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Guitar Chords A, E, Am, and Em

This entry is part 4 of 6 in the series Guitar Lessons

Basic Acoustic Guitar Lesson #4

In previous lessons we learned how to hold, strum and chord a few commonly used chords and chord forms for the beginner acoustic guitar player. Now we will build upon that foundation in order to help make more advanced lessons on barring and working up the fretboard easier when the time comes.

We will focus on two chords, alternate forms of fingerings of these chords, and their minor counterparts as these forms will be used to play many other chords (for different keys) in upcoming lessons about bar chords. Continue to be patient and learn these foundations, as future lessons will come easier if you master these first. As always, it is best to learn to play each chord to mastery while focusing on tone our sound quality over speed. Speed will come as accuracy is practiced over and over through the ensuing weeks.

One additional note before we start: If you are a beginner and are borrowing a guitar or do not have a decent acoustic guitar to practice on, be sure to read this article: How to buy an acoustic guitarbefore making the investment. It could save money and help you learn how to properly evaluate an acoustic guitar so you can feel confident about your decision.

A solid guitar chord foundation for future applications

These fundamental chords not only represent other commonly used guitar chords, but are fundamental finger formations that will be used often while playing songs in different keys. Practice learning alternate fingerings represented here, and you will be well on your way to more advanced learning and songs. Additionally, this will allow you to play and blend in with more musicians as it will open more possibilities for different styles and keys of songs. A key in layman’s terms is simply the related chords in which a song is written. Understanding the key of a song is not as important in basic guitar lessons, but it will become more important with more advanced playing, scales, improvisation and learning to understand transposing (playing the same song in a different key).

Chord forms for later use including — A, Am, E, Em

A and E are very simple chords to play. As in all chord charts, recognize that an “X” means “don’t strum” for a particular string and “O” means “open” or strum it without fingering this particular string. The “X” and “O” in guitar chord charts are placed at the “nut” in the diagram. In these next 4 chords, the variations will be used later for bar chords. Practice and get proficient with both forms as both alternate forms of each chord will prove to be easier while playing different songs (depending on the style of the song as well as other chords that you will be switching to throughout the song).

The Common A Chord and Variations:

The common A Chord: On the acoustic 6 sting guitar, the A is a very common chord and is played in this form on the second fret. Placing the fingertips of fingers 1-2-3 of the left hand for a right-handed player on strings 4-3-2 consecutively will create the common A chord. Be sure while strumming this A, that you do not strum the 6th or largest E string (unless you are specifically playing an A/E chord — which translates as an A over E bass or root)

The Variation of the A Chord: Learn the variation of the A chord on this chart for later barring techniques. Variations also come handy during long repetitive playing when fingers might get a little tired. Using alternates can give a player a bit more stamina in the hands as it can help incorporate different muscles allowing others to rest a bit. For this A chord variation, instead of using fingers 1-2-3, use fingers 2-3-4 in place of 1-2-3 consecutively. In other words, on the second fret, place fingers 2-3-4 on strings 4-3-2 consecutively. Remember that the strings are numbered from 1-6 starting with the smallest E string as string # 1.

The Common E Chord and Variations:

The common E Chord: Next, look at the E chord. This is a very common chord for many guitar songs played universally. The E chord is also a great chord to strum when comparing or reviewing different guitars to hear their sound profile differences as all strings are strummed and are close to the nut. In order to truly review a guitar for purchasing, one should always consider many aspects of the guitar in order to find the best acoustic guitar for a beginner. Including the construction, the brand, the body style, the finish, the tone woods and the playability all along the fretboard. For the common E chord, fingertips 2-3 are placed on strings 5-4 of the second fret. Fingertip 1 is placed on the first fret, third string. Notice the “O’s” above the nut of the chart. Again, this means to strum this string while leaving it “Open.”

The common E chord variation: There are certainly more variations of the E chord, as you will learn. However, in this lesson, this particular E form variation will be used extensively for learning bar or barre chords later. For this variation on the common E chord, the same strings and frets are included as the common E chord as described above, however, instead of using fingers 1-2-3, you use fingers 2-3-4. Fingertips 3-4 are places on the 5th and 4th strings consecutively of the second fret, while the second finger is placed on the 3rd string of the first fret.

Now that you have been introduced to A and E and their variations, continue practicing all variations until you can play them cleanly, comfortably and can alternate quickly without compromising sound quality or accuracy.


Without a detailed explanation, look at the chart with Am and Em with their variations. Learn these chords as well and practice accuracy then speed. These chords, Am and Em with their variations will prove as helpful as the E and A for future bar chord techniques.

About the Author: Aaron Schulman has been a musician since 1984 and a meticulous “strummer” on the acoustic guitar since 1990. Before purchasing a guitar, you can learn more about evaluating an acoustic guitar to feel more confident about your purchase and read other acoustic guitar reviews at strumviews.com.

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