Playing Your First Chord
Welcome – especially if this is your first lesson!
So, if you’re here at this lesson, congratulations! This means you’re going to be playing your very first chord on guitar.
The good news is that it’s a great achievement when you do it – it feels great. It’s going to lay the pavement for everything else that you do.
The bad news – it’s not easy when you start out. It took me quite some time before I could play chords cleanly.
But anyway. Let me explain how you play this one – where you put your fingers, how you put your fingers – then we’ll go into some troubleshooting. We’ll look at the things that commonly go wrong. Certainly I did everything wrong! We’ll look at how to fix it.
Which chord to play first?
I was thinking about what first chord we should play. I wanted it to sound interesting, something that could be used straight away in a worship context, and something that wasn’t too difficult to get our fingers around. A first chord that is as easy as a first chord can be.
I came up with a chord called ‘A sus 2’. It sounds like this (demo, 01:02).
I’m sure you’ll agree it’s a very pretty sound. It’s actually a very versatile sound. (demo: clean broken chords with quarter note delay). There’s a lot you can do with it.
The backing track that we’re going to play along to is a really good opportunity for you to experience what the addition of just one chord, played well, played in time with the rest of a band can make.
On it’s own, this (demo: Asus2 strummed once) doesn’t sound much. But wait til you play it with the backing track. You’ll be surprised at the difference *you* are making to the band.
How to play the Asus2 Chord
How do we play it?
It uses two of our fret hand fingers. And not the other two. So it could be worse :) The two fingers go right next to each other. There are no awkward stetches or shapes.
To start off with this chord, we don’t do anything with string six – the bass (or lowest sounding, or thickest string) E string. We don’t hit it with our pick, we don’t put any fingers on it. We pretend it’s not there.
The chord starts with the open A string, string five (demo: plucks just the open A string). By open, I mean that we place no fingers on that string, but we include it in out right hand strumming.
We have an open A string.
For our first fretted note, we take our first finger of our fretting hand (mine is my left hand – I’m right handed). We put it on the D string, string four, at fret two (demo, close up of finger position).
For the next fretted note, we take our middle finger – our second finger – or our fretting hand, and we put it right underneath on the G string, string three, again at fret two.
For the remainder of the chord, we play the open B string, string two, and the open E string, the top E string (thinnest string, highest sound. nearest the floor).
When all goes well, it sounds like this (demo: Asus2 strummed once).
Tip: Fret with your fingertips
There’s a few things to know about the mechanics of playing this that will make it easier for you.
First and foremost, when you are fretting these notes on your fret hand, use either your finger tips – this area here (close up) – or the pad of flesh towards the end of your finger tips.
If you find yourself fretting almost down to your first knuckle, your finger is too flat. That’s not going to work for you too well. This will start affecting other strings. so use your fingertips to fret notes.
You’ll notice when you start playing it can be painful. Over the years, I’ve developed hard skin (callouses) on my finger tips, so I don’t feel much, and certainly don’t have any pain. But it’s not unknown for your finger tips to hurt or even bleed slightly when you start on guitar! Especially on electric guitar. You’re basically pressing down with force onto some thin steel wires. Which I can’t really recommend, when you put it like that :)
Two tips to help make this chord easy to play, and quick to change, when we come to changing chords – and to minimise the risk of fingers bleeding.
First tip – always move your fretting fingers so that they are ‘right behind the fret wire’. And what I mean by that (close up of finger position relative to guitar fret wire) is to get them as close to your chin (along the guitar neck ) as you can, without going too far over.
Tip: Fret right behind the wire
(demo – close up – correct fingers )
This is right behind the second fret for both fingers.
But if I move it a bit more towards my chin (ie up the neck, towards the pickups) then we’ve gone over into the third fret, and it’s sounding bad.
But the alternative which is also wrong – so don’t do this – is if you go too far backwards. (close up) .
If we place our fingers only just into the second fret, we get a bad, buzzy and ‘clanky’ sound. And it forces you to press much harder than you need to. This is a very common mistake.
You need to get into the habit of always fretting straight behind the fret wire (close up). So as near to your chin as you can get, whilst still being behind the wire.
We’ve covered fingertips and fretting behind the wire.
Tip: Fret with minimum finger pressure
The next thing to practice is finger pressure.
Here’s an Open G String (demo). I’m going to put my second finger on it (demo: very clanky, cut short notes).
If I put it on very lightly, and don’t press much, I get a ‘clicky’ sound – the sound of a wrong note on the game ‘Guitar Hero’.
As I increase the pressure slightly – but not yet enough – I get a ‘buzzy’ sound. Another common mistake.
As I put slightly more pressure on, and get to ‘just the right amount’, then brilliant – we’re there. That’s the sound I want to get (demo: a nice, clean, clear tone without buzz, and that sustains as long as it should).
If I carry on pressing harder – too much force – then not only does it hurt (ouch!) but you can hear that it bends the string note up. The note goes out of tune – it gets higher in pitch than it should be. Listen: (demo: too much force makes note pitch go higher).
So that’s now out of tune.
This has three bad effects:
- You’re hurting your hand
- You’re slowing down your ability to change chords
- You’re playing out of tune
Practice getting the minimum – ‘just enough’ pressure to get a clean tone.
One thing that’s interesting to do is once you’ve got the pressure right, use your other hand to pull your fret hand finger off the fretboard (close up demo). Sounds weird, doesn’t it? But you’ll and feel just how light a touch it is. If you have a good quality guitar, with a well adjusted action, there’s not that much finger pressure needed.
When I first played, I got that sort of noise (demo: strums chord, but lots of ‘clanky’ and ‘buzzy’ notes). If you’re hearing that – congratulations – it means you’re learning just like the rest of us! That’s how *all* of us learn.
How to fix it? there are two main problems to address.
The first one is simply that my fingers are too far back, and too near the first fret.
So I need to move them until they are just behind the second fret, then applying the right amount of finger pressure. That cleans up some of the notes.
The next problem is caused by the underside of my second finger, the fleshy underside of the finger fretting the note on the G string.
So, not the fingertip playing the chord note, but the part below (close up of finger area). My fingers are too flattened down, too flat against the strings. So my second finger fouls the B string. So what should be an open string and ringing out has now got a fat, fleshy bit of finger against it.
This deadens the sound.
It’s actually a technique all of it’s own that we will cover in later lessons, but it’s not what we want here.
The way around this is to get back onto your finger tips. (demo)
Push your wrist forward, moving your elbow down and towards the neck. Instead of having a flat hand like this (close up), push your wrist round. There should ideally be a gentle curve, running from your finger tips through your wrist.
Your wrist should be down below the guitar neck, not high up (demo of arm/wrist position).
If you do all those things, you should find that you can play this Asus2 chord successfully.
Play with the Backing Track
So onto the backing track, it’s a very simple, slow-ish song (72 beats per minute).
All we are going to do is play the Asus2 with one slowish down stroke (demonstrates). We repeat that every eight beats. It’s going to go something like this (demonstrates the strum, and how to count out the beats in between).
What I’ve done on the demo piece is added my delay, and set it to a quarter note repeat in time with the music (demonstrates). Now that really gives this a nice feel to it – although it is optional. If you don’t have a delay, jsut strum without one.
Have a practice first getting the chord together without playing to the track. Get the chord notes clean, using the troubleshooters above.
Then practice playing it in time by playing along to the backing track.
The difference *you* make
Remember this: the backing track on its own sounds pretty good. But listen to when you play along. Be sure to get a feeling for *how much better* you make it sound.
Even though it’s your first chord, one simple, basic chord, playing one strum every eight beats, a basic sound with a basic effect. the backing track makes your chord sound great – and your chord makes the backing track sound great.
This, right from lesson one, is what it’s all about to be in a band. Particularly a worship team.
It’s about building one another up, preferring one another.
Instead of hogging any limelight, getting a set of sounds that work together to elevate the whole worship experience, and lift everything up.
So enjoy the backing track. Good luck! You might have to repeat the troubleshooters quite a lot of times.
And look after those fingers.
It does get better!