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Tutorial Tips – Making the A Major Chord

Hello to all!

We get a lot of emails here at Guitar Noise, as well as those sent to me personally. Naturally, many are questions about playing the guitar! And whenever we get a question that a lot of people ask, it makes a lot of sense to share the answer!

So here is a relatively recent email concerning fingering the A major chord:

Hi David,

I found your lessons through the Gibson web site and had to write and thank you for making them available for free. Though I’ve played guitar since the late 60’s (originally self-taught using chord boxes in a Dylan songbook), only now I’m starting to get serious about learning better technique so I can improve and get more enjoyment and satisfaction from playing. Turning 60 next week, I treated myself to a new Gibson Studio 60s Tribute guitar and Fender Mustang I amp. There’s lots of good tutorials on the web, but I’ve found yours to be about the best. I particularly like the finger picking lessons.

The question I have is about the open A major chord. I taught myself a different finger placement than the standard 2-3-4 that I wondered why wasn’t used more. I place my index finger on the G string, middle on D and ring on B. The advantage of this form is that I can easily and quickly change to open E and D major, keeping the index finger on the G string (sliding down to the first fret for E). I lift off the index finger for the basic A7. I haven’t found any disadvantages, yet, so I’m wondering–am I missing something here? I’d like to know if there’s a downside to my technique. If not, then I’m happy to share it.

Being self-taught, I never had an instructor to correct me, so I’ve probably got lots of bad guitar playing habits – but I’m working to get better. If I’d had access to the resources that exist today on the web back in the 60s-70s, who knows where I’d be…

Thanks for your time,

Hello

Thanks for writing and thank you as well for your kind words concerning my lessons. I hope that the lessons at the Gibson website led you to those at Guitar Noise. That’s where they originally came from, after all, and I think you’ll find the whole website a big help to you.

Our very first Guitar Noise absolute beginners” articles on chords does, in fact, talks about the A chord and I think you’ll find that a lot more people play it your way than you might think! Here’s some of the text:

Now the A chord is another matter. Some guitarists actually have a lot of trouble with this chord. It looks like it should be easy enough, simply press the second fret of the 2nd, 3rd and 4th strings. But that’s exactly where the problem lies. Most people (and a lot of teachers) will tell you to use this fingering:

STRING:1st (high E)2nd (B)3rd (G)4th (D)5th (A)6th (low E)
FINGER:openringmiddleindexopenopen

Personally, I find this very uncomfortable. By some happy accident, I learned the A chord after the E chord. At the time, I was trying like crazy to make as few changes with my fingers on the fretboard as possible and I managed to come up with this:

STRING:1st (high E)2nd (B)3rd (G)4th (D)5th (A)6th (low E)
FINGER:openrightindexmiddleopenopen

I just find it easier to get a better sounding A major chord this way. Not only is it more comfortable for my fingers, but I can switch quickly and easily back and forth between the A, E and D chords (which are the three most common chords when playing songs in the key of A major). I should mention, though, that I know a number of people (mostly guys with big fingers) who can’t get all three fingers on the second fret no matter what combination they try. Sometimes they resort to playing the A chord by barring the second fret (to “barre” means to lay a finger across all the strings of a fret). In this case, you wouldn’t barre the entire fret, just the first four strings. But here you have to make certain not to play the first string.

Also, it’s worth pointing out that in many classical guitar methods, students are often taught to finger the A major chord by using one finger (usually the middle finger) to lay flat enough to cover the second fret of both the G and D strings and then using another finger (usually the ring finger) to get the C# note at the second fret of the B string.

The point of all this is to show you that there are different ways to play chords. Ultimately, you should use whichever fingering gives you the greatest comfort and ability to switch from one to the next. You may often find yourself learning to play the same chord with different fingerings depending upon the context of the chord progression in which it is used. One has to always take into account both the previous chord and the following chord in whatever song is being played. That’s all part of the fun of the guitar!

Peace

If you’ve got any questions, we at Guitar Noise are always happy to answer them. Just send any of your questions to David at [email protected] He (or another Guitar Noise contributor) may not answer immediately but he will definitely answer!

8 Comments

  1. Russel McDaniels
    January 3rd, 2012 @ 8:10 am

    Maybe I’m the odd one out here, but since my first few weeks I’ve always played an A major with two fingers. My index goes on the D string and my middle finger goes over both the G and B strings. It works better if your hand is a little bit diagonal to the fretboard. The tone still sounds great so I haven’t tried to change the technique.

    The middle finger here takes kind of a “mini-barre” approach on those two strings (G+B).

    The two examples in the article above are just too difficult for my hands. I’ve tried and tried and there’s just no way I can cram 3 fingers into such a tight space on that chord without some big-time fret buzzing.

    It’s easy enough to go from the A to the Asus2 (open B string) by lifting your middle finger up to only fret the G string.

    Anyway, hope that helps any beginners with Hulk hands like I have.

    * I’ve also tried using just my ring finger for all 3 strings, similar to what you’d see on a major barre chord where the bass note is on the 5th string (like a B major x24442). I find it a bit difficult to get a good tone on the high E string with this method because the bottom of my ring finger tends to get in the way. That’s probably just my poor technique though; I’ve always been self-taught.

    • David Hodge
      January 3rd, 2012 @ 12:11 pm

      That’s actually not that odd. In fact, it’s the way described in classical guitar tutorials dating back from ages ago. I know a number of people (none of whom are classical guitarists, by the way) who use this method. Some also use the middle finger for the mini-barre and the ring finger for the third string, which leaves the index finger free. I suspect that these folks also find making A-shaped barre chords fairly easy.

      Thanks for the insight!

      Peace

  2. Dave
    October 11th, 2011 @ 8:43 am

    By the way, I find this site to be very helpful, a great tool for beginners on up to professionals, you can never learn everything about music. So, thanks for initiating this site! I will be back often!!
    Take care,
    Dave

  3. Dave
    October 11th, 2011 @ 8:36 am

    I have found that the song itself dictates which way I want to play an A major chord. Even the part of a song, depending on what chord I am coming from and where I am going next. James Taylor uses the “three finger” method because he likes to add and remove his ring finger on the B string (especially) on an A major chord to get a few extra cool notes out of the chord. This does NOT mean you need to be finger picking, only grabbing a few extra notes to get a cool sound, ie: hammer ons and wipe offs. He, and I, also use this method with other common chords as well. I encourage everyone to play, say, a D major chord, three finger method, now, add a finger here or there or remove a finger until you find the “sweet” notes that make sense with what you are playing. It will make your composition much more colorful and fun to play. It will also make you sound much better as a musician. When you find something cool like that, then look it up, its most likely a “rare” form, ie: 7th, diminished, etc. of the root chord, in this case D major. Most of all, listen to all advice and HAVE FUN!

  4. Paul
    October 7th, 2011 @ 2:19 pm

    Wow, that did bring back some old memories. The first guitar lessons I ever received was in middle school. The teacher also taught math I believe. I was taught to play the A chord as shown in your first example. Since then I mainly use the fingering used in your second example. Although I occasionally use some alternative fingering depending on what I am playing.

    Keep Jamming!

  5. Adrian
    October 7th, 2011 @ 8:52 am

    I used to have a lot of trouble with the A major chord shape, and I still do sometimes. What’s most comfortable for me in most situations — possibly because I have very large hands — is actually to finger it the “correct” way, but down one finger — i.e., 1st open, 2nd pinky, 3rd ring, 4th middle, 5th open, 6th muted. Because my pinky is smaller than the other fingers, it leaves me more room to fret the three strings straight across. The sort of triangle shape of ring/index/middle also feels cramped to me, which is why I switched to using pinky/ring/middle. I also sometimes do the half-barre, but not as often because I find it makes chord changes more difficult a lot of the time.

  6. Dave MacLeod
    October 7th, 2011 @ 2:27 am

    Wow, this brought back some memories. I struggled so hard with the A major chord in the early days. Until I stumbled across the index finger on the G string version, the way I used to play it (which I still use occasionally) is to barre at the 2nd fret with my index finger and to use my pinkie to fret the E string at the 5th. A nice variation, taking it into ringing power chord territory, is to use the pinkie to fret the E and B strings at the fifth, then you’re just playing Es and As across the whole six strings.

    • David Hodge
      October 7th, 2011 @ 5:37 am

      The way you descride (barre across first four strings at second fret and then using the pinky on the fifth fret of the high E to make A major – pinky on both the E and B strings at the fifth fret for A5) is used a lot by rock guitarists. Pete Townshend uses it a lot. You can especially hear it in “The Seeker” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” On the latter, he gets that two-chord opening on the guitar by keeping his pinky on the first two strings and striking the other strings open (x0055) before adding the index finger to complete the A chord (x02255).

      Peace