How to Play the A Chord on Guitar

In my 20 years of playing guitar, I’ve noticed a thing or two about people. 

First, human beings are pretty creative. 

Second, at the same time, we demand an order. Perhaps that need for order out of the chaos drives new guitar players to learn the A chord first. After all, it’s the first letter; it should be the first basic chord on guitar to learn, right? It’s also a chord found frequently in common chord progressions.

Man playing an A chird on a guitar

Just because it’s the first chord on guitar most of us learn, it isn’t simple, boring, or without nuance and charm. Barre chords, open chords, or inversions. Each has a different voice and different use. The A chord on guitar is one of the most commonly used chords in pop music for the simple fact that we learn it so early on.

Already learned how to play an A chord? Don’t worry, we have more! Learn how to play a C7 chord on guitar.

There are only 12 notes — it’s what you do with them that counts. Let’s get strumming. (And who knows, maybe you’ll turn into a better cook (1). 

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Reading a Guitar Chord Chart

Chord diagram of A chord. On the second fret, the first finger on the fourth string, the second finger on the third string, and the third finger on the second string.

The first step in playing the A chord on guitar is learning how to read a chord chart. The six lines represent the six strings on your guitar, and it reads, left to right, as if you’re looking down at it from the top. The left-hand line is your heavy E, and the furthest right is your thinnest string.

The numbers represent your fingertips. 1 is your index finger, 2 is your middle finger, the ring is your third finger, and the pinky is your fourth. The horizontal lines that intersect the vertical lines are your guitar’s frets. Those lines tell you where to place each numbered finger to complete the chords. 

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A Chord Guitar: A Chord for Beginners

One step in my guitar journey I wish I could do over is learning the various other chords related to A major at the same time. Each has a different feel, and evokes a completely different emotion.

An A chord on guitar, played open, has a jangly sound, whereas a mini barre sounds chunky.

A Major Chord On Guitar

Guitar playing and music theory don’t always go hand in hand. Which is to say guitar music doesn’t require you to read music. You just have to know how to hit the right notes on the guitar neck. Easy peasy.

That said, the A major chord on guitar is a triad consisting of a root A, C#, and E. Anytime you can combine those notes on any set of strings, you’ve got yourself an A major. So there are several ways to play the same chord on guitar, and you can do what feels right to you.

The main shape on the chart is “Muted (X), Open, 1, 2, 3, Open.” Strum those five strings on the second fret and you’ve played the basic A major. The next most common shape is a barre chord with your first finger on the 5th fret of the guitar neck.  

You can also do a mini barre or power chord, which consists of the root A of the 5th fret on the bass E string, and the 7th fret for the A string and D string with your third finger and pinky respectively.

Want to add a little panache to your A major menu? Several members of our team like to use an F major chord shape on the 5th fret as opposed to the traditional shape on the second fret. You’ll need to mute the heavy e string with your thumb and use the open A string as the root. This voicing sounds bright and melancholy all the same time.

Experiment with the triad and find a sound that you like. 

Am Chord on guitar

Shaping an Am chord

The A minor chord is another way to play an A chord on guitar that beginners will learn early on since it shows up in the key of F major and lets you rock out to House of the Rising Sun and other popular songs.

It’s easy enough to achieve. Mute the low E string with your thumb, and, starting with the A string, play Open, 2, 3, 1, Open, Open. You’ll move your second finger and ring finger up one string each and slide your first finger a single fret toward the nut to achieve the A minor.

You may notice that it has the shape of a barre chord if you imagine creating the barre in the open area above the nut. One of my favorite guitar tips is to think of that shape. For that reason, you can also use your second, third, and fourth fingers to make the shape, leaving your first finger available to barre other chords.

A7 Chord on guitar

Shaping an A7 chord

The A7 means that, in addition to the basic triad mentioned above, you play the dominant 7th of A as well. That note would be a G for those keeping score. While there may be several ways to play this, the easiest by far is to play the normal A major shape, and lift your ring finger off the G string. So you’re playing an open G to finish off the A7 shape.

You might notice doing so creates an angsty tension between the major triad and the dominant 7th. 

This is one of those epiphany moments for emo guitarists everywhere when they figure this shape out. 7th chords are essentially high school through sophomore year audibly encapsulated. Strum that shape and you’ll feel instantly, uncomfortably, sad, but you won’t quite know why.

Next time you’re wasting away in Margaritaville, you’ll know why.

Amaj7 Chord on guitar

Shaping an Amaj7 chord

Amaj7 is just like A7 except you are going to add in G# instead of playing an open G. What this means is that you’ll need to play the first fret on the G string. If you already know how to play a D chord on guitar, this shape is going to feel familiar, just in a different location on the fretboard.

Still muting the heavy e string, you’ll play from the A string, Open, 2, 1, 2, Open. And, again, that 1 is on the first fret to make the G# note. The sixth string, the high E, is technically optional, but it sounds lusher when you include it. If you accidentally mute it though, it’s not a big deal.

As chords go, this one featured heavily in 90s guitar rock and the new British invasion. Major seventh chords are also prevalent in jazz music. It seemed like if you were playing a semi-hollow body guitar, you had to include Amaj7 chords somewhere in your single. Playing singles… wow. Remember those? 

• • •

Common Problems With the A Chord

Beginner players run into some common problems when trying to get the family of A chords on guitar, so don’t get discouraged. Since they are common we can go over them and overcome them with practice. 

Hurt finger

Finger pain is a problem for any new player (2). A steel-string isn’t the most comfortable for virgin fingers, so the quicker you can build calluses, the better. Learning to play a major barre chord on guitar can also be a challenge because you need to have your first finger press all the strings at the same time. It may look like an easy chord shape, but you’ll need to work on your finger strength.

Another common problem is players muting strings they don’t mean to. Don’t worry. Getting your fingers to do what you want them to will feel unnatural. Don’t fret. Well, obviously fret, but stick with it. 

Errantly muting a the second string or third string, or even the high E string, with a pinky is normal. 

If you are a guitar player with larger fingers, looking at a chord diagram might give you some pause. After all, most common chords have some pretty tight finger groupings. Again, it’s nothing that can’t be overcome with some good online lessons and relevant guitar tips

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Frequently Asked Questions

How do you get good at guitar chords?

practice makes perfect

You get good at chords by practicing. It may seem a flippant answer but, there’s no new method that beats the traditional approach of physically practicing and getting the right fingers on the right string one fret at a time. Any newer method is a gimmick and you should pass.

What is the right way to play A Major chord on guitar?

The right way to play A major is with three fingers on the 2nd fret. Open, open, 1, 2, 3, open as the chord reads from left to right. No strings are muted, so you’ll need to watch that all fingers stay on the same fret.

How should I start practicing the A chord?

You should start practicing the A chord using the basic shape and playing songs you like. That’s good practice for any time you learn new chords. One of first the songs I learned to play was Sweet Caroline by Neil Diamond. A simple 3-chord song starting with A major.

Is an A barre chord easier than the traditional chord shape?

A barre chord is easier than a traditional chord shape if you have the finger strength to press all the strings down with your index finger and play the remaining correct strings with your remaining fingers. If you can do that it’s a matter of moving that shape up and down the neck.

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Strike a Chord

Shaping an A Chord

Popular lessons often kick off with playing the A chord because we are hardwired to go in order. This is just fine since the A chord has plenty of sound variation and learning to play it is a right of guitar passage. Learn to love the 2nd fret. Do that and your A chord play will sound superb.


References

  1. Joshua Sargent, “Alton Brown says learning guitar will make you a better cook,” as published here: https://www.sfgate.com/shopping/article/Alton-Brown-fender-guitars-player-plus-meteora-17004422.php
  2. Healthline, “Guitar Fingers: How to Relieve Finger Pain,” as published here: https://www.healthline.com/health/guitar-fingers

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