Why Learn Guitar Chords – Bonus Material

Related to Why (and How) to Learn Guitar Chords


Guitar Chord Resources – This packet includes diagrams of the basic “Cowboy Chords,” chord pictures, and Chords That Play Nice Together.

If you need help reading the grids, there is a quick primer on this page.

For more on how to efficiently practice switching between chords (a crucial skill), see this post.

Also, here are videos on each of the most common chords.

Bonus Content:

How Different Music Styles Use Guitar Chords

Music is built around chords. But different music styles use chords differently. Let’s take a birds-eye look at how some styles use chords.

Folk and pop

Folk and pop music guitarists use simple chords and basic chord progressions (a chord progression is a string of chords). This may be a generalization, but it’s true more times than not.  The main focus is generally on the words.  If you’re playing guitar mainly just to accompany your voice, learn guitar chords and a simple strum and you are on your way. It’s this low barrier to entry that makes the guitar the most popular instrument on the planet.


Jazz guitarists use more complex chords and chord progressions. These are often elaborations of similar chord progressions that other music (like folk and pop) use.

In fact, chords are one of the main areas of focus for jazz guitarists. Where classical guitarists pour gallons of sweat and tears into technique, balance, and tone control, jazz guitarists pour theirs into learning chord and scale shapes.

These more complex chords are often based on the “cowboy” chords, and jazz musicians generally learn these first, before delving into the vast body of jazz chords.

Heavy Metal

Heavy metal guitarists use generally the same framework and chord progressions, though they often get very elaborate with their use of music theory while composing and the results can be very complex like jazz and classical.  (If you never made it past the general aesthetic of heavy metal, you may be surprised at how intellectual it can get.  Though some of it is still just noise and attitude.)

They frequently use (often virtuosic) scale passages to outline chord progressions instead of actually playing every chord.  This makes sense because, with the guitar so distorted, regular guitar chords sound muddy and dissonant.  But even so, any good guitarist in any style will learn guitar chords, then expand on that learning.

Most people don’t realize this, but many of the best and most popular heavy metal guitarists are trained classical guitarists as well. (Who knew?)  It makes sense, really, as to play so fast with so much precision and clarity (and not hurt yourself), it helps to have some classical training.

Classical Guitar

Classical guitarists intertwine chords and scales to create different textures.

Often the musical focus is on a melody line, but we have to make chord shapes in our hands to be able to play the melody notes, bass notes, and interior harmony all at the same time.

Because it is written out on paper, and so much is going on at once, it can be easy to miss the chord shapes in our hands, even if we’re playing just a regular old “cowboy” chord.

[definition: I like to call the open position chords “cowboy chords.” (I didn’t coin this term, though I wish I had.)  The reason for this name is that these are the basic chords that use open strings and make up the bulk of Americana, country, bluegrass, and other traditional music of the United States. The chords have been around for centuries, but as an American, this is where I see these chords most used.  I also just like the name.]

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.

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