The Power of Learning Open Chords

Fewer things are more fun than strumming a wide open E chord on guitar. It's amazing to think how important learning open chords have been to thousands of artists. Whether it be a singer-songwriter or someone blasting out 3 chord classic rock, open or “cowboy” chords are essential to every guitar player.

You'd be surprised how many popular songs over the last 100 years break down into 3 or 4 chords. Plus, learning open chords gives you most of what you'll need to start writing songs. I've always felt that if you can make a song sound great on an acoustic guitar, it'll translate to being powerful on an electric.

I've whipped up every chord from A-G in both major and minor form in the chart below. There's notation, tab, and chord charts. As you can see, some chords (especially the minor versions) have a barre chord instead of a traditional open chord.

If you'd rather not play a barre chord, you can make smaller chord fragments, to get the essential first, third and fifth degrees of these chords, and still play them on the higher strings. If you have any questions about these types of chords, feel free to e-mail me (email at the end of this post).


I also have two videos on open chords (check those out below). One of them is more recent, and the other was one of the first videos I ever made for YouTube, so please excuse the quality. I think it'll get the point across though!

Open chords are some of the first things that any beginner should learn. Every guitarist is different, so you may find some shapes more difficult to play than others. Just stick with it, and you will get it.

I'll never forget sitting with my first guitar, nearly 20 years ago and thinking I'd never be able to switch chords quick enough to be a decent player. I'm glad I stuck with it, because guitar is one of the most important things in my life, 20 years later!

If you're just starting out, and you're worried 14 chords is going to take a long time to learn, here's something to think about. Everyone has at least 15 minutes in the day to dedicate to guitar. If you learn just 1 chord a day, you'll have learned A through G in both major and minor forms in just 2 weeks. And here's the other thing to put your mind at ease - to make a chord minor, you're just flatting the 3rd of the chord, so most of these open chords will only require a 1 finger shift.

Print out the chart below and tape it to your wall or stick it on your sheet music stand. Once you start learning these chords, start stringing a couple together and learn some of your favorite songs. Then you can work on making your own songs. It's always cool to pick apart what your heroes were doing when songwriting, and applying that to your own stuff.

Let's close on two famous quotes that have been kicking around in my head when it comes to this type of lesson.

Good artists copy, great artists steal. - from Picasso, which is funny because so many folks after him have a quote like this.

The beautiful thing about learning is nobody can take it away from you. - from the legendary B.B. King

If you have any questions about open chords or anything else guitar related, you can always reach out to me by emailing