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Guitar Keys For Beginners

Guitar Keys for Beginners

Have you been looking for easy-to-understand info regarding the best keys on guitar for beginners? I’m Tomas from Real Guitar Success. I recently did a live Q&A session on a variety of topics. One of the first questions I answered was “what are the most common keys for guitar players”. 

The importance of this subject is that it will help you determine what are the best chords to learn first. Understanding guitar chords in keys also gives you a clear path on how to use the chords you learn, so you can start playing songs and sound good. 

Starting with guitar chords in keys

When I first started playing, I would just learn chords one at a time based on which looked easier to me. Well, that didn't do me any good. With time, I found that students need to learn not only the chord, but how to use it in context. It's important to learn to finger the chord appropriately and be able to play in time along with other chords, preferably within a small group or key.  

What are guitar chords in key?

A key is basically a small group of chords that work together and that you are more likely to use when starting out on guitar. Keys give you an advantage on practicing something that you are going to use a lot. Additionally, keys keep you from being overwhelmed with trying to learn many chords that may seem out of context. 

In short, keys give you context and help you learn chords by illustrating how they relate to one another in songs. 

What are the most common guitar keys?

Common Key for Guitar

I’ve listed the most common keys to play on guitar on the left side of the image. The keys listed are C, G, D, A and E. These are the most common keys for guitar players, and 80 percent of songs are in these five keys. 

Each of them offer context and contain a small group of chords that relate to each other and work great in songs. For the most part, these keys will allow you to play simple songs without having to deal with bar chords, as these represent a point of frustration for most beginners. 

What key should I learn first on guitar?

The first key on the list is the key of C. It may be the most common key, however, it contains the F chord which is usually a bar chord. For this reason, I often don’t start students on this key. 

I prefer to start with the second key, the key of G. It features the basic chords G, C and D, none of which are bar chords. You can then return to the key of C once you’ve worked on the F bar chord. 

The Circle of Fifths

On the right of the image I have a graph called the circle of fifths. Don’t be intimidated by the name. The circle of fifths shows you a way to remember the five most common keys. We can start at the top with C, and move clockwise. 

You’ll notice that each subsequent key is five notes from the original one, hence the name. In other words, after C we’ve got G, after that D, and so on. 

Guitar Key G

The three main chords on this key are G, C and D. If you count five up from G in the scale, you’ll end up in D, and that is your “5” chord in the key of G. This is often indicated with the roman numeral “V”. 

It is common that the “5” chord is turned into a dominant seventh chord. This is useful in keys like E, where the V chord is a B, which is a particularly difficult bar chord. However, if you turn it into a B7, it can be played as an open chord and is much easier. 

Adding Minor Chords

Once you have learned some of the keys and tried them with some songs, you can start with minor chords. In the key of G, the first minor chord will be the VI (read “6”) chord. Just count six notes up from G and you’ll get to the E. In other words, this will be an E minor chord. 

This open ups a whole set of songs that you can play. Classics like “Unchained Melody” and “Leaving on a Jet Plane” all the way to several Ed Sheeran songs like “Perfect” use these kinds of progressions. 


Learn the three main chords in each key and practice changing them on time, even if slowly. Keep in mind that learning songs is a good way to use these chords, progressions and keys in context. 

I hope you found this helpful. If you’d like to be in my Q&A sessions, they are on the first Thursday of each month. You can sign up HERE if you wish to be notified. 

If you have any more questions, feel free to leave them in the comments section.

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  1. I've learned quite a bit watching your videos. I appreciate your patient approach and step by step explanations of fingering and strings to use, Keep them coming!! THANKS.

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