In this free online guitar lesson, Chris Liepe discusses the quickest and easiest way to start making music as a beginner guitarist. He will demonstrate partial chords, which are also known by some as “baby chords.” These are simplified chords which are easier to play, especially for those who are just starting or may have some sort of physical disability involving their hands or arms. These chords can be played using only on or two fingers, and are perfect for strumming along to beginner songs. Please leave any comments or questions you may have below.
Partial Chords – The Quickest Way to Play Music a Beginner
The process of learning guitar is long, and one that many would consider to be grueling. An act imagined to be pure enjoyment turns into a tedious merry-go-round of learning chord shapes, scale positions and practicing endless finger exercises. The guitar takes years to master; a cruel statement who’s prophecy cannot be denied. Fortunately, as with most things in life, there is an easier way, an invaluable shortcut that can have you strumming basic songs almost as quickly as a guitar can be tuned. Allow us to enter the hallowed halls of the partial chord.
What is a Partial Chord?
A partial chord is simply that, an abbreviated version of a full chord, in the case of this lesson a major open chord. At the risk of being lynched by an angry mob of shirtless men armed with spiked clubs, a bit of theory must be introduced to properly understand how this is done. If this soars over your head like an eagle gliding on an updraft, don’t worry, for now you will be fine simply memorizing and playing the shapes.
All major chords are made up of three notes, the 1st, 3rd and 5th notes of a scale. For instance, the G major chord is made up of the notes G, B and D. Strip away any of those notes and the chord is no longer G major. This knowledge makes a partial chord seem impossible, for surely removing any part of a chord changes it to something else. In the case of the G major open chord all six strings are played and given that the chord only contains three notes, it therefore stands obvious that certain notes are used more than once. We can remove these duplicate notes to make the chord fingering easier and still be playing a proper G major. In this chord the G note is used twice, the B note is used twice, and the D note is used once. That lets us remove the G and B notes found on the 6th (low e) and 5th (a) strings, as seen on the chord chart to the left. That means a G major chord could be played by fretting only the 1st (high e) string on the 3rd fret, and strumming from the 4th string down. This leaves the D as the root note, so if this sounds strange to your ear, feel free to start strumming on the 3rd string instead, which is a G note. This means you will only be strumming a G and B note, but it will still sound proper in a chord progression. One of the most widely used chords in the world of guitar played by fingering only one note, now that’s a good start to a guitar playing career.
The players who want to get started with the partial chords immediately may have no interest in learning the full chord shapes or the theory behind them, which is fine. The information is simply being presented so that in the future, when the time comes, it will be a painless process to progress to the full chords.
The C Major Partial Chord
Like all other major chords, the C major contains three notes, the C, E and G. The only duplicate notes seen in this chord are the C and E. The 6th string (low e) is muted and will not be taken into consideration. When looking at the chord chart, it becomes evident that the 5th (a) string and the 4th (d) string contain these two unnecessary notes. By not fretting nor strumming the 5th and 4th strings we create the baby C. This entails the first finger on the 2nd (b) string, first fret as the only fretted note, and the 3rd (g) string and 1st (high e) string played open. This once again grants us access to a ubiquitous chord by using one finger.
Be careful to strum only the required strings. It is an error to strum the 6th (low e), 5th (a) or 4th (d) strings.
It’s Strum Time
With two major chords under your belt it is time to practice switching between them. It is recommended that the first finger be used for the partial C chord, and the third finger used for the partial G chord. This allows the fingers to be kept in proper position, one finger per fret, and is also the most ergonomic way of playing. Start off by playing your third finger on the 3rd fret of the 1st (high e) string. Now strum from either the 4th (d) string or 3rd (g) string down. They are both acceptable so choose whichever rings truest in your heart. Strum evenly and rhythmically four times and then switch to the partial C chord by placing your first finger on the 1st fret of the 2nd (b) string. Strum from the 3rd (g) string downwards four times and then switch back to the G. Keep this up until the transition is smooth and your rhythm feels steady and even. It is highly recommended to practice this exercise with a drum machine or metronome, starting at a low tempo and steadily increasing over time.
The F Major Partial Chord
If ever any chord was in need of a partial version, it is the F major. When contemplating the worldwide history of guitar, one must wonder how many players succumbed to this vile monstrosity and gave the instrument up. This chord is one of the first which requires one finger to barre multiple notes. In the case of the full F major, the first finger must barre the 2nd (b) string and 1st (high e) string on the 1st fret, the 2nd finger on the 3rd (g) string 2nd fret and the third finger on the 4th (d) string 3rd fret. This can create quite an uncomfortable stretch for new players or those who are lacking strength in the hand and wrist.
The partial version of this chord is nearly identical, only one finger changes in fact, but that small modification reduces stretch and tension on the hand enough to transform it from impossible to reasonably easy. This chord contains the F, A and C notes with the F being the only duplicate note. To remove the secondary F lift the third finger from the 4th (d) string 3rd fret. The remaining chord requires only two fingers to fret and is strummed from the 3rd (g) string down. Take a few moments and practice strumming this chord while taking special care to only play the three specified strings.
Practice, Practice, Practice
These three chords, even in their partial forms, are enough to play thousands of songs across all genres. The age old adage says that to make music you only need three chords and the truth. You have now successfully learned three chords and the truth is buried deep within everyone. You have taken your first step in becoming a musician. Take these three chords and practice them until it becomes second nature, instantly accessible information stored deep in your subconscious and muscle memory. Practice playing these chords quickly, slowly and in as many different patterns as you can imagine. When that becomes too easy, start playing the full version of the chords, and after that start learning new chords. The guitarist’s journey is never over, and the key to each new milestone is practice, and lots of it.