3 Guitar Chords Every Man Should Know

by Brett on March 19, 2010 · 64 comments

in Hobbies, Travel & Leisure

Leadbelly playing his 12 string guitar

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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.

“Hey Pa?”

“Yeah, Ope.”

“Can you play ‘What I Got’ by Sublime?”

“Sure thing, Ope.”

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

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.

{ 64 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Andy March 19, 2010 at 12:37 am

Guitar is such an amazing instrument. I’ve been playiing for 7 years and picking up a guitar has been the best decision of my life

2 Raj March 19, 2010 at 12:38 am

Even though I knew how to play all these three chords, I didn’t know I can play so many songs just through them. Thanks for enlightening me!

3 Carlos March 19, 2010 at 12:40 am

I have like 1 week with my guitar anyone have tips to help me?

4 Playstead March 19, 2010 at 12:58 am

Love this article. My son has been playing and I wasn’t sure which of the three major cords he needed to know. Now I do. Do a drum article next because if you know 4/4 time you can play most rock songs.

5 BB March 19, 2010 at 1:10 am

Great advice, though for left-handers, not quite as practical on the fingering instructions maybe?

6 Josh Rush March 19, 2010 at 1:25 am

Great article. However, substituting G for Em is kind of like using a standard wrench on a metric nut…

Why not just learn Em? It’s actually easier to play than G, C, or D. And if you want to round out your arsenal, learn Am too. 5 Chords to rule them all.

  Em
======
| | | | | |
———
| • • | | |
———
| | | | | |

7 John March 19, 2010 at 1:31 am

For Carlos, my thoughts are don’t quit and practice as often as you can. Find simple songs in a style you enjoy and play for others. Learn chord progressions, then scales and modes will make more sense. Look for The Chord Wheel to help you write your own songs and have fun. I’ve been playing for a long time too and it just gets more rewarding.

8 andrew March 19, 2010 at 2:10 am

whil it may be a necessity to play a couple chords on guitar, it’s definitely not as impressive as it used to be. I’d say about 75% of people I know play. there are more people who roll their eyes than open them wide if you say you can play. this is still a good post and most of what it says is true. just not making it sound so “cool.” pick up an instrument very few people know how to play. even something as simple as an ukulele-which is easier than guitar. that’ll impress girls much more. also, you won’t have to compete with so many other over-anxious men for command of the room. all that pride they have pent up will be shattered before your manly and obscure musical skills.

9 Aaron Dale March 19, 2010 at 6:53 am

This is so true. I never studied guitar, but my father taught me these three chords when I was a kid, and I can use them to play tons of simple songs. Since then I’ve really only picked up a couple of other chords….don’t play much, but it’s fun to bang out a song occasionally. IMO, still slightly impressive, though I agree that fewer people care when you mention it.

10 Evan March 19, 2010 at 7:26 am

@Carlos: find things you can’t play, then play them until you can. Repeat to infinity..

11 Robert March 19, 2010 at 8:21 am

@ Carlos

Here is a good spot to glean some beginner guitar tips:

http://artofmanliness.com/2010/03/19/3-guitar-chords-every-man-should-know/

cheers

12 Dee Lauderdale March 19, 2010 at 9:10 am

Great article. I’ve been playing a long time and have never been able to master bar chords, so these three are my favorite. Also, you can play most of the Lynyrd Skynyrd collection with these three plus KISS and a ton of other bands.

13 Kyle Triplett March 19, 2010 at 9:40 am

Great article. I play guitar, mandolin, dobro, and BANJO!!! Check out http://www.bankesterfamily.com. We have a music video out and sample clips of our recordings and are touring mainly in the midwest but are branching to the east coast and towards the west as well. Well written article, great advice, and always, always, always keep on playing. God bless…

14 Doug Rekenthaler March 19, 2010 at 9:51 am

After multiple failed attempts to learn guitar, I finally picked up one and started playing at 45 and six months later I (along with more accomplished friend, lead guitarist for Eddie From Ohio) serenaded my wife at our wedding. Talk about feeling like a man. One recommendation for anyone considering guitar: Don’t play it for ego, play it for the simple beauty of the way a G sounds in conjunction to an A, etc. Play it for the LOVE of it. That’s what finally got me over the hump.

15 TTTimo March 19, 2010 at 10:20 am

One other benefit of playing guitar: It gives you tough manly finger tips. Good for handling hot plates.

16 Jacob M March 19, 2010 at 10:28 am

Good post, because it recognizes music doesn’t have to be complicated to be good. One of my favorite Bob Dylan quotes kind of says it all–”All I’ve got is a red guitar, three chords and the truth”.

As far as the fact that more and more people know guitar, well, I’d just say that’s evidence that more and more people are recognizing the usefulness of such a skill, making this all the more appropriate a time to unplug the xbox and plug in the amp.

17 Mr Miyagi March 19, 2010 at 10:36 am

I’ve been learning to play on and off for several years and could never get the hang of using a pick to strum chords. It just feels so unnatural. Everything I play is finger picked and strummed.

18 Ammon March 19, 2010 at 10:42 am

Here are some other GCD songs: “You Shook Me All Night Long” by AC/DC, “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” by The Beatles, and “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away” also by The Beatles.

19 Joseph Alcorn March 19, 2010 at 12:28 pm

I have been using a great site for the past 10+ years, http://www.wholenote.com

Wholenote is a great community for guitar players, no matter your experience level.

There are tons of lessons, some great, some crap, but the majority are pretty decent.
There is also a “groove builder” that lets you build chord runs to back yourself as you play.

20 Brian March 19, 2010 at 12:32 pm

Don’t forget Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door, Johnny Be Good, Old Apartment by the Barenaked Ladies (with a capo), and What a Good Boy by the Barenaked Ladies.

21 talesfromthepunchbowl March 19, 2010 at 12:40 pm

Really good article, I can completely agree with everything that was said. Guitar (or any instrument for that matter) provides a really nice balance in life (whether you spend your days in front of a computer or mountain biking). My only criticism would be some references to the dreaded “style life” system (I’m not sure if these were intentional). Terms like “peacocking” and “commanding the room” for the sole purpose of gaining short term female companionship. Every potential gentleman I have ever met who has subscribed to the ‘styelife’ way has become a social reject and general dick to the people around them(that being said they do get their one night stands, but lack relationships in all forms).

So play guitar not to get the ladies, but beacuse its something that betters yourself and rounds off life. Getting women is a side effect, a very desirable side effect.

22 Tom March 19, 2010 at 12:57 pm

I just started playing 2 weeks ago and had my first formal lesson on Monday. Thanks for a great article.

23 Chris Hayes March 19, 2010 at 1:26 pm

@andrew

For the most part, I agree. Playing chords isn’t as astounding as it might have been a decade ago.

I have the great fortune of playing classical style guitar music (Dionisio Aguado, Legnani, Isaac Albeniz, to name a few composers), though. It is much much harder, yes. But I’ve never had somebody yawn when I finished up a song. ;) And I’m not even that good.

I’d suggest learning Pink Floyd’s “Is There Anybody Out There?”, if you want an introduction to classical style. It’s relatively easy, and based almost entirely around Am & C finger placements. BUT – put down your pick, and learn to use your right hand fingers, too. It gives you a *lot* more flexibility in what you can play.

24 Anon March 19, 2010 at 3:24 pm

As a left hander I’ve been in great conflict all these years as whether or not I should learn to play proudly as a lefty or succumb to this right handed dominated world and play right handed.

It doesn’t help that I learned to play Guitar Hero and the like right handed. I am somewhat ambidextrous but still.

25 andrew March 19, 2010 at 4:28 pm

@ chris hayes i 100% agree with you there. i guess i was thinking pretty narrow mindedly in the regard that anyone from middle school boys to yacht owners can strum a couple chords. fingerpicking is a completely different animal – and as skeptical as i sounded in my last post, i’m completely blown away by classical/flamenco/fingerstyle playing.

also, for anyone else out there that owns an iphone or ipod touch: do yourself a favour and download “Guitar Toolkit.” it’s $10, but it has a surprisingly accurate tuner for 6&12 strong guitar, 4, 5, 6 string bass, bajo, mandolin, and ukulele. there are also complete chord charts for each, scales, and a “Chord finder” where you list the tabs and it tells you what the chord is called. it is one of the few thins in this modern world that make me happy we are where we are.

26 Sean F GLass March 19, 2010 at 4:51 pm

Nice article- although, I would think that anyone who is even an extreme beginner will know how to play those chords; and someone who knows nothing about guitar might just be confused :P

Love the picture from the Andy Griffith show- the lovely Joanna Moore (former wife of Ryan O’Neal) actually sang in that scene, quite beautifully too. ;-P

27 Michael Collins March 19, 2010 at 6:03 pm

Real guitar is way funner than video games

28 Michael Collins March 19, 2010 at 6:03 pm

just a thought there

29 Bernie March 19, 2010 at 6:35 pm

I think for a nice round basis to pretend you play guitar: go with all eight of what we call the “cowboy chords.”

C / G / D / E / A / Em / Dm / Am

As you can see, these three chords get you into them, but you learn all these and you can just strum ‘em at random and croon to yr heart’s content.

30 Andy B March 19, 2010 at 9:07 pm

It’s common practice to substitute Em in folk songs like “Lonesome Rod Blues” to make them sound a little more interesting for modern tastes, however, if you go to an old time or bluegrass jam, leave those minor chord substitutes at home.

31 Lucius March 19, 2010 at 9:33 pm

Dang, I saw “every man should know” and I was expecting something more challenging beyond G / C / D. How about a manly Bminor7flat5?

Just kidding. Nicely done article. The guitar was the babe magnet of my youth and source of a ton of great memories. It opens doors and creates smiles.

32 Zach B March 19, 2010 at 11:06 pm

@Josh Rush: I loved the “5 chords to rule them all” line. Well played, sir.

Excellent article. The acoustic guitar made my college experience a ton more fun. Most of the guys on my dorm floor played and we were instantly friends. The girls from the ladies wing were always asking me to play in the lobby. The guitar has brought me nothing but joy.

I love this site. Thank you for so many quality articles.

33 G March 20, 2010 at 12:44 am

Gibson Guitars has an awesome free iPhone app that is both interesting and useful. The guitar has been a great stress reliever for me. Learning it makes my brain grow and it has opened my eyes to a whole world of great live performances that were unknown to me before I started playing. Those are great for dates too.

34 Dan March 20, 2010 at 1:30 am

When I bought my guitar I swore I would never learn “More than Words” or any of the other women wooing songs the posers play. Its not like they are that hard, but you automatically get the eye-roll effect someone above talked about. Do it ’cause you love it. Otherwise your just a fake, and when she asks you to play another, your screwed.

35 Jack March 20, 2010 at 1:44 am

Em isn’t a difficult chord to play… just learn it, dude.

36 Dre March 20, 2010 at 2:02 pm

For the electric guitar it’s even easier; a three note power chord can be played at almost any fret. Add an overdriven amp, a minimum foot stance of 24″ (upto 36″ if you want to play punk) and an epic truckload of rock is yours…

37 Alex March 21, 2010 at 6:43 pm

Great article, although Em is definitely a fundamental chord to learn, and it is easy enough.

One thing worth mentioning, however, is that you displayed a chord chart, whereas tablature looks more like this:

I—6-5-3—————————————————–I
I————6-5-3——————————————–I
I———————-5-4-2———————————-I
I——————————-5-4-2————————-I
I—————————————-5-4-2—————-I
I————————————————-5-4-2——-I

(F# Minor Scale)

38 guitar failure guy March 21, 2010 at 9:07 pm

That’s all well and cool, but you don’t mention how hard it is to learn to change finger positions and how all these tablatures don’t actually show how to play the song on the right hand… guitar learning is extremely frustrating

39 Keith March 22, 2010 at 12:44 am

Discovered this site only recently.Good stuff, sent the link to some mates. Know the ’5 to rule them all’ and the ‘cowboy cords’. Any suggestions with these in the song be very welcome.

40 xkungpowx March 22, 2010 at 2:21 pm

I just want to point out: That pic of Woody Guthrie is badass. That along with the classic Johnny Cash giving the finger are two of my all-time favorite icon-photos.

41 Schneiderdn March 22, 2010 at 6:03 pm

Purchased my first accoustic guitar four months ago and started the free beginner lessons at JustinGuitar two days later: http://www.justinguitar.com/en/BC-000-BeginnersCourse.php — I’m amazed at how much I’ve been able to learn in such a short amount of time. Justin’s course is easy to manage (learn and practice in stages) and he has organized it in a way that makes learning easy. Four months in and I already feel confortable playing 13 chords, including barre chord F. Highly recommended for anyone just starting out.

42 Tyler Logan March 23, 2010 at 4:43 am

Nice post! I was actually surprised. I wasn’t expecting to be so interested, I’ll have to check out guitar more. I’ve never really given it any thought until now.

43 Kevin Newcomb March 23, 2010 at 9:11 am

Nice post. My son saw a guitar at a tag sale when he was 5, and decided he had to go home and bust open his piggy bank to buy it. He mostly just rocks out with it, but when he’s ready to actually play something, this will help me guide him in the right direction.

One thing: in your description of playing the G chord, you transpose the description of the middle and ring fingers.

So it should read:
According to the diagram, our second (or 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 ring) finger presses down on the high E on the third fret.

Other than that, great job. Thanks for another great article on manliness.

44 Bruce Williamson March 23, 2010 at 10:36 am

How do you read the tablatures for the song in the links? The tabs and tablature are used interchangeably in the article. They’re not the same thing.

45 Bruce Williamson March 23, 2010 at 5:29 pm

@Anon Both Jimmie Hendrix and Paul McCartney are left handed and play(ed) left handed. Hope that helps.

46 matt Brown March 25, 2010 at 9:25 am

although i do love the site, and this article was a decent one. I must point out the recent trend of EVERYTHING on this site to be about getting girls. is that all being a man is about? “chasing tail”? i am looking to buy a guitar and learn some classical style playing, but not to get chicks… to learn the guitar. it seems like everytime there is a good idea for an article, the writers throw in a couple lines about “this will impress the ladies” or “chicks dig it”… that is not what being a man is all about. so something for the love of it, not the chance to get some poon

47 Gabe March 25, 2010 at 9:56 am

I can believe no one has mentioned the following GCD songs:
Louie, Louie by The Kingsmen
Wild Thing by The Troggs (Hendrix version maybe too, not sure. I’m a drummer.)
Blitzkrieg Bop by The Ramones (technically GCD but as “Power Chords.” You could class it up with the real chords.)

48 Steve March 25, 2010 at 1:17 pm

I’ve played guitar for 48 years now and have never quit. My tip for Carlos is to practice, practice, practice. Also get yourself a simple chord book or chart. My grand father showed me these 3 chords and told me I was on my own. I was 5 years old then.

49 Sam M March 27, 2010 at 6:27 am

In terms of picking essential 3 guitar chords – E Major, A Major and B Major sound more masculine to me than G,C,D. e.g., Framing in terms of an SAT like question – Johnny Cash is to John Denver what the key of E Major is to G Major. Just my take!

50 Brighton Peer March 28, 2010 at 5:42 am

@ Sam M

No doubt the key of E Major is a more manly set of notes, but G does suggest a more ‘trust-worthy’ and ‘reliable’ set of tones, compared to the animalistic ravages of E

I would suggest learning both to express all the qualties a women look for in men.

Another top tip would be to tune the guitar down one semi-tone and play the chords in the same poistion, this again will only add to the gruffness of your sound, it ,may even shed an appeal of fractured genius to certain women, the type of women that looked at Kurt Cobain and thought ‘I want to ween you off herion, by puttin your head between my breasts’

For further tips please look to aquire my book ” 3 Chords and She’s Yours”

ps Unfortunatly I’m still pending a publisher

51 Josh E March 30, 2010 at 1:43 pm

To make it even easier, use the Cadd9 and Dsus4 versions of the C and D chords.

G 320033
Cadd9 x32030 or x32033
Dsus4 xx0233

You can basically leave your pinky and ring finger in the same position and play all three of these chords.

52 Ryan April 1, 2010 at 9:50 pm

Thanks a lot for this post. It finally made me pick up that guitar (which my brother should be learning, as it IS his…) and whack out them chords. Within the first two days I’m playing some decent songs, although I have years of experience playing bass guitar. Brown Eyed Girl is another song you can play with these three chords, along with an added, simple minor chord.

53 ProFuzz April 30, 2010 at 1:22 pm

Yes, you are right… every man should know these 3 simple chords, even those who have nothing to deal with music!

54 Chris May 28, 2010 at 10:18 am

I would caution that the guy who takes a guitar to a party and makes everyone listen is called a “Jerk”. It took me a long time to realize I was showing off rather than making a positive contribution.

If it’s your turn with the bottle, take one swig and pass it on. If it’s your turn with the guitar, do your thing then play hot potato.

55 boomer babe June 14, 2010 at 9:12 pm

I believe it’s called the’ three chord trick’—-you can also play A, D and E (different key) many hymns have those chords (Amazing Grace) it is officialy called –tonic or I , subdominant or IV(that would be D) or dominant V or E. It also fits the pentatonic scale (black keys on piano) maybe, G, C and D is better for male voices.—sometimes, I write too much. I love music theory!

56 boomer babe June 14, 2010 at 9:28 pm

You lefties shouldn’t try to play right handed, just put the strings on in reverse….they even have chord charts in reverse…if you play the electric guitar, it’s a ‘chick magnet’ plus it’s good bonding with your teenage son 10 TIMES BETTER THAN VIDEO GAMES

57 Jevex November 27, 2012 at 5:12 pm

This has been an interesting thread. I wanted to play guitar all my life, and finally got the chance to start at age 58. I’m just shy of 60, now, and the music I can make has been a source of joy and relaxation to me. When I get in a funky mood, I go and pick up the guitar and play for half an hour or so, and I’m back to normal – or, at least, what passes for normal, for me.

With regard to the open G chord. Might I suggest that you try fingering it with your ring finger on the low E string, your second finger on the A string, your pinky on the high E string, and your index finger just hanging out doing nothing. It may sound a bit strange, but it makes it really easy to move from G to C whenever that’s called for in a song. Less finger movement in the change.

58 Leon February 7, 2013 at 12:44 am

I still dont get it and i have a talent show i have to attend in 2 months and stil hadnet learned anything! and ive been on many sites and i dont know how to do this song called “As Long As You Love Me” by justin bieber the acoustic version everyone is telling me to play it since we were all forced to go to the talent show. Anyone help me? :(

59 Ron March 3, 2013 at 7:10 pm

Yes, G C D is used by so many rock, country, and folk songs. It is very versatile, sounds great on both acoustic and electric guitars. Use a pick AND finger pick to add spice to your songs. Brian Setzer and Billy Gibbons do a lot of that ..you can to !!

60 MustacheMike March 20, 2013 at 12:04 pm

As someone who has taught guitar, the number one reason for giving up is pain. Learning the guitar hurts (fingertips, muscles in the hand and forearm). The second biggest reason is wrong expectations. You aren’t going to sound good today. Or tomorrow. It will likely be a few weeks before you sound good.

61 Honest Injun September 8, 2013 at 6:39 pm

re: Bernie’s eight cowboy chords. It surprises me that a cowboy could get by without F Major.

62 easog October 24, 2013 at 7:45 am

Bit late to the conversation I know but…

@Anon March 19, 2010
I’m a lefty who learnt to play right handed because lefty guitars were as rare arocking horse droppings and prohibitively expensive when I was a kid.
I find it works to my advantage.
OK. You are a little bit less dexterous with your strumming hand (but its a new skill so you can do it) but the trade off is you are far more dexertrous over the frets.
IIRC Mark Knopfler cites this as a reason as to why is so damned good and can fret and bend multiple strings as part of his unique style.
I would also say throw in an Am and you can rule the world. Check out the Axis of Awesome on Youtube who explain how (on a work PC so YT is blocked – I can’t link to it directly

63 harmonious December 11, 2013 at 8:33 pm

I’m just in the process of learning and have been studying like crazy! So excited for my good friend ROCKSTAR to teach me. Thanks for the great info for a starter like myself!

64 Anthemofadam January 3, 2014 at 1:22 am

I made a couple of videos on youtube showing how to exploit this little guitar chord hack, though I use a different C chord to make things easier. This one’s pretty popular: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yobMYWK0rzY

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