C Chord on the Guitar (C Major) - 10 Ways to Play (and Some Tips/Theory) (2024)

The C Major chord is one of the most common and popular chords on the guitar. The open C chord is one of the first chords that many guitarists learn. The key of C contains no sharps or flats (C, D, E, F, G, A, B), therefore, the key of C is often used as a kind of ‘default’ key when doing music theory examples.

Some Quick C Chord Theory

  • The C Major chord contains the notes C, E and G.
  • The C Major chord is produced by playing the 1st (root), 3rd and 5th notes of the C Major scale.
  • The C Major chord (just like all Major chords) contains the following intervals (from the root note): Major 3rd, minor 3rd, Perfect 4th (back to the root note).
  • C is the first chord in the key of C Major. The chords in the key of C Major are C, Dm, Em, F, G, Am, B diminished.

10 Ways To Play The C Major Chord

If you’ve come to this page just to view some chord diagrams for C, here they are.

C Chord on the Guitar (C Major) - 10 Ways to Play (and Some Tips/Theory) (1)

Standard C Chord Shape (Open C Chord)

The most common way to play the C chord is in the open position. This is one of the most commonly used chord shapes and one of the first ones that most guitarists learn.

Easy C Chord Shape

The easiest version of the C chord is essentially a mini version of the standard, open C chord. It uses the first three strings of the guitar and only involves one finger (as well as open strings). These mini chords can be a great way to get started when learning the guitar, as they allow you to play chord songs without learning full (and sometimes difficult shapes).

C Chord on the Guitar (C Major) - 10 Ways to Play (and Some Tips/Theory) (3)

How to Play the C Major Chord (Step by Step)

  • Place your third finger on the third fret of the fifth string.
  • Place your second finger on the second fret of the fourth string.
  • Place your first finger on the first fret of the second string.
  • Without striking the sixth string, strum from the fifth string down to the first string.

The instructions above are step by step instructions for playing the open C Major chord shape. These instructions can actually be super helpful when you feel like you’re interpreting the shape incorrectly. By going through the C chord instructions step by step, you can verify that you’re playing the chord correctly.

Barre Chord Shapes for C

The C chord can be played as a barre chord by playing a root 6 barre chord shape and starting on the 8th fret or by playing a root 5 barre chord Major shape and starting on the 3rd fret:

C Chord on the Guitar (C Major) - 10 Ways to Play (and Some Tips/Theory) (4)

C Major Triads

Most of the time, when we play the C chord, we play the standard shapes, such as the open position C and the barre chord shapes. However, learning the strict root position and inverted triads is a great way of exploring subtle and interesting variations that exist across the fretboard. The C Major triad can be voiced in the following three ways:

  • C Major Triad (Root Position) – C, E, G
  • C Major Triad (1st Inversion) – E, G, C
  • C Major Triad (2nd Inversion) – G, C, E

Here are six different ways to play the C Major triad (including inversions).

C Chord on the Guitar (C Major) - 10 Ways to Play (and Some Tips/Theory) (5)

Which Keys Have The C chord in Them?

The C chord can be found in the following keys:

  • The key of C Major (C, Dm, Em, F, G, Am, Bdim)
  • The key of G Major (G, Am, Bm, C, D, Em, Fdim)
  • The key of F Major (F, Gm, Am, Bb, C, Dm, Edim)
  • The key of A minor (Am, Bdim, C, Dm, Em, F, G)
  • The key of E minor (Em, Fdim, G, Am, Bm, C, D)
  • The key of D minor (Dm, Edim, F, Gm, Am, Bb, C)

Alternative But Useful C Chord Shapes

The following shapes are alternative ways of playing the C Major chord shape. They’re not the most common C shapes, but used enough to include here as interesting alternatives.

C Chord on the Guitar (C Major) - 10 Ways to Play (and Some Tips/Theory) (6)

C Chord Substitutions

The C chord can often be substituted with the C sus 4 chord, the C sus 2 chord and the C add 9 chord. The C chord can also be used itself as a substitute for more complicated chords, such as the C Major 7 chord, the C7 chord, and other extension chords which have C as the root note (it can’t be used in place of minor chords though!).

Which Scales Can Be Played Over the C chord?

The most common and effective scales that can be used to solo/improvise over the C Major chord, or to create melodies for the purposes of song writing are:

  • C Major pentatonic scale – This scale will almost always work over the C Major chord, in any context.
  • C Major scale – This is the ‘default scale’ of the C chord.
  • C Lydian mode – This scale can be used over the C chord in certain contexts to add a jazz flavour.
  • C Major Blues – This scale is particularly useful in a Blues context.

Further Reading

  • C Major scale
  • How Major chords work
  • Chords page
  • C Major arpeggio
  • C/E Chord
  • C/G Chord

C Chord on the Guitar (C Major) - 10 Ways to Play (and Some Tips/Theory) (2024)


What is the C chord theory? ›

The notes of a C major chord are the 1st (the root note), 3rd, and 5th notes, which are C (the root note), E and G. Notice that the octave (the 8th note) is also part of the chord. In fact, either of the notes C, E and G can be played in any octave on the guitar and it will still be called a C major chord.

How many ways to play C major on guitar? ›

Four Chord Shapes To Play C Major
  • Open Position. The most common and perhaps the first shape any beginner learns is the C Major in the open position. ...
  • C Barre Chord on the 3rd Fret (A Shape) ...
  • C Barre Chord on the 8th Fret (E Shape) ...
  • C Major Starting At the 8th Fret.
Feb 14, 2024

Why is C major so hard to play on guitar? ›

The main reason is due to the stretch that all three fingers need to make. Most chord shapes you have tackled up to now will span two frets, whilst the C major chord spans 3. As well as that we need to worry about the open G and E string ringing out AND trying not to play the low E string.

What is the C major scale theory? ›

C major or the key of C is a major scale based on C, with the pitches C, D, E, F, G, A, and B. Learn how to play chord progressions. The key of C Major mostly uses the notes of the C major scale, which are C, D, E, F, G, A, and B. The key signature has no sharps or flats, and its relative minor key is A minor.

What is the C in music theory? ›

C, third note of the musical alphabet, and one which has always occupied a peculiarly distinctive position in that it is the keynote of what was once called the natural scale. Thus on the pianoforte it consists entirely of white notes and hence has come to be regarded as the simplest and most fundamental of all keys.

What are the rules for C major? ›

When ascending the C major scale, your thumb plays C, your second finger D, and your third finger E. The thumb then plays F, the second finger G, the third finger A, the fourth finger B, and the fifth finger C. To play F with your thumb as you progress up the scale, place your thumb under your third finger.

What is the formula for C major on guitar? ›

To play the C major scale ascending, start with the root note C and play the notes in order: C - D - E - F - G - A - B - C. Then, go right back down the scale: B - A - G- F- E - D, until you've made your way back to the lower C.

What is the most annoying chord on the guitar? ›

Commonly Annoying Chords:

One notorious culprit is the barre chord, which involves using one finger to press down multiple strings across the guitar neck. Additionally, the F major chord, known for its challenging finger placement, often causes frustration.

How do you practice C major chords? ›

Here's how to play the C barre chord in the 8th position:
  1. Index finger: 8th fret of the low E (6th) string.
  2. Index finger: 8th fret of the B (2nd) string.
  3. Index finger: 8th fret of the E (1st) string.
  4. Ring finger: 10th fret of the A (5th) string.
  5. Pinky finger: 10th fret of the D (4th) string.

What is the hardest chord to play on guitar? ›

The six-string F chord is one of the hardest standard chord shape to play on the guitar. When many people try to play the F chord on guitar (and often succeed), it's with far too much struggle and effort than is actually necessary. Even extremely influential guitarists can have a hard time with barre chords.

What does a C chord mean? ›

A C chord is a major triad, comprised of three notes: C (root), E (third), and G (fifth), as shown in Example 1.

What are the 4 chords in music theory? ›

I, IV, V, and vi are the most common harmonies in pop music, and they can be arranged into several schemas, each with a distinct sound. Each schema can have variations, such as chord substitution or rotation, while still remaining recognizable as that schema.

What is the theory of diminished C chord? ›

It's a chord with two minor thirds above the root. Meaning three semitones separate the third and fifth notes of the chord. For example, a C major triad has the notes C (the root), E (the third), and G (the fifth). Therefore, a diminished C triad has the notes C, Eb, and Gb.

What is the C chord triad? ›

What is the C major triad? The C major triad is often one of the first chords that a beginner guitarist will learn due to its open shape. The C major scale consists of the notes: C, D, E, F, G, A, B, and C. By using the first, third, and fifth notes of the scale, we can form the C major triad using C, E, and G.


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