There are several things you need to know and understand to successfully play rock and blues style. For many players, chord- and rhythm-playing is a good place to begin. Most students begin with a few open-position chords and move toward lead-playing as they get more comfortable. Since rhythm-playing is a great place to begin, let's discuss the open-position chords in detail.
Open-position chords are chords that use the first four frets of the guitar in their formations. The term “open” is used because the chord is partly composed of open strings, meaning strings that your fingers don't press. FIGURE 2-1 shows you the most common open-position chords played in rock and blues music.
To really say that you know these chords, you have to be able to move from chord to chord with ease. You must memorize them because they are used in virtually every song you come across. Certain chord shifts can be very difficult to hit at first. Many students find the F chord a real problem—it's a tough chord—but the importance of chord-playing can't be overlooked. Until you can play the chords to your favorite song, you'll probably want to shy away from the solos for now. Rhythm-playing makes up about 95 percent of a guitar player's role; the other 5 percent is spent on solos. Spend as much time as you need on the chords to give yourself a good grounding.
The open-position chords are very common in rock and blues rhythm playing. There's a simple reason for this: open-position chords are easier to play. Open strings are like “free fingers” and allow us to play notes without fingering them. It can be strenuous to hold down all your fingers at once, and open strings give your fingers a break. Open-position chords tend to have five or six notes in them and have a larger range than other chords found on the guitar, which are normally, but not exclusively, limited to four notes—one per finger.
In FIGURE 2-2 are some examples of very common open-position chord progressions you may find in your favorite songs. Try to shift smoothly and evenly between the chords while you play.
The limiting factor of open-position chords lies in the open strings themselves. Only chords that contain the open strings are possible. What if you want to play a B flat chord? A “B flat” chord doesn't have any open position; because the open strings don't work with that chord (more on this in Chapter 8). The same is true of many other chords, so you can see the open position won't help you gain full use of the guitar's chordal ability. The guitar is capable of playing wonderful and beautiful-sounding chords; but you will need to learn more than the open-position chords to get the full range of possibilities.
There aren't that many different chords. Couple this with the popularity of the guitar, and you can understand why so many songs sound similar: Many songs are based on exactly the same chords, just in a different order. The guitar's open position is limited; it takes a good player to get to the next step.