Fingering and playing chords on the guitar enriches the music that you play greatly compared to playing single-line melodies. To play guitar chords better, you must learn them well.
Learn Chord Formulas
Guitar chords are formed by playing at least two strings at the same time, and usually three or more. To play a chord well, you must learn its formula. The formula tells you what strings you will strum or fingerpick to sound the chord. When looking at the neck of the guitar from its front, from left to right, the strings are numbered VI – V – IV – III – II – I.
For each string that you play, you also need to know whether you are to put a finger on that string to press it down against the fingerboard or not and what finger to use and on what fret to place it. The fingers on the left hand are normally numbered, but in this article, letters in chord formulas show what fingers to use (i=index; m=middle; r=ring; p=pinky). To indicate the fret where you are to place each finger, a number will follow the string number and finger letter.
For example, one formula for a G chord is VI.m.3; V.i.2; (IV); (III); (II); I.r.3. To play the G, you would put your middle finger on the third fret of the sixth string, your index finger on the second fret of the fifth string, and your ring finger on the third fret of the first string. A string number in parentheses means that you play that string open (no fingers down on that string). In the G chord, you would strum across all six strings, including strings IV, III, and II open.
By learning the formulas for guitar chords well, you will play better.
Learn Different Fingerings
To learn and play guitar chords well, you should also know and practice fingering each chord using different fingerings based on the different possible formulas for the chord. For the G chord, this would mean learning each of the following fingerings:
VI.m.3 – V.i.2 – (IV) – (III) – (II) – I.r.3 – uses middle, index, and ring fingers
VI.m.3; V.i.2; (IV); (III); (II); I.p.3 – uses middle, index, and pinky fingers
VI.r.3; V.m.2; (IV); (III); (II); I.p.3 – uses ring, middle, and pinky fingers
Depending on what chord comes after the G chord in a song, try using each of these formulas to see which one makes the change to the next chord the smoothest. For example, suppose a G7 chord comes next in a song. The formula for a G7 chord is VI.r.3; V.m.2; (IV); (III); (II); I.i.1. By using the last fingering for a G chord that is listed above, VI.r.3; V.m.2; (IV); (III); (II); I.p.3, changing from a G to a G7 becomes as simple as lifting the pinky off the first string at the third fret and putting down the index finger on the first fret of the first string.
By knowing how to play guitar chords in different fingerings well and using different fingerings depending on what chords come next in a song, you will play better.
Learn Chord Shapes
To learn and play guitar chords well, you should also learn the shape of each chord because doing so will help you to remember how to finger the chord. To do so, think of having some white ink on the tips of your fingers that you use to make the chord. After making the chord on the guitar, think of white dots being left on the various strings at the frets where you placed your fingers. Now mentally connect the dots and see what shape they form. For example, the G chord forms a triangle (on the second and the third frets) that points toward the head of the guitar.
Learn well the shape of other chords so that you will also play them better. Here are some examples of other chords, their formulas, and the shapes that they form:
A chord – (V); IV.m.2; III.r.2; II.p.2; (I) – horizontal line
C chord – V.r.3; IV.m.2; (III); II.i.1; (I) – diagonal going up to the right
D chord – (IV); III.i.2; II.r.3; I.m.2 – triangle pointing to the body
D7 chord – (IV); III.m.2; II.i.1; I.r.2 – triangle pointing to the head
By learning well the chord formulas, fingerings, and shapes for as many guitar chords as you can, you will play better!