C Chord Finger Placement: Five Variations

It would be nice if I could divulge into every variation of the C chord, but I can probably get to all of the main ones and cover the best or “proper” finger placement for each one within this article, and truthfully, these five are the ones you’ll be using the most.

This is what I would definitely consider a beginner topic, but that doesn’t mean that seasoned guitarists can’t benefit from this information as well.

In fact, a lot of players go for years with certain finger placements and eventually end up changing them.

Since the C chord is one of the most typical chords to learn, I figured we’d start there.

Comfort or proper form?

One thing to consider is that you need to do whatever is comfortable for you, but at the same time, you don’t want to coddle bad habits that are going to make it harder for you to play properly down the road.

The best way I know to describe it, is that there are efficient and inefficient ways to play chords, which simply means that certain ways will encourage speed and proper form, while other won’t.

So I’m not trying to say that your comfort doesn’t matter, but you might want to measure it with the information here, and make sure you’re not sacrificing good form just so your fingers can be more comfy.

Placement Charts

I’ve used photography on this blog at certain points, but in all honesty, I’m just not a big fan of it.

When you’re covering guitar topics, I think it’s helpful for you to be looking at your own hands and not someone else’s hands. I dunno, maybe it’s just a preference of mine, but either way, I’m not going to use pictures to illustrate this.

When we say “finger placement” we’re referring to the following concept:

Which finger is most efficient for playing an individual note of a chord.

So in the past, I’ve used a simple chart to indicate this, and I’ll do the same thing here. The chart is simply a color coded chord diagram. Observe:

C Chord Finger Placement

I admit that this looks a bit primitive, but it’s nice and simple and it does work. As you might have noticed (if you’ve been on this blog much before), I typically use plain bright red circles on my chord diagrams, because I rarely indicate finger placement.

But in this case, it’s all about finger placement, so that’s the key that you’ll use to decipher the chord diagrams.

We’ll start with the simpler C chords and work our way up.

1. Basic C Major

Our first task is to cover the finger placement for the basic C major open chord, which is probably the first chord you even learned. It’s actually not an easy one, as you really need to figure out how to curl your fingers.

Here’s the color coded diagram:

C Chord Finger Placement

With this chord, you’ll have all three of your fingers curled with your pointer finger tucked underneath the rest of your hand. There are really not too many other ways to arrange the placement here, unless you try to work your pinky in.

Oh well, like I said -- easy and straightforward chords first.

2. Simplified C Major

There might be a proper term for this chord, but I always just called it the simplified C. It’s much easier to play, as it only involves two notes (plus an open note).

C Chord Finger Placement

You can see that all you need are your middle finger and ring finger, where your ring finger anchors the chord on the higher note. In a chord progression that’s played this way, the middle finger would navigate to the other chords by switching bass notes, while the ring finger stayed put.

Anyways, just keep an eye out for the open G in the middle.

3. Simplified C Major with High G

This chord is going to be the same as number two, but this time we’ll add the high G note. In this case it’s easiest to grab that note with your pinky finger.

C Chord Finger Placement

There are a couple different finger placements that you can use for this chord, but this is definitely the more efficient method.

4. C Barre Chord [Second String - Third Fret Form]

Just because it’s a barre chord doesn’t mean you have to “barre” it. The term refers to using one finger to push down multiple strings, but in this case, that’s not what we would consider a best practice. This is just a simple three note C chord that would probably fall more clearly under the category of power chord.

C Chord Finger Placement

If you were to add the note on the second string (the high B) to make it a major chord, you then would want to go ahead and barre the chord, which would be best accomplished by your ring finger.

C Chord Finger Placement

5. C Major Barre Chord [First String - Eighth Fret Form]

Aside from the basic C major, this is probably the toughest C chord that you’re going to have to learn. There are other less common variations, but we’ve hit on all the main ones, and if you can get past the full C barre chord, you’ll be in good shape.

Here we’ll do a couple different versions; one with the full barre, and one without. We’ll start with finger placement for the one without:

C Chord Finger Placement

This is a pretty typical barre chord shape, so if you don’t know it already, pay close attention because it will come up a lot, and can be moved anywhere on the fretboard to equal any note. The pointer finger leads, while the ring and pinky finger settle on top of each other two frets up. That leaves the middle finger for the note in the middle, which by the way makes this a major chord.

To make it a full barre chord, you simply push your pointer finger down over all the strings to grab the last two notes:

C Chord Finger Placement

There you have it. If you can, just press your pointer finger down on all the strings, you don’t even have to nail the chord the first few times, but just try and get used to the movement.

Getting Placement Right

Proper placement is tough because you’re often times going to be fighting your own finger’s habits and muscle tendencies while trying to get them arranged a certain way. There are definitely some best practices though, so make sure you’re not giving into your hands and fingers too much.

Hopefully this will take a lot of the guess work out of it for you.

Thanks for reading.

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