Leadbelly playing his 12 string guitar
So you can get a perfect score on “Free Bird” in Guitar Hero? Besides your twelve year old cousin, who do you think that’s going to impress? Instead of wasting your time with pretend guitar, start learning how to play the real deal. The guitar is a skill that will provide you and those around you years of enjoyment. And chicks dig guys who play guitar. Always have, always will.
The guitar has a way of showing up at parties and campfires, and it often gets passed around so people who know how to play can strum out some tunes while everyone sings along. Instead of passing it on to the next dude, why not hold on to it and bust out a song of your own? Getting a group of people to sing a song while you provide the accompaniment is an easy way to command a room like a man.
But what if you’ve never played the guitar? What chords should a man know, so when the opportunity arises to “peacock,” he won’t be left looking like a turkey?
For the answer, I went to my best friend, Andrew Bays. Andrew has been playing guitar and other stringed instruments for most his life. He currently crafts handmade guitars at Collings Guitars in Austin, TX and plays banjo in the bluegrass band, Flatcar Rattlers. You can listen to some samples of their music here.
The Three Essential Guitar Chords
According to my bud, Andy B, the three guitar chords every man should know are G C D.
“You can play darn near anything with those chords (save Taylor Swift songs, cause they always have that dramatic teenage girl angst minor chord thrown in).”
Not only can you play darn near anything with these chords, they’re super simple to play.
Below we provide the guitar tablature, or tabs, for the G C D chords and an explanation on how to read the tab for the uninitiated.
There they are. Now what the heck do they mean?
How to Read Guitar Tabs
Guitar tabs are diagrams of a guitar neck as if we were looking at an upright guitar. That top dark horizontal line represents the nut. The nut is at the top of a guitar and is usually made of plastic, metal, or even bone.
The other horizontal lines represent the first four guitar frets. Frets are those horizontal lines that go down the neck of your guitar.
The six vertical lines represent the six strings on your guitar. The string on the far left is the 6th string, or low E, and the string on the far right is the 1st string, or high E. Here’s a diagram of the strings and their respective names.
Alright, so far so good.
Note how on the chord diagrams, there are some “X’s” and “O’s.”
When a string has an “X” over it, it means you don’t strum that string when you play the chord.
When a string has an “O” above it, it means you play that string open with no fingers pressing down on the string.
Finally, we can get to what those numbers mean. The numbers indicate what fingers you’ll be using to press down on the string and where you should press down.
So, we’ll use the G chord as our example.
According to the diagram, our second (middle) finger will press down on the low E string on the third fret; our first (or pointer) finger presses down on the A string on the second fret; the B C D strings are played open, and finally our third (or middle) finger presses down on the high E on the third fret.
Your fingers should look like this on your guitar. Note that when you press down on the string, you don’t press down on the metal fret, but rather just above it.
Picture of G Chord
Go through that same process with the other two chords. Practice positioning your fingers so that it becomes almost natural. When you strum, a clear tone should come out. In the beginning, you might have some muffled noises, but keep practicing until you get it.
Watch these videos to see and hear the chords in action.
13 Songs You Can Play with the G C D Guitar Chords
So you know how to play the G C and D chords. What songs can you play with them?
A crap load.
A surprising number of popular songs use only these three chords. Here’s just a few Andrew could think of off the top of his head along with links to the lyrics and chord progressions. You can bust out any of these songs at a party and be the man of the hour. Or you can play them when you’re sitting on the porch at night with Opie and a lovely lady.
“Can you play ‘What I Got’ by Sublime?”
“Sure thing, Ope.”
- “Undone the Sweater Song” by Weezer (The Blue Album was the soundtrack of my youth)
- “Ring of Fire” by Johnny Cash
- “What I Got” by Sublime (Just uses G and D chords)
- “You Shook Me All Night Long” by AC/DC
- “Leaving on a Jet Plane” by John Denver (Always good to pull out for your girlfriend when you’re going on a trip)
- “Sweet Home Alabama” by Lynyrd Skynyrd (There’s an F chord thrown in the “Boo hoo hoo” part, but other then that it’s all GCD)
If pop songs aren’t your thing, many of our beloved bluegrass, blues, and folk music use the G C D guitar chords as well.
The Guitar: Lady and Fascist Killer Since 1935
- “Will the Circle Be Unbroken”
- “Roll in My Sweet Baby’s Arms” (Tab says you should play D7, but you can substitute a D)
- “This Land is Your Land”
- “Amazing Grace” (Tab says you should play an Em, but you can play G in its place)
- “The Wabash Cannonball”
- “Nine Pound Hammer” (You can substitute the C7 Chord with a regular C)
- “Lonesome Road Blues” (You can substitute Em with G)
In addition to these great songs, you can use G C D to improvise some ditties as well. I always liked to give rap songs the G C D treatment. “Ice Ice Baby” never sounded so good.
Now that you know the G C D chords and a few songs that you can play with them, it’s time to drop that plastic Guitar Hero controller, pick up a real guitar, and start strumming out some tunes.
Rock n’ roll gentlemen.