If you’re a guitarist trying to get better, you probably have wanted to expand the list of chords you know. After all, plenty of people think that knowing more chords will make them better guitarists. But how much is there to know? And will learning more chords make you a better player?
What’s a Chord?
Though they can evoke powerful and complex emotions, guitar chords are ultimately just collections of notes. There are several types of guitar chords. Here’s a brief overview:
Major – Usually the first chord types beginners learn, they sound bright and happy.
Minor – These chords sound darker and sadder than their major counterparts.
Power chords (5th)- These simplified, bold-sounding chord variants are commonly used in rock and punk.
Seventh – Seventh chords sound somewhat “bluesy.” Here’s an example of G7.
Augmented (aug) – These chords sound somewhat tense and dissonant — this video offers a few examples.
Of course, there are also 9th, 11th, and 13th versions of chords that add a note that is a certain number of steps from the root note. It’s possible to play several variants of different chords, but explaining them in depth would require diving into some serious music theory. Many of these chords are difficult to play and aren’t commonly used. Especially if you’re a beginner, the sheer number of chord types out there can be intimidating. But how much do chords really matter?
The truth is that, to be a good guitarist, you need to know a lot more than just chords. And while learning new chords can be interesting and fun, make sure that you don’t limit your development as a player to just learning new chords on guitar.
What Should You Work On as a Guitarist?
Learning new chords can add depth to your playing, but it’s important to work on other things, too. Here are some starting points:
Scales: Learning scales sounds tedious, but it’s a great way to get familiar with how to use the whole fretboard. And if you want to play lead guitar or improvise solos, scales are a must. Most beginners start with the minor pentatonic scale.
Timing: Being a good guitarist is as much about knowing when not to play as it is knowing when to play. Being able to create or keep up with a rhythm and when to perform a well-placed pause can get you a long way.
Tones: If you’ve ever heard the sound of ambient guitar, you know how much effects can transform the instrument’s sound. The truth is that many ambient guitarists aren’t playing something especially complex — much of their art is knowing how to use effects to create a captivating sound.
Techniques: Aside from basic strumming and picking, different guitar techniques can add life to your playing. String bends and vibrato are valuable to learn, and you might even want to branch out into whammy bar (tremolo arm) techniques.
Smooth Chord Changes: Learning to switch chords smoothly can be a major challenge for new guitarists. But mastering quick, smooth changes can make it easier to play with other people or perform on your own.
Modes: You don’t have to learn modes to be good at guitar. But if you want to be able to really express yourself through playing, learning them is a good idea. A mode is just a version of a scale, and many modes create a very specific mood.
Style: Although some guitarists like Joe Satriani are known for amazing technical ability, others have found a following thanks to their unique style. If you’re interested in writing your own songs, cultivating your own style will help you forge your own path as a guitarist.
Even the best guitarists in the world can always learn something new. And likewise, even guitarists with limited knowledge can engage audiences through unique playing styles, timing, and tone. Don’t get discouraged if you feel your knowledge of guitar is very limited — you can always play well with the knowledge you have, and you can always work harder to expand that knowledge.