In this article, we’re going to take a look at the C Major chord. The open C chord shape (along with the A, G, E, and D major chord shapes) is one of the five foundational chord shapes in guitar. We’re going to examine how to play this popular chord along with a few variations so you can start playing some of the most popular songs in music history.
How to Play the C Chord on Guitar
Let’s take a look at how to play one of the most frequently used chords in guitar playing. In fact, it’s used so often that it is often referred to as the C “shape.”
Here’s how to play it:
Index finger on the 1st fret of the B (2nd) string
Middle finger on the 2nd fret of the D (4th) string
Ring finger on the 3rd fret of the A (5th) string
Strum five strings down from the A string.
If you happen to strum that low E string, don’t worry about it. That note is still part of the C major chord (C-E-G). As you get more comfortable playing it you should be able to mute the 6th string with the edge of your ring finger.
Another way to play the C chord is in the 3rd position. The chord starts with the bass note on the 3rd fret, which is why this is called the 3rd position, and iIt takes a different finger placement up the neck of your guitar.
Here’s how to play a barred C chord in the 3rd position:
Index finger on the 3rd fret of the A (5th) string
Middle finger on the 5th fret of the D (4th) string
Ring finger on the 5th fret of the G (3rd) string
Pinky finger on the 5th fret of the B (2nd) string
Strum four strings down from the A string.
Passing the Barre
A somewhat more challenging way to play C major is by using a barre chord in the 8th position. They are called barre chords (or bar chord) because you use one finger to press down on multiple strings.
The other version has a different form that starts on the 8th fret. Here’s how to play the C barre chord in the 8th position:
Index finger: 8th fret of the low E (6th) string
Index finger: 8th fret of the B (2nd) string
Index finger: 8th fret of the E (1st) string
Ring finger: 10th fret of the A (5th) string
Pinky finger: 10th fret of the D (4th) string
Strum 6 strings down from the low E string
C Chord Variation for the Acoustic Players
There’s one more version worth looking at that works great on the acoustic guitar: Cadd9. It’s played like this:
Index finger: 2nd fret of the D (4th) string
Middle finger: 3rd fret of the A (5th) string
Ring finger: 3rd fret of the B (2nd) string
Pinky finger: 3rd fret of the E (1st) string
Notice anything about this version? It looks almost exactly like the G Major open chord version except the middle finger and index finger have each moved down one string. C and G chords are frequently played in the same chord progression, so if you substitute the Cadd9 for a C Major chord you can switch between a C and G with almost no finger movement. Plus, playing a Cadd9 sounds a little fancier than a regular C.
Which Version Should You Play?
The reason for learning more than one form of the same chord is to give yourself different tonal options and to minimize movement around the neck. Compare the C open version versus the barred version on the 8th fret. Even though they are built on the same notes, the tone isn’t quite the same. The open version uses open strings, so it sounds a bit warmer and rings out longer. The barred version sounds higher and thinner.
Having options also reduces movement. You don’t want to jump around the neck constantly. If a C chord follows a G chord in the progression, you don’t want to play an open G and then move up to the 8th position to play the C. Because the C open version is so close to the G open version it makes more sense to minimize your finger movements.
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Songs that Use the C Chord
It should come as no surprise that since the C chord is one of the five major chord shapes that it would show up in a lot of songs. You may not be aware of it, but you’ve heard this chord countless times. Here’s a short list of songs that feature the C chord:
Several classic pop songs make use of the C chord, including the international hit Dream Baby by Roy Orbinson and the standard, Daydream Believer by the Monkees.
A more recent example includes the mega-hit "Viva La Vida" by Coldplay.
One of the most well-known country songs of all time, "Ring of Fire" by Johnny Cash, uses the C chord prominently.
Now that you have the C shape stored in your chord bank, it’s time to start tackling some of the other foundational shapes.
If you'd like to learn how to play even more chords, browse Fender Play's chord library, learn about chord types, and find tips on how to master them.
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