How to Play Chords in the A Family on the Guitar - dummies

How to Play Chords in the A Family on the Guitar

By Mark Phillips, Jon Chappell

The A family is a popular family for playing songs on the guitar becaus, its chords are so easy to play. A-family chords are open chords, which means they contain open strings (strings that you play without pressing down any notes). Listen to “Fire and Rain,” by James Taylor, to hear the sound of a song that uses A-family chords.

The basic chords in the A family are A, D, and E. Each of these chords is what’s known as a major chord. Take a look at the fingering for the basic chords in the A family. A chord that’s named by a letter alone, such as these (A, D, and E), is always major.

The A, D, and E chords: notice how the diagrams graphically convey the left-hand positions in the p
The A, D, and E chords: notice how the diagrams graphically convey the left-hand positions in the photos.

To finger chords, use the “ball” of your fingertip, placing it just behind the fret (on the side toward the tuning pegs). Arch your fingers so that the fingertips fall perpendicular to the neck. Make sure that your left-hand fingernails are short so that they don’t prevent you from pressing the strings all the way down to the fingerboard.

Remember that the A family chords are open chords. So, you don’t play any strings marked with an X on the chord diagram (such as the 6th string on the A chord and the 5th and 6th strings on the D chord). Strike just the top five strings in the A chord and the top four strings in the D chord. Selectively striking strings may be awkward at first, but keep at it and you’ll get the hang of it. If you play a string marked with an X and we catch you, we’ll revoke your picking privileges on the spot.

Let’s take a look at a simple chord progression in the key of A. A progression is simply a series of chords that you play one after the other. The following figure presents a simple progression in the key of A and instructs you to strum each chord — in the order shown (reading from left to right) — four times. Use all downstrokes (dragging your pick across the strings toward the floor) as you play.


After strumming each chord four times, you come to a vertical line in the music that follows the four strum symbols. This line is a bar line. It’s not something that you play. Bar lines visually separate the music into smaller sections known as measures, or bars. Measures make written music easier to grasp because they break up the music into little, digestible, predictable chunks.

Don’t hesitate or stop at the bar line. Keep your strumming speed the same throughout, even as you play “between the measures” — that is, in the imaginary “space” from the end of one measure to the beginning of the next that the bar line represents.

Start out playing as slowly as necessary to help you keep the beat steady. You can always speed up as you become more confident and proficient in your chord fingering and switching. By playing a progression over and over, you start to develop left-hand strength and calluses on your fingertips.

If you want to play a song right away, you can. Now that you now know how to play the basic open chords in the A family, you can play a variety of songs, such as “Kumbaya.”