Understanding Christian Guitar Chords
Christian music, like all music, is based upon melody, chords and rhythm. Chords form the vertical bed of sound on which the melody rides. As a guitarist, you need to be able to play and understand the Christian guitar chords that are used to create Christian music. This short guide introduces you to guitar chords and what you need to know to use them in Christian music.
In this post I am going to look at thee key concepts to understanding Christian Guitar Chords:
Our Ultimate Guide to Understanding Worship Chords explains chords in more depth and applies it to the piano, vocalist and guitar.
What Christian Guitar Chords Do I Need to Know?
When learning guitar, it is always easiest to begin with the chords that use open strings. The good news is that you can play almost all Christian music without the use of barre chords. In fact, you can play most music (Christian or secular) by learning only 6 major chords and 6 minor chords and then using a capo to play the other keys.
Key of G
Each key in music has only 3 major and 3 minor chords that you need to know. I recommend that you start with the key of G. The chords you need to learn, in order of importance, for the key of G are: G, D, C, Em, Am, Bm.
There are two ways to play the G chord. The second one leads nicely to an alternate version of the C chord and is used when you need to switch between the G and the C chord a lot in a song. It is optional but can make playing in the key of G a little easier with certain songs.
I recommend learning the Dsus chord in addition to the D chord because it is relatively common in the key of G. Notice how similar the two chords are to each other.
There are two ways to play the C chord. The Cadd9 version (the 2nd diagram below) can be used in the key of G to replace any C chord. It has a little more color than the C chord and leads very easily to the Alternate G chord (2nd G chord) above. It is an optional chord, but many people like how it feels and sounds. Notice how similar in shape it is to the Alternate G Chord.
The Em chord is one of the easiest chords to play.
The Am chord can be played either with or without the 7th. Anytime you see an Am chord you can play the 7th chord in its place if you wish, with the exception of the key of A minor where it is best to stick to the Am chord. I recommend learning both. Notice how similar the two chords are to each other.
The last chord you need to learn in the key of G is the Bm chord. The standard Bm chord is a barre chord so I recommend learning the Bm7. You can play a Bm7 any place you see a Bm chord except in the key of B minor.
Use these four progressions to practice in the key of G
- G C D G
- G Em C D G
- G C Bm Em Am D G
- G C Dsus C G - Try playing this progression using the alternate G and Cadd9
Key of D
The second key to learn is D. To play in the key of D you only need to learn two more Christian guitar chords: A and F#m.
The A chord is very similar to the am chord and simple to learn. I recommend also learning the sus version.
The F#m chord is easiest to learn as a F#m7 chord. You can play an F#m7 any place you see an F#m chord except in the key of F# minor, which is an extremely rare key in modern music. Notice that the F#m7 chord is an A chord with a different bass note.
Use these three progressions to practice in the key of D
- D G A D
- D Bm G A D
- D G F#m Bm Em A D
Key of A
The third key to learn is A. To play in the key of A, once again you only need to learn two more Christian guitar chords: E and C#m.
The E chord is very similar to the Em chord. As in the other keys, I recommend learning the sus version also.
The C#m chord is a barre chord so I recommend learning the C#m7 chord. You can play a C#m7 any place you see an C#m chord except in the key of C# minor, which is an extremely rare key in modern music. If you know your power chords you may notice that the C#m7 chord uses the same shape as the 3 string power chord.
Use these three progressions to practice in the key of A
- A D E A
- A F#m D E A
- A D C#m F#m Bm E A
Key of C
The final key is C. The two new chords to learn for the key of C are F and Dm. I also recommend learning the Gsus to complete your knowledge of suspended chords on the 5th scale degree (suspended dominant chords).
The F chord is the only barre chord you need to learn. The first version uses a partial barre and is easier to play than the second which uses a full barre.
The Dm chord can be played either as a Dm or Dm7. As is true with all of the minor chords, you can play the Dm7 any place you see the Dm chord except in the key of D minor.
By learning the Gsus you will now know all of the chords you need to play in the Keys of G, D, A and C.
Use these three progressions to practice in the key of C.
- C F G C
- C Am F G C
- C F Em Am Dm G C
Now learn to use a Capo and you can easily play in every key!
What Advanced Christian Guitar Chords Should I learn?
2 Chords, also known as sus2 chords, are a very simple way to add some extra color or movement to your chords. The D2 and A2 are very easy to play. Use the D2 and A2 as replacements for the D and A chord when you want a more "earthy" sound. It is also fun to go between the 2 chord and the major chord to add some movement within the same chord.
Try it out with these progressions:
- D2 A2 Em A2 D2
- D2 D | A2 A
There are three types of 7th chords that you should know: the minor 7th, the dominant 7th and the major 7th.
Most of the minor 7th chords have already been included in the first section, "What Christian Guitar Chords Do I Need to Know?" I recommend starting with the Am7, Bm7, Em7, F#m7, C#m7, Dm7. The only one that we haven't looked at is the Em7.
Dominant 7th chords were very common Christian guitar chords but they now tend to sound dated and are rarely used in modern worship music. Still, I think every guitarist should be familiar with them because they are used a lot in older music and jazz. A dominant 7th chord is the 7th chord built on the 5th scale degree of the key. It will always be a major triad with a minor seventh. I recommend starting with the G7, D7, A7 and E7.
The Major 7th chords are somewhat rare in modern worship music, but can add a nice jazz flavor to your music. I recommend starting with the F, C, G, D and A chords. Notice that some of the Major 7th chords are easier to play than the major chords.
Learning to play the correct bass allows you to accompany with only your guitar and still capture the correct chords in their correct inversions. The key to playing slash chords is to make sure that the correct note - the note to the right of the slash - is the lowest sounding note in your chord. To do this you will need to know the names of the notes for at least the first 5 frets on strings 4-6 (the lowest sounding strings.)
Are the Chords Different for Acoustic Versus Electric Guitar?
The following chords are good for every guitarist to know, but they are much more important for the electric guitarist in a worship band.
Power chords are useful for the acoustic guitar player but essential for the electric guitar player. Any time you play with heavy distortion you should use power chords. The nice thing about power chords is that there are only 2 shapes: the 3 string version and the 2 string version. You can use the 3 string power chord on strings 5 and 6 (the two lowest sounding strings). You can use the 2 string power chord on strings 4-6.
Power chords, like barre chords are moveable chord shapes and require a thorough knowledge of the pitch names on the lower sounding strings (strings 4-6). The examples above would be the F and Bb power chords, respectively.
Barre chords are much easier to play on electric than acoustic guitar. If you know your barre chords then you don't need to use a capo. Barre chords are moveable chord shapes and you should know at least the major, minor and suspended versions using the E and A shape. It is also good to know the dominant and minor 7th barre chords.
The above diagrams show barre chords in 1st position (the 1st fret). Like power chords, you will need to know the names of the notes on the lower sounding strings in order to play them.
Upper Range Chords
The best electric guitarists know how to play chords in the higher range so that they can add some higher color when necessary and stay out of the range of the acoustic rhythm guitarist.
Gain in depth understanding of Christian guitar chords through our Guitar class. This course is part of our worship leader training programs and is available most terms:
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