Much guitar-learning is riff-based and typically focusses on acquiring ‘chops’. While this method is not without its merits it is also important to develop your ability to sequence information so that each element builds upon the previous.
This article will look at an effective sequence for learning/teaching open chords.
The sequence begins with an E minor chord. Because E minor uses only two fingers of the left hand (2 and 3) with the remaining strings played open, it is an effective chord to begin the sequence. Also, to play E minor, the strum involves all six strings therefore the beginner guitarist does not need to target particular string groups or avoid others.
The next chord is E major. E major again uses the second and third fingers of the left hand and also adds the first finger. Once again the strum involves all six strings. E major also introduces the aural aspect of learning music; the sound of the major chord can be compared to the sound of E minor.
Following on from E major is A minor. A minor uses the same fingering and shape as E major but uses a different string group: D, G and B as opposed to A, D and G for E major. The A minor chord introduces the concept of targeting strings with the low E string being avoided. Avoiding the low E string is often easier than avoiding two or three strings and is therefore a good introduction to this concept.
NOTE: given that the note E is part of an A minor triad the low E string could be played with the other notes of the A minor chord. However, I prefer to introduce the open chords using the lowest note as the root note – in other words, with the chord in root position – for this reason I do not include the low E string as part of an open A minor chord.
The next chord is A major. Like A minor, A major avoids the low E string and has the same major-minor aural relationship to A minor as the E minor and E major chords have. More importantly, A major retains the use of the second and third fingers of the left hand which is common to all chords in the sequence so far. For these four chords therefore, the ‘two-finger’ connection is a constant element allowing the first finger to be introduced and to move to different positions relative to the two-finger ‘stack’. A connection such as this simplifies the learning and also makes moving between the chords easier.
The next chord is C major. Two of the notes in the C major shape (1 and 2) are also included in the A minor fingering and provide a connection between these chords. Like A major and A minor, C major also avoids the low E string.
Following C major is F major. F major’s fingering is similar to C major; they also have one note in common (C). F major’s shape also introduces the partial barre, whereby the first finger is flattened across the B and high E strings. Only the D, G, B and high E strings are played for the F major chord, the A and low E strings must therefore be avoided.
D minor follows F major. D minor and F major have two notes in common (A and F) and D minor also avoids the A and low E strings.
The next chord is D major, which has two notes in common with the preceding D minor chord (A and D). The D major chord retains the third finger in common with D minor but requires an adjustment in fingering for the A and F sharp notes. The A and low E strings are avoided.
The final chord in this sequence is G major. Because G major has two common fingerings and involves a stretch across all six strings it can be tricky to finger without muting other strings. The second G major fingering does, however, have some fingering similarities with the C major and F major chords and can be used to connect the shape of these chords.
Obviously, these chords must also be practised out of sequence and in familiar, and not so familiar, progressions. For example, the progression C, F and G is very common, as is D minor, G, and C.
Finally, the order of learning these chords is only a suggestion and can/should, be altered to suit different situations.