About Me

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Atlanta, GA, United States
When I suffered a lip injury that ended my career as a classical trombonist, I thought my life as a musician was finished, but I fell in love with music all over again when Santa gave me a guitar for Christmas in 2003. Even as I was struggling with my first chords, I was planning a new performance career. As a trombonist, I performed with the Heritage of America Band at Langley Air Force Base, the Ohio Light Opera, and in pick-up bands for touring acts that included Rosemary Clooney, George Burns, and the Manhattan Transfer. Reborn as a jazz guitarist, I sing and play my own solo arrangements of jazz classics, am half of the Godfrey and Guy duo, and hold the guitar chair in the Sentimental Journey Orchestra. I have been a freelance music copyist since 1995, served as Director of Music at Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation from 2011 to 2017, and currently serve as Contemporary Band Director at the same congregation.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

First Guitar Chords

Santa brought you a guitar for Christmas, or maybe it was or your birthday, or maybe you bought it on a whim. You want to rock out on your new electric guitar, or you want to strum folk songs on your acoustic, or you want to play in church. Whatever kind of guitar you are holding, or whatever kind of music you want to play, congratulations!

Let's assume you have a book with chord charts and that you know how to read them. Now what? You've probably already discovered that there are a zillion different chords. Where do you start?

My first recommendation is to find a teacher. Did I mention that I teach guitar? Well, I do, and if you're in Atlanta and are looking for a guitar teacher, you can find my info at www.godfreyguitar.com. Now that the shameless plug is over…

If you want to learn guitar chords on your own, you can learn them in small groups that go well together. Here's some very basic music theory: There is usually one specific note that any given song is based on. This note is your home base…the note the usually feels "right" to end with. This note is called the "key." For example, if your home base is the G note, then you are probably playing in the key of G. There are specific chords that fit with each key.

How does this apply to learning chords? You can narrow your choices down by learning which sets of chords go with which keys. As soon as you've learned a few chords within a key, then you're ready to play a song in that key!

There are 12 major keys and 12 minor keys. (To oversimplify, songs in major keys usually sound happy or bright, and songs in minor keys usually sound sad or dark.) For starters, I suggest learning chords in the following keys. (A small "m" after a capital letter stands for minor. For example, "Em" is short for E minor, and "Am" is short for A minor.)

  • Key of G: First learn G, C, and D. (Then add D7, Am, and Em.)
  • Key of A minor: First learn Am, E, and Dm. (Then add E7 and C.)
  • Key of D: First learn D, G, and A. (Then add A7 and Em.)
  • Key of A: First learn A, D, and E. (Then add E7.)
  • Key of E minor: First learn Em, Am, and B7. (Then add G.)
  • Key of C: First learn C, F, and G. (Then add G7, Dm, and Am.)
  • Key of E: Learn E, A, and B7.
You don't have to learn the chords in this order, although G and A minor are good ones to start with. These aren't all the keys, and they aren't all the chords that go with each key, but if you learn the chords in each group, you'll be able to play a LOT of songs. More good news is that there is a lot of overlap. Once you've learned a chord in one key, you'll find that it pops up again in other keys.

One final word of advice – Take it slow. You don't have to learn all the chords at once. Start off with just one or two and expand from there. It's better to play a few chords really well than to stumble through a lot of them. Just like learning a language, your chord vocabulary will increase over time, and as you gain more experience, you'll find that it becomes easier and easier to learn new chords.

Congratulations on your first guitar, and good luck! If you have any questions, please email me


  1. Replies
    1. Thank you! I know that you're a picker, too. If you have any other recommendations, feel free to add them!