Kinds of chords
You can play chords in different ways and below is explained what we mean by this.
Open chords are chords that you play with one or more strings played 'open'. That means, of all the strings that are player, not all of them have a fret pushed down on them. There are many kinds of open chords and the majority of them are played on the very first three frets like the G below.
The broaden the range you can play with these kinds of chords you can use a capo, like pictured below. This is the same in positioning your fingers like the G above, but thanks to the capo the chord key is raised pitch to an A chord:
These kinds of chords are often used by beginners, because they are easy to play and remember. With just these chords you can play countless of songs. Especially if you use a capo!
These kind of chords are called 'barre', because the index finger is used to make a 'bar' over 1 fret on all of the strings. You could look at it this way, your index finger functions like the capo to change pitch by moving up and down the fretboard or to use a chord where the tonic is set on a different string.
Barre chords require more time and practice to master. This is because you need to train your hand for power and coordination (finger positioning) to be able to play different kinds of chords subsequently in sequence and keep doing this for a whole song.
These kinds of chords make for a versatile playing style, what some of the genres really require you to do. For example, if you would look at metal, reggae, jazz and classical, these barre chords are irreplaceable (that goes for powerchords as well). These make playing chords with 'extensions' possible. These are chords with extra notes in addition to give a specific sound.
A powerchord is a chord where notes are left out for the purpose of comfort and to enable you to play certain rhythms. A chord like this one is so easy to play that you can change position on the neck really easily and not worry about thirths and if it's a major or minor chord. The third is left out and only the tonic, fifth and the octave of the tonic is played. So really these are chords with only 2 notes, where 1 is played double:
Or if you're lazy, from time to time, like me... you can also play it like this:
Types of chords
Chords are made out if different intervals and each has their own sound, taste and feeling. Here we will play a C chord, played 4 ways with the tonic played on the A string. In this example we will use three-note chords: these are build from using 3 different notes. There's also four-note chords and these are build from 4 different notes. Want to know more about intervals? Check out our music theory series!
Tonic (1) + Major Third (3) + Fifth (5)
C - E - G
Here is a C-Major chord where the tonic is located on the A-string. You can also play this chord (positioning) by using your index finger where the nut is located (insert guitar parts article):
Tonic (1) + Minor Third (3b) + Fifth(5)
C - Eb - G
In this position, the tonic is also on the A-string.
Tonic (1) + Minor Third (3b) + Diminshed Fifth (5b)
C - Eb - Gb
The same goes for the diminished chord. As well as the third as the fifth are diminished, minor, lowered a semitone.
Tonic (1) + Major Third (3) + Augmented Fifth (5#)
C - E - G#
With augmented chord you'll have a major third with an augmented (major, raised a semitone) fifth. This chord is used a lot to bridge progressions to each other.
Chords per genre
If you know what kind of music genre you'll be playing, but are not sure what kind and types of chords you should learn, this list will give an idea into what's practical to add to your chord vocabulary.
You can manage pop using open chords and a capo, besides songs from Michael Jackson and others, where there's a more serious composition hidden behind the music. It's necessary to learn to play barre chords as well. But mainly useing open chords and 1 or 2 barre positions will get you started playing right away.
DAW (electronic, house)
In DAW's we usually use chords without chord extensions (added 7, 11, 13 and so on), but there are exceptions. Like when you want to create a song or you want to play along with one that uses a sampled piece, usually that are jazz, soul or funk samples, it's nice to know what you are playing with. So being familair with chords the have extensions, substitutes and inversions is nice to have. There's also a lot of powerchord usage, on the piano, because powerchords lend themselves well for beats because their heavy, characteristic sound. Here's a song that uses a sample from I'll look around by Billie Holiday with a modern beat:
Rock uses a lot of open and barre chords. You will see this a lot with bands that have 2 guitarists, where one playes an open chord (rhythm player) and the other also plays that chord but using a barre chord. To accentuate chords the rhythm player also uses hammer-ons / pull-offs and the other guitarist would play a barre chord, but would these picked string by string. This creates a greater dynamic in rhythm. You can see this way of playing with songs from Guns-N-Roses where Slash often plays a lick or arpeggios while the other plays an open chord:
Metal and Heavy Metal
These genres are filled with powerchords and usually are accompanied by 2 guitarists like it is the case with rock. But with some songs, there are altered chords being used to created a form of dissonance in the chord, lick or arpeggio. This greatly increases the discomfort and tension in sound that can be resolved. You can see this type of composing within metalcore where, sometimes, it looks like the musicians have no clue in what they are doing, but rather have anticipated and calculated the dissonance with meaning. Guitarists in the metalscene that play lead and solo, usually use a great deal of distortion (high gain), in order to get the guitar sound like it is 'crying' and need to know their way around scales and modes. An example of a song, section from 0:23 to 0:30 uses semitones, with a good deal of dissonance in the guitar rhythm and the solo, from 2:17 to 2:45, Mick Thompson uses the harmonic minor scale that has a lot of semitone intervals and sounds kind of dissonant:
With reggae it is necessary that you know multiple barre chords. In reggae music there often this dynamic used: striking down with the pick on the lower strings (E + A string with the lower pitches notes in the chord) and up with your pick striking the higher strings (G + B + E with the higher pitched notes of the chord). Often all the strings are silenced and is alternated with a single clear sounding stroke. Sometimes the downstriking is completely cut out and you only play 'up' with your pick, striking the higher notes (G + B + E strings). For example we have a song by Bob Marley where you can perfectly hear the latter technique of cutting out the downstriking. This rhythm start around 0:09:
Jazz / Blues
With blues you can get away with playing open- and powerchords to play and make songs, but with jazz you will soon be stopped by the fact you don't recognise the positions, the naming is too difficult and makes it nearly impossible to play a simple standard. You could play these standards (people call these standard, because some songs are so iconic and are generally known within the community, that the song has become a 'standard' to play for people playing at jazz jam sessions), by using chords without extensions to get a feeling for the rhythm and temp being used in the song, but when you play with a backingtrack, you will soon found out that the chords you are playing are sounding very different and lack smoothness in changing keys through the progressions. Thanks to the extensions and the use of dominant chords the progressions and changes are smooth and tension can be properly build and resolved into another key. The lack of depth is what you will miss when you aren't playing four-tone chords. These are chords the are build around 4 notes in stead of the standard 3 note chords like the examples above.
Soul / Neo-Soul
In soul and neo-soul there's a lot of use of 4-note chords, just like jazz this requires some more insight into music theory, but as always there's exceptions. If you look at the music of Bill Withers there's also a lot of 3-note chords and is as soulful as can be. Neo-soul, just like hiphop and rap, sometimes contains a beat with accompanied progressions. Some progressions are so widespread within neo-soul, they have gotten nicknames like 'neo-soul chords and progressions'. There's a usage of altered seventh (dominant), minor 11th, inversions, diminished and other possible chords. To give an example, 'D Angelo had an album Voodoo released in 2000, that contains complicated timing, tempo, and chord progressions and is a huge source of inspiration for people that dare composing advanced neo-soul songs. Since it's release this album has been a source of study (students of the conservatory in particular) for it's use of theory and composing:
Hip-Hop / Rap
Hip-Hop and rap are sometimes comprised out of 1 or 2 chords. Usually open chords, because these lend themselves well for picking patterns and sustain. However there are artists that have a complete band to back them up, using multiple keys in a song that have complicated rhythmsections, you can make beats just using 1 or 2 chords. If these are open or barre chords, that doesn't matter. Even so there are chords used that don't directly fit together, but sound chill just the same accompanied with the beat. For some interesting progressions look at Q-Tip - Let's Ride and How To Pimp A Butterfly album by Kendrick Lamar. These use a complete band with members skillful in jazz melodies and rhythms.
As you can see there's a lot of different chords. Open chords are perfect to start out with, but if you notice you can play along a song using there, go ahead and pick up barre chords major (1-3-5) and minor (1-b3-5). I'm talking about the 3-note versions of these barre chords and not even diminished and augmented. You can pick these up in your learning when going for the 4-note chords, if you wish because it is not a must!
You can play a C chord in various different ways and positions, but in the end you just need 1, because when you are just starting out, you're not playing songs that contain transitions to other keys. Maybe you'll stumble upon dominant (1-3-5-b7) chords, these have easy postitioning you can learn when you have mastered the 3-note chords.
This was an introduction into guitar chords. What kinds and sizes are available and which ones u might be needing! We are going over every kind of chord in future articles, so if you want to know more about open or barre chords, keep an eye out on Inside Audio!