How to Play C chord on Guitar

C Guitar Chord: Overview of How to Play

Hey there again!  In this lesson we're going to cover the C chord and tell you all about how how to play a C major chord on the guitar.  Let’s get going!  The C chord is a five string chord and that means you're going to be playing five of the guitar strings.  That’s right, in order to play it, you don't play all six strings. If you were to play all six strings with the fingering of a C chord we’re going to show you, then it would be a different chord.  Yes, it’s very closely related to the C (really just an inversion of the C), but the C major chord in its first position is a five string chord so you only play the top five strings in order for the chord to sound properly.  Make sure you’re tracking with us here at destinyguitar.com and call your high E, or the smallest string (i.e. the one closest to the floor), the 1st string.  Yes that’s right, the one on the “bottom” is the top string!  And the biggest string, the low E string, is the bottom string or 6th string.  Okay, here we go.

C Guitar Chord: Finger Placement

To play the C chord you'll be needing three of your fingers to fret the notes and that works just like this:  On the fifth string on the third fret you'll place your third finger. And then on the fourth string on the second fret you'll place your second finger.  You're going to skip right over one string which is going to be one of the open strings that form the chord.  Then on the second string, first fret place your first finger.  You leave the top E string open and there you go!  It’s the C chord.  I often tuck my pinky away here.  In pictures or video if it looks like I'm playing a note with my pinky I'm not. I'm just kind of holding it out there or I'm tucking it out of the way.  Chord chart here.

C Guitar Chord: Fretting Technique

Now one thing to note especially when you're learning these beginner guitar chords is that you want to make sure that you're coming around the top of the neck and placing your finger down on the fretboard so it's the tip your finger that is fretting the string.  If you find yourself holding your hand at an angle (which happens when you're tucking your
elbow in) you may accidentally mute some notes you need to play.  Or maybe you're swinging wide with your elbow which could cause the fleshy part of your finger to touch other strings.  That would be a bummer because you'll find that some of the strings will be muted when you play them.  When I was first learning how to play the C chord I would find I got kind of lazy with the first finger and lay it down just a little bit, and the high E string would not ring out.  So one of the things that you want to do is make sure that you are coming around and fretting directly onto on to the fretboard so you can have that high E ring out.  This can be a struggle and for some beginners it’s a frustrating experience.  But do not give up!  Just a little time and practice each day and you will find that it becomes natural.

One of the ways to make sure that you have proper hand position is to place your thumb on the center of the back of the neck.  This forces your hand to come around the front of the neck into the proper position.  You shouldn’t cock your wrist too much and it shouldn't be uncomfortable.  In general, the guitar is a very ergonomic instrument so you can form a lot of chords in comfortable positions. What you may be struggling with initially is finger strength and muscle memory.  Those are two things that will develop over time.  But this C chord should be fairly comfortable to play in a short period of time.

C Guitar Chord: Theory Behind the Chord

Okay, here’s the theory part of the lesson.  We’ll take a moment and cover C chord theory.  In music, the C chord is made up of three notes.  In other words, to get a major chord you only need three tones.  Those notes for the C major chord are C, E and G. But we’re playing 5 notes in this guitar chord right?  So if you only need three notes in order to play a major chord you might wonder, "well if we've got five strings here than what are we playing?"  The answer is we are actually doubling a couple of the notes. The actual notes we’re playing in the C guitar chord are (low to high): we start off with a C. Then by playing the note with our second finger, we get an E.  Then the first open string that we're playing is a G.  We have ourselves another C by playing the note with the first finger.  Finally, the top open string is an E.  So what we've done is actually played our C triad (i.e. the C major chord) with the first three strings we play, and then we have a doubling of the chord.  Makes me wonder if I could I just play a C chord with only the first three strings I played?  And yes, it would technically make a C chord because you have the three notes required for a C chord.  But when you're strumming the instrument, for a more pleasing sound you'll definitely want to play all five of the notes.

C Guitar Chord: Strumming Technique

Now when you're strumming the guitar you may wonder how to avoid playing the big sixth string.  O
nce you're comfortable fretting the C chord, one easy way to do that is to wrap your thumb around the neck and lay it across the sixth string so that it's barely touching the string. Of course, this is only if your if your hand is large enough!  But all you need to do is just barely touch it and what that will do is dampen it and you won't hear a sound.  Now if you strum over the top of it, we get the five string C chord and the sixth string does not ring out.  How cool is that? 

The other option is to only strum five strings.  In other words, when your pick comes down on the strings, you only strum the top five.  Really though, I find it's nice to have that insurance policy of my thumb muting the string.  It’s a safety net if you will, so the bottom note doesn’t ring out.  But if you're having difficulty enough with just fretting the chord, wrapping your thumb may seem a little bit complex. It's not required, it's just something that I do in order to make sure that if I'm strumming real big, that I will not ring out that lower E note.

C Guitar Chord: First Inversion

Now you might ask what is the chord if we play all six strings and this bottom note rings out?  Just try it.  It doesn’t sound real bad does it?  It sounds very close to a C chord.  Properly stated, it's an inversion of the C chord.  Imagine if you will, we have taken a C chord and flipped it around.  The bottom C note takes a hop over the other notes and now this version of the C chord has an E note on the bottom.  That's actually a separate chord altogether that we call C/E (a “slash” chord).  So play this chord only if you want an E in the bass note, or the music calls for it. But typically when you’re playing C major you don't want that.  It’s just not going to sound exactly right. Most especially if you are playing with other musicians or you are playing with a vocalist who has a certain melody line, a chord rooted in E may not work.  That is unless the music calls for it (in other words, the composer wrote it that way).

C Guitar Chord: Review

So there you go that's the C chord!  I encourage you to practice it.  Just 5 minutes a day will work wonders in how you progress on the guitar.  Soon you’ll be playing the C chord like a real pro and you’ll be ready to explore some of those more intermediate techniques like slash chords and wrapping your thumb over the neck to mute strings.

I also encourage you to check out one-on-one personal guitar lessons.  Nothing beats getting one-on-one instruction.  Yet since you’re here checking this out, look into more of our lessons on destinyguitar.com.  A great place to move on to now that you know the C chord is the G chord or the Am chord.  Have tons of fun learning the guitar, and remember, there are no shortcuts so just hang in there and soon your work will pay off!

Watch the video lesson here:


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