A Chord on the Guitar (A Major) – 10 Ways to Play (and Some Tips/Theory)

The A Major chord is one of the most common and popular chords on the guitar. The open A chord is one of the first chords that most guitarists learn, and it has been used in countless songs across many genres.

Some Quick A Chord Theory

  • The A Major chord contains the notes A, C# and E.
  • The A Major chord is produced by playing the 1st (root), 3rd and 5th notes of the A Major scale.
  • The A 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).
  • In the key of A, the following chords will compliment the A chord: A, Bm, C#m, D, E, F#m, G#diminished.

10 Ways To Play The A Major Chord

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

A Chord Guitar - 10 Shapes

Easy A Chord Shape (Open A)

The easiest version of the A chord is the commonly played open A chord:

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

  • Place your first finger on the second fret of the forth string.
  • Place your second finger on the second fret of the third string.
  • Place your third finger on the second fret of the second string.
  • Strum the first five strings of the guitar, without hitting the fifth string.

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

Barre Chord Shapes for A

The A chord can be played as a barre chord by playing a root 6 barre chord shape and starting on the 5th fret or by playing a root 5 barre chord Major shape and starting on the 12th fret:

A Barre Chord Guitar

A Major Triads

Most of the time, when we play the A chord, we play the standard shapes, such as the open position A 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 A Major triad can be voiced in the following three ways:

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

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

A Major Triad Guitar

Which Keys Have The A chord in Them?

The A chord can be found in the following keys:

  • The key of A Major (A, Bm, C#m, D, E, F#m, G#dim)
  • The key of E Major (E, F#m, G#m, A, B, C#m, D#dim)
  • The key of D Major (D, Em, F#m, G, A, Bm, C#dim)
  • The key of F# minor (F#m, G#dim, A, Bm, C#m, D, E)
  • The key of C# minor (C#m, D#dim, E, F#m, G#m, A, B)
  • The key of B minor (Bm, C#dim, D, Em, F#m, G, A)

Alternative But Useful A Chord Shapes

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

Alternative A Chord Shapes Guitar

A Chord Substitutions

The A chord can often be substituted with the A sus 4 chord, the A sus 2 chord and the A add 9 chord. The A chord can also be used itself as a substitute for more complicated chords, such as the A Major 7 chord, the A7 chord, and other extension chords which have A as the root note (it can’t be used in place of minor chords though!).

Which Scales Can Be Played Over the A chord?

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

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

Further Reading

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