|Chords are multiple tones played simultaneously to create a
harmony. There are specific calculations for each type of chord. The most common basic
chords uses only 3 different tones, and are either a major or a minor. In
"happy" music, there are many major and major 7th (I'll get back to those later)
chords involved, whereas in "sad" music, there are a lot of minor chords.
First of all, let's look at how many tones there are. It is easy to see on a piano, as you can see the pattern of the white and black keys repeating themselfes, but since we are looking at a guitar, let's look at the lowest tone we have, which is the thick E string played without a finger on any fret. As you may have guessed, playing the E string by itself, will play the tone E. If you place a finger on its first fret and play it again, it will now play the tone F.
For the E string: 0:E, 1:F, 2:F#, 3:G, 4:G#, 5:A, 6:Bb, 7:B, 8:C, 9:C#, 10:D, 11:D#, 12:E
As you can see, there are 12 tones you can play before you reach the next E, and the pattern repeats itself. The symbol for sharp is # and means one-tone-higher. The symbol for minor is b and means one-tone-lower. If you look at the tones above, there are actually several ways to write some of them: F# can be written as Gb instead, but that's another story.
Since I am talking about the E string, let's look at the E-major chord. An E-major chord is the tone E + 4 + 3. What does that mean? Well, that means you have to count 4 tones up from E which is G#, and then count another 3 which is B. So the chord E consists of the three tones: E, G# and B. For more information about major and minor chords, please make sure to read The Guitar section.
If you already know how to tune your guitar, you know that fret 5 on the E string matches a loose A string, so we can now look at how the most basic E chord is designed. If you don't know how to tune your guitar, please read the tuning section first before continuing.
If you look at the lines from the bottom up, the first string is easy, as it's the E string, and we need the tone E. The next string is the A string so we need to add 2 tones before we get to B, so on this string we must place a finger on the 2nd fret. Then we have the D string, where we must also add 2 tones before we get to E, and again must place a finger on the 2nd fret. The G string only needs one tone added to make it a G#, so place a finger on the 1st fret here. The last 2 strings are easy, as both B and E are in the E chord, so they must be played loose. The easiest way to play this, is to place the 1st finger (index) on fret 1 on the G string. Then place the 2nd finger on the 2nd fret on the A string. Finally place the 3rd finger (ring) on the 2nd fret on the D string.
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