As a beginner you're constantly learning chords and building that part of your guitar knowledge. Once you've had several years of playing under your belt, that process levels out and you start to count on the chords you already know, rather than learning new ones. Building an adequate chord vocabulary takes time, but once you've established it and have those chords memorized, the amount of time you need to spend learning knew chords drops off considerably.
Typically Used ChordsEvery guitarist has a list of chords that they know by heart and that can get them through most of the music they play. That list typically only runs between 20 and 30 chords, thus we can assume that once you've established that list for yourself, you won't have to spend a great deal of time memorizing knew chords.
While you're never "done" with any guitar topic, you can move from learning knew chords, to polishing and improving the chords you already know, which is where you want to be as an intermediate player.
While the chords you'll want to target are different for everybody based on musical interests and genre preferences, there are several chord categories that should be focused on and targeted. I've covered most of them in prior lessons, so I'll link to them below and then cover each topic individually.
Basic Open Chords
Between these five categories, you can probably learn every chord you'll ever need to use on a regular basis. Now as I've already stated, other musical genres demand different types of chords and knowledge. However for today's average guitarist, these chords will do just fine. You could even boil it down further to just open, bar and power chords.
Utilizing Bar and Power ChordsOnce you learn a bar chord, you immediately have anywhere from 14-18 new chords at your disposal, simply because of the fact that you can play them on any fret, aside from the very smallest ones. Once you learn a bar or power chord there are several things you need to do as a follow up.
The process should look something like this:
1. Learn the bar or power chord.
2. Learn the minor version.
3. Learn the major version.
4. Learn the simplified 2-note version (bar and power chord bass notes can often be played with only two notes).
5. Identify the areas of the fretboard where they represent specific notes (G, E, C, etc.)
You can come into this idea several ways. In our "Ultimate Chord" lessons, we come at it from the angle of the note itself, and cover the five listed steps. For example, in the "Ultimate G-Chord" lesson, we cover the major, minor and power variations, as well as the G-notes on the fretboard.
Check out that lesson for help in any of those areas, and as far as this write up goes, it's good practice to utilize your bar and power chords by making sure you know them in all five contexts. Learning a chord in one spot and one form is like learning only one word for a verb in Spanish. It's like learning the present "I am" form of to play, or "jugar". The word is juego, and you've certainly learned something, but there are a whole slew of other forms that you need to know if you want to really know the word.
Same thing with bar and power chords.
Setting a Strong Foundation of Open ChordsYour open chords are some of the first you learn, and you'll spend the rest of your playing career improving and polishing them. However the list that you need to know is relatively small and you can cover them in a matter of months. It's a much simpler two-step process to deal with these chords.
1. Simply learn and memorize the chords one-by-one.
2. Continue to polish and improve those chords in terms of transition speed and clarity.
This list of chords is of course more than a few; however, I can list the major ones here and you can certainly find them around the rest of the site as well.
E major and minor
A major and minor
D major and minor
F and F#
B and B minor
Depending on how you look at it and approach it, this is only 12 chords that you need to learn in the beginning. Once you've learned them, you'll use them the rest of your playing days, and there will be little need to go back to the chord book unless you're looking to add depth to your knowledge.
However the way actual playing improvement occurs is by improving and polishing the basic skills you've already acquired. That's the point that a lot of beginners miss. You don't have to cram your mind full of a lot of stuff. Rather you need to learn a few things and continuously improve them. Your chord vocabulary works sort of the same way.
Obscure ChordsDelving deeper into your chord book, even after you've learned and established most of what you need to know, is still a viable (and obvious) method by which you can expand your chord vocabulary. However it shouldn't be your primary method until you've understood the above concepts.
It's a good way to shake up your playing, and get yourself out of a guitar rut, should you find yourself stuck in one. Take your time with the more obscure and difficult chords and incorporate them slowly into your routine playing.
If you find that certain chords aren't fitting or getting used, then feel free to discard them. They won't do you a lot of good and will only take time away from other things you could be working on.
The First Ten Chords You Should Know
Bar Chords 101
Four Minor Chords You Should Know
The Ultimate G-Chord Lesson
Six 7th Open Chords You Should Know