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What Are Open Position Chords On Guitar?


“I ain’t no cowboy!” Relax, pilgrim!

Usually in the first lessons with a student, I start with open position chords, sometimes also called “cowboy chords,” are chords that have one or more open strings to be played as part of that chord. This means you will have one or more strings you set into motion that you don’t press down with a finger but instead you hit the string(s)…open. Like sight reading in “the open position,” this guitar playing happens in the first 3 frets of the guitar, including the open strings.

I think open position chords are a great place to start when learning guitar because they are utilized in many styles of music. The chords are also easier to play than bar/barre chords, and there are thousands of songs that can be learned and played using just 3 or 4 open chords. This is a fantastic way for beginner guitar students to gain left and right hand independence, build finger strength, gain stamina and endurance, build calluses, work on rhythm playing and consistency, ear training and strum patterns…all while learning songs and having fun.

Three Ways You Will See Chord Diagrams Written

Here is an example of a few ways you may see the open D chord written:

open chords

And here is a sheet of open position chords I start all of my beginning guitar students on:

Remember, unlike piano, you do not count your thumb as a finger. The index finger is 1, middle finger is 2, ring finger is 3 and pinky is 4. Put the correct finger in the correct fret on the correct string and you are good to go! Hit the correct strings (mind the x’s! don’t hit those) with the pick and you are on your way!

Here’s A Video Explaining Guitar Chord Diagrams

So, whatever your favorite style of music may be, and whatever your goals are, learning how to play, transition, and memorize open position chords is a great place to start!

Please let me know if you have any questions. If you are in Nashville and want to take some guitar lessons or attend one of our many workshops, let us know. We would be happy to have you. If you live outside of Nashville, we do offer and teach many online students as well.

Until next time, happy guitar-ing!