh one called diminished. These are the chords belonging to the key of C.

Because all major scales are built the same way :


the I, IV and V chords will always be major
the ii, iii, vi will be minor
and the vii will be diminished

Note we will use upper case roman numerals to indicate major and lower case for minor.

Let's Apply this to Guitar

When we stack the notes line line line from C we end up with the 3 notes in a C chord (or triad).  The C is called the 1st degree or more often the root of the chord, the E is called the 3rd and the G is called the 5th.  Note they were the 1st, 3rd and 5th degree of the scale.

C major triad in root on the staff

There would be two different places we could play these notes together on the guitar but for now we will look at 1st position.

C triad in root on strings 3,4 and 5 on the fretboard

Because it is a bit tricky to play only these 3 notes we can make it bigger by adding more notes so long as they belong to the C chord.  So C, E or G.  Below we have added another C and another E (our high open E string).  We would no longer call this a triad and now refer to is as a chord.

C chord on the staff showing notes for an open C chord on the guitar.
Fretboard showing C major chord in 1st position.  Also called open C chord.
C chord on fretboard in open position
Picture of hand showing C chord on guitar

Even though E is a part of the C chord and we have a low E string, it is quite often not played as it tends to have a muddy sound.  You can try to avoid hitting the 6th string with your pick or you can bring your thumb over the top of the fretboard and press ever so gently to stop the string from ringing.  It is also possible to have your 3rd finger that is playing the C to touch it gently.

A minor Chord

Build a chord from the 6th degree of the C major scale you will find the notes A , C and E. Because the distance between A and C is a minor 3rd (3 half steps) the chord will be called A minor. The difference between major and minor chords will be explained a little further down the page.

A minor in root position on the staff
A minor on fretboard in root on strings 1 2 3

Once again we may want to strum more than just 3 strings. We can add our low A string and another E (second fret of your D string).

A minor on the staff showing notes for open Am chord on guitar
A minor on fretboard in open
A minor on fretboard in open
Picture of hand showing how to play Am in open on guitar

Progression - the order of chords in a song or section of song.

If you are completely new to guitar let's work on switching between the two chords we learned above.  C to Am.  If you know these chords and many of your open chords then please join me in the members section to start adding new chords to your vocabulary (bar chords, slash chords, 7th chords, inversions, spread voicings, and much more)!


Start with the C by placing your 1st finger (index) on C (1st fret of your 2nd string) and then 2nd finger (middle) on E (2nd fret of 4th string) and 3rd finger (ring) on the low C (3rd fret of 5th string).

When you switch to the Am chord leave your 1st and 2nd finger down.  Only your 3rd finger will move.  It will move from the low C to A on the 2nd fret of 4th string.  So as you practice the progression below only your 3rd finger moves.

Chord progression on staff going from C to Am
C chord on fretboard in open position
A minor on fretboard in open

The Ultimate Guide to Learning Chords

Join Me for This Free 3 Part Series on Chords

Beginner Series

If you are new to guitar this is the ultimate order to learning your chords.  From my 20 plus years of teaching experience this has been proven to get results and make learning your open chords easy.  Plus we will get to 4 chords and a very popular progression that is used in tons of songs!

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Intermediate Series

This series has us exploring the bar chord and how understanding a little bit of theory can have us knowing 24 chords with just 2 forms.

Free Intermediate Chord Series
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