Quick Hit: A guitar lesson focusing on proper C chord guitar finger position and technique, ideal for beginners or those who need a quick refresher.
The C chord is one of (if not the) single most common guitar chord shapes in existence. It's often the first chord you learn as a beginning guitarist, while continuing to be crucial to your playing regardless of how long you play or how much you improve. In this lesson, I'm going to cover the basics of C chord guitar finger position and proper technique when it comes to the physics of the pattern.
In this guitar lesson we'll cover the following topics:
- Two different types of C chords (open and barred)
- The proper finger position for the major and minor versions
For most of you, the open C major chord shape is the one you'll be most interested in. We'll cover that one first, then move on to barred C chord finger positioning. For additional help, checkout our main how to play guitar summary page.
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Open C Chord Guitar Finger Position
Before we talk about finger position, let's look at an open C major chord diagram so we can plot our fingers at each note:
For those who aren't sure how to read a diagram like this, picture it as though you're looking at the fretboard from the top down while holding your guitar. The following "answer key" helps you identify each element of the chord diagram:
How to Read Chord Diagrams
This means that in the original diagram, the low C note would be on the fifth string (second thickest) and the third fret.
In all of the following diagrams, I'll use a numbering convention for each note, where the numbers represent the four fingers on your chording hand. These numbers can be identified via the following graphic:
In other words, if a note has the number "1" on it, that means you'll use your pointer finger to fret that note and so on for each finger.
Plotting Finger Positions for Each Note
The shape of a chord will often dictate the most optimal way to play it. This is certainly true in the case of open C major. Since the note on the third fret is the lower-most note - and we have notes behind it - you'll start with your ring finger, like this:
From there, you'll tuck your middle finger underneath to grab the note on the fourth string at the second fret:
To finish the chord, you'll use your pointer finger to grab the last fretted note on the second string at the first fret:
Make sure that your fingers are positioned to mute the low E string while also allowing the open G string to ring free, since it's part of the tone of the chord (C, E and G).
You should also remember that when moving to the C chord, you should lead with your ring finger and fret that note first, since it's the anchor and (in this case) the root of your chord.
C Barre Chord Finger Position
Once you're comfortable with the open C major chord position, I would advise tackling the C chord in barre form. While it's true that barre chords are mostly the same shape - just movable to different frets - I still maintain that it's helpful to look at them in a particular note's context since it helps us identify and memorize root note locations on the fretboard.
For a C chord, we'll be looking at barred patterns at the third fret on the fifth string and the eighth fret on the sixth (thickest) string. We'll cover the major and minor versions at both fretboard locations.
- C barre chord at the third fret on the fifth string (major & minor)
- C barre chord at the eighth fret on the sixth string (major & minor)
Third Fret Form
Here's how you'd position each finger for the third fret form of the C major chord, with the root note on the fifth string at the third fret:
And the minor form:
Eighth Fret Form
The eighth fret form barre chords, with root notes on the sixth string, will require a slightly different finger position. Let's start with the major shape:
And the minor form at the eighth fret:
Barre chords can be tricky if you haven't gotten used to fretting multiple notes with one finger. In this case, we're just trying to outline the most optimal position so you can learn the chord without unnecessary difficulty or discomfort. For barre chords, focus on the two lowest notes (always played with your pointer and ring finger), then address the rest of the chord's notes as you're able.
Every new chord has a "breaking in" period that extends to being able to change to and from it (to other chords in a progression), which means it takes a long time to fully learn and "conquer" the physics of any given pattern. However, if you start knowing the correct finger positioning, you'll save yourself some difficulty and pain along the way.
Again, if you're interested in supplemental material or need additional help, I'd recommend giving the Guitar Tricks free trial a shot.
You can also leave me questions in the comments section below.
Good luck out there.