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Teaching New Guitar Students Chords

When ( / if) you teach, in what order do you introduce guitar chords? I'm interested in YOUR feedback. Do you use a ciriculum such as Mel Bay or Hal Leonard, or if not, what approach do you implement?

Is it best to teach chords in the keys of C, then G, then D, etc., or is it better to start with chords that are easier to finger and go to more difficult chord shapes (when I started out, I hated the F chord--as a child, holding two strings down with one finger on an adult-size classical guitar before calluses are developed was not the most fun experience)? Do you teach a simplified C chord, and then replace it with a full chord later (same w/ G and G7)?

I'm teaching a child who is having difficulties with rhythms (eg. note on high E string, chord, chord, rest [repeat][4/4 time]. To try to focus on R.H. technique I let her use a guitar tuned to an open tuning, as she is sometimes not pressing the strings properly for a clear tone. It seems to help, but I wonder just how often she practices. Do you always have young students' parents sign off on their daily practice?

-Looking forward to your responses!
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Re: Teaching New Guitar Students Chords

9/25/2008 8:10 PM

Matthew Laham (4396) wrote:

i was told by my teacher that there are some chords you shouldn't try until your hands were fully developed. So i guess it would depend on how big their hands are

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Re: Teaching New Guitar Students Chords

9/25/2008 11:04 PM

Chris Bond II (2841) wrote:

The first thing you must do is develop basic dexterity. This is achieved by single note chromtaic exercises. Once they can articulate, then triadic forms in the key of G seem to work well.

You will get lots of complaints of pain, just reassure them it is temporary.

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Re: Teaching New Guitar Students Chords

9/26/2008 12:16 AM

Brent Williams (277) wrote:

CAGD are probaly the first chords people learn

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Re: Teaching New Guitar Students Chords

9/26/2008 1:24 AM

Randy Hano (12149) wrote:

I started new students with finger dexterity and chords. In regards to chords, I charted them 4 measures of which measure contained a chord and had them strum each chord 4 times to replicate a 4/4 time signature.

The chords I thought them were:
Lesson 1 - C, F, G7, C
Lesson 2 - G, C, D7, G
Lesson 3 - Review plus posture, notation, tuning.
Lesson 4 - D, G, A7, D

You get the idea...

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Re: Teaching New Guitar Students Chords

9/26/2008 3:09 AM

Jeff Brent (2731) wrote:

I prefer to teach the chords in the order of the circle.

This is how they occur in tunes, and by teaching them in this way it makes it easier for them to remember the circular order.

* * * * * * *

I preface this by saying "Any kind of an E chord has a very strong tendency to resolve to some kind of an A chord, and any kind of A chord has a very strong tendency to resolve to some kind of D chord, etc"

So the first chord I teach them on day-one is E major open position.

(In the first lesson I also teach them the six notes B C D E F G on the first two strings and let them jam out on those notes while I play a Flamenco progression - this gets them started improvising right away. But since this thread is about chords and not melodies, scales or improvisation, I'll stick to chords for the rest of this post).

* * * * * * *

Next lesson I introduce the A major chord, and get them started on transitioning back and forth between E and A, first using four beats per chord
(Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth" ||: E | A :||),

then using two beats per chord
(Wilson Pickett's "Midnight Hour" ||: E A | E A :||)

and finally one beat per chord
(a Blues shuffle ||: E A E A | E A E A :||).

* * * * * * *

Next comes the D major chord and an introduction to the circle. At this point they have three chords, so I explain to them the functions and principles of the tonic chord (A), dominant chord (E) and sub-dominant chord (D).

I explain this to even five-year olds, and have never once had any conceptual problem with them comprehending these extremely simple yet crucial concepts.

Next I explain that in order to play in the key of A major they have to be able to move quickly between A and E, move quickly between A and D, and also be able to move quickly between D and E.

This is followed by the comment that the circle can move both ways (around in fourths AND around in fifths).

Then I give them the following common chord progression to work on
||: A D | E D :||
("Twist and Shout", "Louie, Louie", "Wild Thing", "Hang On, Sloopy", "La Bamba", "Summer Lovin'", Space Cowboy", "Piece of My Heart", etc, etc, etc).

They can go home and tell their folks "Wow, I learned a half-dozen songs today, and it's only my third lesson!!!" (It doesn't matter that they're all the same song just played a little faster or with a slightly different rhythm.)

* * * * * * *

Once that is mastered, I teach them the full four finger G major chord

(6-3[m] 5-2[i] 4-0 3-0 2-3[r] 1-3[p]),

I explain that we can now play in a NEW key - the key of D major.

The new tonic is D, the new dominant is A and the new sub-dominant is G.

They can already move quickly from D to A (that was mastered in the previous key), so they get down to practicing moving back and forth first between D and G, and then between A and G.

* * * * * * *

The next chord taught is C major (and the corresponding necessary movements between the I, V and IV chords in G).

For moving the most quickly between G and C, I use the following fingerings:

G (6-3[r] 5-2[m] 4-0 3-0 2-0 1-3[p])

C (6-x 5-3[r] 4-2[m] 3-0 2-1[i] 1-3[p])

I make a point of letting them know that the pinky stays fixed on the first string 3rd fret and does not move.

For moving from D to C, I use the following fingerings:

D (6-x 5-0 4-0 3-2[i] 2-3[r] 1-2[m])

C (6-x 5-3[r] 4-2[m] 3-0 2-1[i] 1-0)

I use the song "Tequila" to get them moving quickly between D major and C major:

||: D C | D C | D C | D C :||

|| Fdim7 | D | Fdim7 | D |
| Fdim7 | D | E | A ||

(I don't explain the whole concept of diminished 7th chords at this point, I just show them that it's like a D major chord moved down a fret and you take the middle finger off [while avoiding the bottom two strings])

* * * * * * *

To complete the major chords, I teach them F
(6-1[t] 5-3[r] 4-3[p] 3-2[m] 2-1[i] 1-1[i]).

I preface this F chord, by teaching them my preferred (and strongest) C major chord
(6-3[r] 5-3[p] 4-2[m] 3-0 2-1[i] 1-0)

Why do I teach them to finger the F in the manner above rather than a barre F?

For one reason, because I don't teach barre chords until they've finished with the open minors and the open 7ths.

But the main reason is that if you run into a song that requires a super quick change from C major to F major (eg. The Young Rascal's "Good Lovin'") the barre F won't cut it.

Why don't I teach them the wussy F
(6-x 5-x 4-3[r] 3-2[m] 2-1[i] 1-1[i]) first?

Because I believe in doing the right thing from the git-go, rather than dumbing it down. Everybody eventually gets it.

If someone's hand is too small to get the thumb around to fret the 6-1, I tell the to just avoid (or mute) string six (for now).

The fact that it takes the average learner around two months to master the hardest chord in the world (F major), is not a problem and does NOT slow down the pace of the lessons.

It is also at this point that I introduce the concept of moveable chords by saying "All barre chords are moveable, but not all moveable chords are barre chords" and illustrate this by moving the abovementioned F major position up the neck to access G major, A major, B major, C major, etc.

* * * * * * *

We move straight into the open minors (which I also teach in the order of the circle ( Em, Am, Dm ).

It should be noted that I always teach them the moveable version of Dm !!! (not the wussy version w/o pinky).

I also introduce the cheater (but moveable!) Bm

I have them practice moving between minor chords adjacent to each other on the circle by using various rhythm changes progressions:

| D Bm | Em A |

| G Em | Am D |

| C Am | Dm G |

and then explain relative minors/relative majors and put in the substitute for the 3rd chord:

| D Bm | G A |

| G Em | C D |

| C Am | F G |

* * * * * * *

Then come the open 7ths ...

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Re: Teaching New Guitar Students Chords

9/26/2008 7:02 PM

Jeff Brent (2731) wrote:

In response to encouraging feedback from some WN members, I turned the above post into a lesson:

Teaching Open Chords To Beginners (#11936)

and I included my techniques for teaching the open 7th chords, too (along with expanding in a few areas and fixing a couple of typos).

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Re: Teaching New Guitar Students Chords

9/26/2008 7:05 PM

Robert Strait (6660) wrote:

I think I speak for chords everywhere when I say I take
exception to the use of the derogatory term "wussy chord". Not
only is it offensive, but also a misconception...the fabled "wussy
chord" simply does not exist.

Seriously, there are uses for all kinds of is not
necessarily better than another because their value is
determined by their application.

To answer the poster's question, I myself usually start with the
open C, G, and F chords. From there a basic theory discussion
can take place to discuss the C major scale and its intervals, the
cycle of 4ths and 5ths, and the I-IV-V progression.

toodles. mercy. courage. F'n R&R,


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Re: Teaching New Guitar Students Chords

9/26/2008 10:02 PM

Chris Bond II (2841) wrote:

I actually typed for quite a while on this one and then changed my mind and have decided not to comment.


With all due respect, I completely disagree with you.

According to prevelant accepted brain research by Sousa & Jennings

Keep it easy, keep it simple and keep it quick.

The average attention span of a ten year old is 7 to 8 minutes.

During a 30 minute lesson, they retain about 10 minutes of instruction.

A concept must be repeated/applied 24 times before it is commited to memory.

Keeping that in mind, curriculum must be devised accordingly.

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Re: Teaching New Guitar Students Chords

9/26/2008 11:14 PM

Jeff Brent (2731) wrote:


You wrote "With all due respect, I completely disagree with you."

Without further information I have to assume you mean that you "completely disagree with" me.

The original question was "When ( / if) you teach, in what order do you introduce guitar chords?"

I simply answered that question truthfully and to the best of my ability.

No matter what order one teaches the chords in, the fact remains that they ALL eventually have to be learnt.

The amount of time that this takes varies from student to student depending on the degree of their native intelligence, natural aptitude and amount of time spent practicing.

Granted, in most cases, a great deal of reinforcement has to take place. That is a given.

But once a transition from one chord to another chord has been properly committed to muscle memory, it'll pretty much stick for a lifetime.

In any case, I know my system works and very well. I've taken many many students from zero to hero in less than a year and a half.

If you've got a better system, please don't hesitate to lay out your "generic curriculum" for us to benefit from.

I'm always interested in a better mousetrap.

(Who knows, maybe you were "completely disagreeing" with Rob for teaching the dreaded F major chord in the first lesson :)

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Re: Teaching New Guitar Students Chords

9/27/2008 12:27 AM

Chris Bond II (2841) wrote:

Just quickly as I am off to bed

Why I disagreed with you, and as I said, this is just my opinion.

You convey too much information at once. You use archaic song examples (most kid wouldn't even recognize the songs you site, something from High School Musical or Contemporary Christain Library would be much more efficient) and the premise on which you base your plan (the cycle of fifths) while it is a good exercise for building dexterity and mechanics, (not to mention the ear) it really does little when initially learning to grip in the first place.

My "Generic" curriculum.

Simple use of triads gives practical, immediate access to how sound moves in a key. A simple walk through by the numbers teaches thousands of songs using basically two simple chord forms. As well as builds dexterity and fluid movement across the neck. This success builds confidence and motivates.

Key of G Major

G amgor
A Minor
B Minor
C Major
D Major

E Minor

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Re: Teaching New Guitar Students Chords

9/27/2008 2:34 AM

Jeff Brent (2731) wrote:


Interesting approach.

As with many teachers, my influences were the folks who I learned guitar from myself.

Therefore, I would have to assume that you were initially schooled in this method that you posit and it must've worked very well for you.


Not being a christian, I have virtually no experience with that style of music other than tunes which some of my christian students bring in for me to transcribe for them.

The younger white guys bring in songs that sound like '60s Rock and Metal (but with "christian" lyrics) whereas the older white folks bring in these New Age sounding tunes, the latinos bring in praise songs in Spanish that sound like pretty typical three-chord Mexican stuff, and the black students bring in "Gospel" which sounds a whole lot like classic R&B. Which of these styles are classified as "contemporary christian"?

As regards "High School Musical", which of these songs would best exemplify a repeating E A chord progression?


I don't only teach kiddies, I also teach tweens, teens, twenty-somethings, and every age on up.

In fact, one of my biggest markets is guys in their forties and fifties trying to relive their glory years. These are the same doctors and lawyers, etc that are buying Harleys and classic Strats and doing all the stuff that they couldn't afford to do while they were young and poor or too busy to do while they were middle-aged and saddled with kids.

Now that that's all behind them they are ready to PARTY!


I don't how what kind of music the kids in your neighborhood listen to, but here in southern California most kids during their formative years were fed a steady diet of whatever their parents listened to.

They ARE familiar with those generic mainstream pop songs I mentioned, and it gives Ma and Pa a great deal of satisfaction to hear little Johnny come home playing the songs their parents know and love. (Not forgetting that it's mommy and daddy who are paying for the lessons).

It's amazing how many of the teens are completely enamored of Jimmy Page, Hendrix, EVH and Randy Rhodes (whose tomb is only 5 miles from my studio). While almost ignoring "modern" Rock (which often completely lacks any guitar heroics).


As far as giving too much info at once, it's really impossible to give an individual any more info than they can absorb at a sitting.

In the "lesson plan" on this subject that I published, I bundled up about three to six months of instruction into 9 pages. Maybe that's where you're getting this "too much info" vibe.


I want to ask you:

1. How do you have your students finger these "beginner triads"? Is the "F style" major shape fingered as a half-barre on the index with the middle finger on the 3rd? Or do you have them finger it as a three-finger chord?

Is the minor triad fingered as a half-barre with the index? Or is it fingered similar to a three-finger "A" chord?

2. How long do you keep them at that "learn to grip" level before teaching them standard open chords?

3. Is this technique of yours only used for kiddies, or do you use the same technique for teen and adult beginners?

4. Where did you become initiated into this technique? I don't recall ever seeing this in any of the guitar coursebooks I've encountered.

I'm hoping that for my sake (and for the sake of others reading this thread) that you will take the time to answer these questions and expand a little more on these concepts of yours.

Your system certainly has merit, and I will give it some more thought and consideration.

Thank you!

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Re: Teaching New Guitar Students Chords

9/27/2008 12:49 PM

Ken Richardson (9051) wrote:

You could show them the Hendrix F - shape - with thumb over the top E. I use that a bit ... I think I am the only one at the bluegrass jam who does it that way

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Re: Teaching New Guitar Students Chords

9/28/2008 4:52 PM

Ken Richardson (9051) wrote:

OK - let me clear that one up !!

I should have said, " thumb over the top of the neck .. on the E string " ! :)

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Re: Teaching New Guitar Students Chords

9/29/2008 1:17 PM

Jeff Brent (2731) wrote:

So you're talking about the same F chord that I described above (and at the top of page 6 of lesson #11936) with the thumb on the sixth string?

thumbed F

3-2 [MIDDLE]
4-3 [PINKY]
5-3 [RING]
6-1 [THUMB]

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Re: Teaching New Guitar Students Chords

9/29/2008 2:08 PM

Robert Strait (6660) wrote:

thats the "wussy add thumb" chord, right?

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Re: Teaching New Guitar Students Chords

9/30/2008 1:56 AM

Jeff Brent (2731) wrote:

The following is from my unabridged Funking Wagnall's Dictionary:

WUSSY CHORD noun 1 A guitar chord which can easily be played by anyone without experience or knowledge of the instrument. 2 Any guitar chord that has undergone a WUSSIFICATION PROCESS [qv.] to reduce it to a less than macho state. 3 Chords which can be played using a single-finger barre on a guitar which has been tuned to an open chord (except if a slide is used). 4 Most ukelele chords.


Wussy G7
Wussy G
Wussy C
Wussy D9b5

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Re: Teaching New Guitar Students Chords

9/30/2008 6:37 AM

Chris Russell (3044) wrote:

ha, I love it! can this part -
WUSSIFICATION PROCESS [qv.] to reduce it to a less than macho state.
also define fretting a banjo?


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Re: Teaching New Guitar Students Chords

9/29/2008 4:05 PM

Ken Richardson (9051) wrote:

Not exactly .... I generally mute the A string with the edge of my thumb. You could let the A ring open.

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Re: Teaching New Guitar Students Chords

9/29/2008 5:36 PM

Rick Kelly (2659) wrote:

Nice approach. After a many year break, I'm taking on a couple of beginning students. This gave me lots of ideas.



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Re: Teaching New Guitar Students Chords

9/30/2008 1:01 AM

Jeff Brent (2731) wrote:


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