What are chords?
Chords are, put simply, any two or more different notes played at the same time. Their effect however is complex and magical. They set the tone of any given moment of a song and provide context for a melody. The soundscape of a song can change instantly and dramatically depending on which chords are chosen. The most common and easily recognizable chords types are your basic Major and Minor chords. Major chords have a brighter feeling while minor chords have a darker tone. They both are made up of three notes, and interestingly the difference between Major and Minor is very slight. Take for example an E Major and E Minor chord. Both play the note E, and both play the note B. Only one note changes. In an E Major the other note is G Sharp (G#) and in an E minor that note changes to G natural (G). As we’ve discussed in previous posts, this is the shortest distance that we can travel; the difference of a single fret. This slight change has a huge impact on the overall sound.
The CAGED chords
The easiest chords to start learning are the ones played closest to the guitar head and use open strings. They’re called the CAGED chords, not because they’re dangerous to society (or so we hope), but because they’re the chords C, A, G, E, and D. Get it? It spells the word caged. Do you get it?
There are also three minor chords that can be played using open strings: Em, Am and Dm. They don’t get a fancy name but don’t hold that against them.
The “Caged” Chords:
What’s With those Numbers?
The numbers in these chord diagrams represent which fingers you should use for each note. We don’t count our thumb, so the finger 1 will be your index, finger 2 is your middle finger, etc. Notice how Em doesn’t have any numbers? That’s because there are a few comfortable finger combinations you could use to get this chord. You should choose the fingers that require the least amount of movement between chords. For instance, if you are moving between an Em and G chord, it takes less effort to play Em with your 1st and 2nd fingers, and just leave your 1st finger on the A string’s 2nd fret. However, if you are going from an E to Em chord, it’s easier to just remove the 1st finger and play Em with your 2nd and 3rd fingers.
What chords go well together?
Keep in mind that there are no rules for what can or can’t be done in music. There’s no right or wrong choice, only what you as the listener think sounds good. That being said, the most natural sounding chord progressions are going to have one thing in common: the chords all agree on which notes will be used, and which notes will be avoided. In other words, they agree on a scale.
Here are some common chord progressions that agree on a scale: