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)

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