The C major chord is one of the most commonly used chords, and it’s quite easy to form and learn quickly.
If you’re ready to begin playing this chord on the guitar, keep reading. We’ll cover the basics and a step-by-step tutorial on how to play the C major chord.
Understand the Strings
Before you start, it’s essential to get acquainted with the strings. If you’re new to guitar, you may need to revisit your strings and the order they fall in. Strings on the guitar count from the bottom up, meaning the thinnest string on the bottom is your first string.
For this tutorial, we’ll be referencing the strings by number, so it’s essential to understand which string is the first in our count so you can achieve accurate results.
Get Familiar With Frets
Frets are those small metal bands on your guitar’s neck. Each fret represents a space for a natural note. Anything in between can fall as a sharp or flat. For the C major chord on your guitar, you’ll be using positions with your fingers on the frets to achieve the right tonal quality.
How to Play C Major Chord
Now that you understand how we’ll be explaining the C major chord to you, it’s time to begin. We’ll be covering an open C major chord, that is, a chord that includes one or more open strings with no fingerings. Look here for more basic guitar chords in addition to C.
What makes C major so great is that there are no sharps or flats in the C major scale. When playing C major as a guitar chord, you can rest assured that you’ll be playing only natural notes.
The main notes of this chord are C, E, and G, played with your third, second, and first fingers respectively. Once you learn this variation, try it out by playing happy birthday on guitar!
Place your ring finger on the fifth string. This is the string second from the top or fifth from the bottom. Move your finger as close to the third fret as you can. The closer you are to the fret, the more precise and accurate your note will sound. This note on its own is a C.
Next, place your middle finger on the fourth string. Your finger should fall on or as close as possible to the second fret. This note on your guitar is called an E.
Your index finger will go on the second string and first fret. You may find it tricky to keep your fingertips in place. Over time, this will feel more natural, and you shouldn’t experience too many issues. The note your index finger is on is a high C.
You’ll also notice a space between the fourth and second string (your middle and index fingers). The open string sounds the note G.
With your fingers in place, strum the bottom five strings. That is a C major chord. It’s okay if you strum the top string, though the chord sounds better without it.
Another easy chord: The Em Chord (E minor)
Importance of Finger Placement
To achieve the C major chord’s proper sounds (or any proper sound on the guitar), you need to have appropriate finger placement. Placing your fingers as close to the frets as you can for the C major chord is vital in generating a quality tonal sound.
Like many stringed instruments, your fingers’ placement and pressure can significantly affect the quality of sound your instrument produces. For this chord, you want to make sure your fingers are as close as possible to the frets and are pressed down hard enough to hold the string to the instrument’s neck.
Without enough pressure, your notes might not sound as clear or could create a soft whining sound. With time, you’ll become more accustomed to the way your instrument feels and will be able to secure the notes with little effort.
In the beginning, however, it’s essential to focus on your hand shape and placement to be sure you are playing the chords as best as you can.
Try next: Dm (D minor)
Alternate Versions of C Major
While we shared the primary form of C major, there are other C major chord versions.
You can try different fingerings to gain a better sound and tonal quality. While most people use the fingerings listed in the step-by-step tutorial above, it’s not uncommon to shift your positions.
In more complex songs down the road where you will have to shift between more challenging chords, it can be handy to use different fingerings for your C major chord.
If you want a richer, more open sound, you can place your ring finger on the sixth string, third fret rather than on the fifth string, as we mentioned above. Instead, set your pinky on the fifth string, third fret in place of where your ring finger was initially. Doing so will add an extra G to your chord and will result in a richer sound.
Cadd 9 is another basic and beginner friendly C chord. To play Cadd 9, place your index finger on the second fret, fourth string. Your ring finger will go on the third fret, second string. Lastly, your ring finger will go on the third fret, fifth string. You will strum the first five strings, leaving the low E out for a solid sound.
Try a tough one: Eb Major or E flat
C Major 7
C major 7, also written as Cmaj7, is another popular C chord. Unlike the other positions for C chords, this one requires the use of only two fingers.
To play the Cmaj 7 chord, place your ring finger on the second fret, fourth string. Then, place your middle finger on the third fret, fifth string. Strum the first five strings, leaving out the low E.
Try next: Easy E Major Chord
Third Position and Barre Chord
The third position is another common playing position used by many musicians. The notes mentioned above were all played in the first position. The first position is commonly used for most music. However, the third position (among many more) can also produce chords that offer a bit of variety.
To get into the third position, you’ll start at the third fret, hence the name. Place your index finger on the third fret, fifth string and press down all five strings so that they are flat against the neck. This is called a Barre chord. Barred chords are typically used when playing in higher positions, especially with chords that do not have any open notes. This C barre is similar to the C#m chord, so try that out too while you’re at it!
Your middle finger will go on the fourth string, fifth fret for the note G. Your ring finger will go on the fifth fret, third string to play the note C. Lastly, your pinky finger will go on the fifth fret, second string for the note high E.
Strum the first five strings, ignoring the low E string. This will give you a third position C major chord.
Try another barre essential: The F#m guitar chord
Using the Eighth Fret
You can play yet another C major barre chord up on the eighth fret if you choose.
To do so, first, move your hand so that you are in line with the eighth fret.
Your index finger will lay across all of the strings on the eighth fret to create the barre aspect of this chord.
Your middle finger should be placed on the third string, ninth fret for the note E. Your ring finger and pinky should be placed on the tenth fret on the fourth and fifth strings, respectively. Strum all of the strings to achieve the chord.
Try this barre: The tough F chord
When to Use C Major
C major is a commonly used chord in many songs. It’s a popular chord for pop and rock songs and can be a basis for many upbeat anthems. C major is often paired with a G chord in music, and together, they comprise some of the most common guitar songs for beginners. Though, C chords are not exclusive to beginner-friendly songs and comprise much of the music you hear on the radio or at concerts today.
Try more guitar chords:
As the Head Editor at Music Grotto, Liam edits content produced from over 30 professional music/media journalists and contributing writers. He works closely with journalists and other staff to format and publish music content for the Music Grotto website. Liam is also the founding member of Music Grotto and is passionate in disseminating editorial content to its readers.