How to Play an A Chord on Guitar


The A chord is one of the first chords we learn when we begin playing guitar.

Mastering the A chord will help any guitarist dive into different styles of music. It is found in different genres such as rock, surf, classical, and ska. 

In this guide, we will examine  the A chord and why it’s important.

 


 

What is an A Chord?

 

picture of A major chord

A major chord

picture of A minor chord

A minor chord

 

The image to the left is an A major chord. The image to the right is an A minor chord.

Listening to the two chords allows us to hear the different qualities in each chord. 

Major chords sound “happy” and minor chords are usually described as “sad.” These terms allow us to hear the difference between the two.

 

How to Play the A Chord on Guitar

A chord diagram is a useful tool to learn chords. A chord diagram tells us where to place our left-hand fingers and which strings to play.

Below we will find a visual with instructions. If you have never seen a chord diagram, take a minute to study the instructions. It will help open up a whole new world of music-making.

The left-hand fingers are numbered 1-4.  1 is the index or pointer finger.  And 4 is the little finger.

 

classical guitar left hand

Left hand finger numbers

 

Guitar Chord TABs Diagram

How to read a guitar diagram

With your new knowledge of chord diagrams, let’s take a look at the A major chord.

A major chord grid guitar neck diagram

The A major chord

Steps to play an A Chord:

  • Finger 1 – 2nd fret of the 4th string.
  • Finger 2 – 2nd fret of the 3rd string. 
  • Finger 3 – 2nd fret of the 2nd string.
  • Finger 4 – We do not use it.
  • The 5th string and the 1st string are open. We do not need to place any fingers on these strings. We only have to pluck the strings and let them ring.
  • The 6th string is not played.
  • We can place the right-hand thumb on the 5th string and strum towards the floor.

It might be a tight squeeze, getting three fingers beside each other on the same fret.  But with a little practice, it’ll begin to feel like second nature.  Especially if you get your left hand in the best position.

 

Alternate Fingering

If the A chord is giving you trouble, don’t fret. This is normal.

On guitar, we can use different fingers to play the same chord. We call this an alternate fingering. 

A major chord with alternate fingering

A major chord using fingers 2, 3, 4

To the right is an example of the A major chord with an alternate fingering

 

  • Finger 1 – We do not use it.
  • Finger 2 – 2nd fret of the 4th string.
  • Finger 3 – 2nd fret of the 3rd string. 
  • Finger 4 – 2nd fret of the 2nd string.
  • The 5th string and the 1st string are open. We do not need to place any fingers on these strings. We only have to pluck the strings and let them ring.
  • The 6th string is not played.
  • With our right hand, we can place our thumb on the 5th string, and strum towards the floor.

 

This is much easier for many guitarists with smaller hands. In some pieces of music, one is preferable to the other. 

Another common alternate fingering for the A chord is as follows.  Note this version uses only two fingers.

  • Finger 2 – 2nd fret of the 2nd string
  • Finger 1 – lays across both strings 3 and 4 on the 2nd fret
  • The other strings are the same as above.

 

A Minor Chord 

 

The A minor chord (also written “Am”) is easier to play for some people. Below is the diagram for the A minor chord.

A minor chord guitar neck diagram

A minor chord

 

If you already know the E chord, you may recognize this is the same shape using different strings.

Steps to play an Am chord:

  • Finger 1 – 1st fret of the 2nd string.
  • Finger 2 – 2nd fret of the 4th string. 
  • Finger 3 – 2nd fret of the 3rd string. 
  • Finger 4 – We do not use it.
  • The 5th string and the 1st string are open. We do not need to place any fingers on these strings. We only have to pluck the strings and let them ring.
  • The 6th string is not played.
  • With our right hand, we can place our thumb on the 5th string, and strum towards the floor.

Give the A minor chord a few strums and get it to sound as clean as possible. Don’t worry if you get a few buzzes. This is normal when learning new chords on the guitar. [tk]

Wrist Position

The wrist positions the fingers.  So we can play more easily and consistently if the wrist puts our fingers in the best place.   

The ideal left-hand position is the “C” shape. This shape allows for freedom of movement and stretch. 

 

left hand shape perfect guitar

The neutral left-hand “C” shape

 

As a general rule, the best wrist position keeps our big knuckles parallel to the side of the fretboard. This keeps all four fingers over the strings.  

However, when we have more than one finger on the same fret, we can tilt our wrist. This change of position brings our fingertips more inline with the fret.  And this makes it easier to keep each finger just behind the fret.  

 

left hand thumb perfect guitar

Left hand with tilt in the wrist

We must remember to return to the original position when we shift to new chords or notes.

Barre Chords

Note for beginners: Feel free to skip this section. You can return to it later if you choose.

The most common chords all use open strings.  But there are many chords that do not call for open strings.  For these, we may use a bar chord.   

A bar (barre) chord substitutes the first finger for the nut (fret zero) of the guitar.  The first finger lays across two or more strings, while the other finger fret other notes.  This allows us to play chords all over the guitar neck.

Once we learn a small number of bar chord “shapes,” we can play many different songs in various genres. 

Bar chords can be difficult for the left hand. They can fatigue the fretting hand quickly.  And we can accidentally mute strings or get unwanted buzzing sounds.

One of the most common issues with bar chords is excess tension.  We tend to press too hard. Over time this may damage the muscles in the finger and lead to injury.

But with the right technique, we can play bar chords more easily[tk]

A popular version of the A Major/Minor chord is the bar chord on the 5th fret.

A major bar chord on 5th fret of guitar

A major bar chord at the 5th position

Selective pressure will help with any bar chord. This means paying close attention to which strings we press for a given chord. Then we can press with more appropriate pressure where we need it, and avoid pressing too hard where we don’t.

 

How to Play the A Major Chord with a Right-Hand Pattern

Right-hand patterns allow us to get different sounds and textures from the guitar. Learning different patterns is great musical and technical exercise.  Right-hand patterns build dexterity and control.

classical guitar right hand fingers

Right hand finger names

First, we call the right-hand fingers:

  • P – Thumb
  • I – Index
  • M – Middle
  • A – Ring Finger
  • C – Little Finger (Pinky)

 

One common pattern is PIMA (thumb, index, middle, ring). The PIMA pattern appears in many different styles of music.

First, form the A Major chord with the left hand. 

Then with the right hand, the I,M, and A fingers prepare on strings 1,2, and 3.  The thumb prepares to play the 5th string. 

Here are the steps for the PIMA right-hand fingerpicking pattern:

  • P (thumb) plays the open 5th string.
  • I (index) plays the 3rd string
  • M (middle) plays the 2nd string
  • A (ring) plays the 1st string
  • Repeat the pattern in a steady rhythm.
  • The thumb (P) can alternate between the 5th and 4th strings for a nice variation.

Another common pattern played with chords is the “outside-in” fingerpicking pattern.

Classical Guitar Technique for more effective right-hand ability

 

Right-hand positioning and patterns are a main focus when learning classical guitar technique.  

We have proven methods of form, positioning, and movement.  And these make fluid and beautiful playing possible.  

Much of classical guitar technique is non-intuitive.  So self-learners may miss ways to make playing easier and more graceful.  

If you’d like to play guitar with power and ease, consider The Woodshed® Classical Guitar Program.  

Members go step-by-step from the beginning, or fill in any gaps in their current abilities.  And this means they quickly hear themselves playing smooth, effortless music.  Click here to explore the option.[tk]

Music Theory: What is an A Chord?

Music theory is a tool that can help us better understand music. Theory explains how notes chords work together to create the music we know and love. 

Do we need to learn music theory?  No.  At least not as beginners. It’s more important to practice changing between chords and learning to use our hands on the guitar.  All the abstract background knowledge can come later, if desired.

If you are interested, in this section we’ll discuss the musical alphabet and the notes of the A chord.

 


The musical alphabet uses only the notes named A, B, C, D, E, F, and G.

These notes can be altered by raising or lowering the pitch. In music, we call this making a note sharp (raising) or flat (lowering).

 

find sharp keys

Sharps

find the key in flat keys music

Flats

  • On the guitar, we sharpen a note by moving one fret higher. 
  • To flatten a note, we move one fret lower.

In all, this gives us 12 notes.  These same 12 notes repeat going higher and/or lower.  Think of the same pattern of black notes (groups of two and three) repeating up the length of a piano. 

A piece of music rarely uses all 12 notes.  Instead, we limit the notes to a “key.”  A key in music is a unique collection of just 7 notes. 

The Key of A, for example, contains the notes

A  B  C#  D  E  F#  G#  A

This is the A major scale.  To create the A chord, we take the 1st, 3rd, and 5th notes from this group of notes.  

So the notes in the A major chord are A, C#, and E.

 

We can play these notes in any combination all over the fretboard. As long as we play these notes together, we are playing an A Major chord (or just “A chord”).

The most common version we see is the A major chord in the first position, which is the main topic of this page. This version has two A’s, two E’s, and one C#.

 

A major chord on guitar

A major chord

 

If you notice, the low E string (6th string) is also one of our notes in the A chord.  So we could include it in the strum and it would be correct.  But it tends to sound muddy, so we usually avoid it.  This also keeps the A (the root, or note the chord is named for) as the lowest note.  And this makes it sound more stable and complete. 

To learn more about the relationship between chords and scales, check out this article[tk]

 

Chords that sound good with the A major chord

The most common chords played with the A Major chord are:

  • D Major Chord
  • E Major Chord
  • E7 Chord
D major chord on guitar

D major chord

E major chord on guitar

E major chord

E7 chord on guitar

E7 chord

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Other chords that sound good with the A Major chord are: 

  • Bm
  • C#m
  • F#m
  • Dm
B minor chord on guitar

B minor chord

D minor (Dm) chord on guitar

D minor chord

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We can find notes to all these chords within the A major scale. The chords can appear in any order and for any duration, depending on the piece or song. 

One of the best skills we can learn as guitarists is how to switch quickly between chords.

Chord Progressions

A chord progression is one chord moving to another chord.  Most songs in western music follow a chord progression.

Chord progressions can have as little as 2 chords or many different chords.  

[A Major, D Major, A Major,  and E7 chords]

Here are two common chord progressions:

12 bar blues progression in A major

12 bar blues in A major

12 bar blues progression in A minor

12 bar blues in A minor

 

 

You can also create your own songs or pieces by putting together chords in any way you like.

 

Popular Pieces With the A Major Chord

The A chord appears in many songs and pieces of music. From Albeniz to Liszt, from ABBA to ZZ Top, the A chord is commonly used across time, culture, and genre. 

  • Wonderwall – Oasis
  • Violin Sonata No. 1 – Gabriel Faure
  • Someone Like You – Adele
  • Symphony No. 7 – Beethoven
  • Billie Jean – Michael Jackson
  • Foxy Lady – Jimi Hendrix
  • La Paloma – Sebastian Yradier
  • In My Life – The Beatles
  • Symphony No. 14 – Mozart
  • ABBA – Dancing Queen
  • Crazy Train – Ozzy Osbourne
  • White Christmas – Irving Berlin
  • September – Earth, Wind, and Fire
  • Piano Sonata No. 2 – Beethoven


Allen Mathews

Hi, I’m Allen Mathews. 


I started as a folk guitarist, then fell in love with classical guitar in my 20’s. Despite a lot of practice and schooling, I still couldn’t get my music to flow well. I struggled with excess tension. My music sounded forced. And my hands and body were often sore. I got frustrated, and couldn’t see the way forward. Then, over the next decade, I studied with two other stellar teachers – one focused on the technical movements, and one on the musical (he was a concert pianist). In time, I came to discover a new set of formulas and movements. These brought new life and vitality to my practice. Now I help guitarists find more comfort and flow in their music, so they play more beautifully.
Click here for a sample formula.





Become a Member and Play More, Beautifully!

“The basics are the basics, and you can’t beat the basics.”
Charles Poliquin

Join the program that takes you from the beginning fundamentals to advanced mastery, so you…1

Image
  • Move your hands safely and fluidly
  • Enjoy fulfilling practices and meaningful work
  • Play beautifully with expression and flow

Click the button to take a step towards an
organized, effective guitar practice. >>>