Just recently started playing acoustic guitar. I'm having some difficulty mastering the 'A' chord. My fingers seem to be squished together which makes me struggle to hold the strings in place and as close to the fret as i can, most of the time im obstructing the bottom string and not getting a clear note. Is there an easier way to do an A chord? Or is there any tips to striking the perfect chord without crippling my fingers?

  • Watch James Taylor play guitar. I can't get my head around his fingerings, but he seems to manage just fine !
    – Strawberry
    Mar 14, 2017 at 16:34
  • The A chords is most probably the chord which has the most diffirent ways of fingering it. Everybody plays an A different. It is up to you to experiment and see what works best for you. There is really no wrong way or correct way to finger an A
    – rock-on
    Mar 15, 2017 at 12:10
  • 2
    I didn't notice if anyone touches on this upon scanning the answers, but it is crucial that you clip your fingernails if you want to play a "proper" open A with three fingers. You are going to need to use the very tips of your fingers, rather than the flatter face you can get away with in other chords. Think of the difference between tip-toe and ballet pointe.
    – Yorik
    Mar 15, 2017 at 14:47
  • Related: music.stackexchange.com/q/51974/25260
    – AAM111
    Mar 15, 2017 at 20:27

10 Answers 10


I agree with the other answers; however, you might want to use other ways to play this chord (alternative voicings). Your A chord will sound different but will remain an A chord.

An ordinary barred chord (also sometimes called the E-shape for your A chord)


A "small bar"


Also, sometimes you can substitute an easier seventh chord (especially if you are into jazz):


For reference, here are fingerings suggested by other answers:



(This one ultimately worked for me, after much practice)


Fingers feel much less crowded when using this one.


Very effective if you can use it. This shape requires only one finger, which is also great for modifications (e.g. playing the B chord, or other major chords up the neck).

Edit added by Todd Wilcox, another unusual but comfortable shape:


Mute the low E with the thumb over the top.

  • 1
    I hope you don't mind my adding another shape. You could also put in Amaj7 next to A7. Mar 14, 2017 at 16:24
  • It may be worth noting that in the "small bar" form the first finger can safely touch the upper E string. Also, an alternative even easier form is to use that chord but play only the inside 4 strings (avoiding the need to use the pinky).
    – supercat
    Mar 14, 2017 at 17:40
  • 1
    +1 Great set of alternatives - but you missed one... the one that I invariably use & can then continue up the neck in chromatic barres by dropping a spare finger behind it - 3rd finger only, all 3 strings, same chord-shape as your examples 4, 5 & 6.
    – Tetsujin
    Mar 14, 2017 at 19:51
  • Second diagram from the end is the one I use, but I have been known to use first, second, or third finger at various times. Disclaimer: I'm out of practice anyway. Mar 15, 2017 at 18:42

If you use 3 fingers, and they're squashed, use middle, ring and pinky, as together the are slightly smaller than index, middle and ring. I tend to teach it with index on 3rd string 1st fret, for an easy change to E. However, the chord works with two fingers, liberally spread over the three strings on that second fret. In this case, you have choice. Middle and ring work well. Some players actually prefer playing this with just one finger, but it's an acquired art, and not for beginners.

  • The one finger A-chord requires a good setup (i.e., low nut height) on the instrument to minimize the tension (and distance) required to fret the chord tones.
    – Kirk A
    Mar 14, 2017 at 16:09
  • I often play 1-finger A chords without too much trouble by muting the high E string. More of a rock sound but good for getting there and back quickly. I also mix up the order of the fingers sometimes. E.g., middle finger on top (D string), then index, then ring, instead of index, middle, ring. The thing about the A chord is it helps to be able to finger it all different ways. I will use middle, ring, pinky if I want to switch between A major and A minor (index goes on first fret of the B string), so there are lots of options. Mar 14, 2017 at 16:15
  • @ToddWilcox - I occasionally play with a guy who does similar. Trouble is, he doesn't mute very well, and in a sequence A->F#m, there's hardly any difference.
    – Tim
    Mar 14, 2017 at 17:02
  • prefer playing this with just one finger, but it's an acquired art, and not for beginners. I agree, however I had to learn it this way. My hands are just too large to finger a "proper" A.
    – That1Guy
    Mar 14, 2017 at 21:02
  • Kurt Cobain played his A with two fingers, barring the 2nd fret on the G and D strings with his index and then the 2nd fret on the B with his middle finger
    – rock-on
    Mar 15, 2017 at 12:00

I came across a new "proper" way to fret the open A, which so far I find works very well.

The old proper way is
1st finger, D string, 2nd fret
2nd finger, G string, 2nd fret
3rd finger, B string, 2nd fret

Hard to get ones fingers, except the 3rd, really close to the fret but you should be able to keep the top E string ringing clearly.

The new proper way:
2nd finger, D string
1st finger, G string
3rd finger, B string

Which easily allows 2 fingers close to the fret instead of just one! Top E string still ringing out.

These are the best fingerings for being able to ring out the top E instead of muting it. Try them both and pick only one to practise and master - I'd recommend the new one.

  • 1
    One advantage of the "new" way is it allows for easily changing to certain other nearby chords. Mar 14, 2017 at 16:17
  • 2
    Sceptical initially, but, yes, it works well. And easily moves from A to A maj7, AND leaves pinky free for A6, A7.
    – Tim
    Mar 14, 2017 at 17:06
  • Also, you can just use one finger. I normally put my middle finger across all three strings. Maybe there is a specific reason not to do this, but it's been working well for me. You can also just use your ring finger, as that is what you do for 'A shaped' bar chords anyway. Mar 14, 2017 at 20:25
  • 1
    @EvSunWoodard I play my A chord alot of times with one finger, it is sometimes faster in certain situations. Many rock guitarist does this. It is perfectly fine. It is however a more difficult way for beginners to finger an A chord. Barring strings as a beginner is always an issue, that is why some discourage beginners to finger an A chord in this manner. Getting your barring wrong, and you could end up playing A6, which in context can sound very off
    – rock-on
    Mar 15, 2017 at 12:06

You can lie your first finger across the strings starting on the 4th (D) That's how I always play it. Also you just have to practice it. Chuck Berry didn't become a legend in a day!


The answer is contained in the first words of your question "Just recently started..." Yes, chord fingering can seem very clumsy and unnatural. Check with a teacher or experienced player that you are positioning your hand correctly, then keep practicing. If you have unusually big fingers, guitars with a wider neck are available. But don't jump to this solution too quickly.

  • 2
    Practice practice practice. It also took me like months to learn to do B7 right. Your fingers will get used to it. If you start messing with fingering to work around it, you'll find that you won't be able do variations of the chord later on, or that transitions that should be simple and natural will become instead extremely awkward. Mar 14, 2017 at 16:40
  • I also just started but some finger placements are easier than others and are worth mentioning. Esp see sean e's answer about the "new" way.
    – Megatron
    Mar 16, 2017 at 3:10

I've been playing for 20 years. Whenever anyone asks me why they're having problems holding a chord, EVERY TIME WITHOUT EXCEPTION it's been because their wrist and elbow position sucks.

All beginners tend to start playing with the neck supported by the pad of their palm, because it feels natural to hold the neck like that. The problem is that this completely prevents you getting your fingers round the fretboard properly. This is the number one beginner's fault - and because most people learning guitar teach themselves, it's also the number one fault you see in folk clubs and elsewhere.

If you need to support the neck with your left hand, by definition you're not holding the instrument properly. You should be able to take that left hand away and the guitar goes nowhere. If it doesn't, adjust how you're holding it with your right arm, look into "classical" position, and/or get a strap (playing standing up with a strap can be much easier).

Then your wrist should always be curved outwards slightly. Your thumb should be dead flat, not bent at all, and on the middle of the curve of the neck (not one side or the other).

Finally, your elbow should usually be fairly close into your side, because that rotates your hand so that the fingers naturally align parallel to the fretboard. - this is usually what you want for decent reach along the frets. But for the A chord you can push your elbow out slightly, and that rotates your hand so that the fingers run more across the fretboard, which lets you more easily get those three fingers next to each other.


You shouldn't have to hold your fingers very close to the fret to sound a note. Typically notes (including the notes within a chord) are fretted roughly half-way between two frets. So your mistake might be trying to press all three fingers directly against the fret wire.

You can finger it with the three fingers staggered, as long as they are between the second and third fret it should sound the right notes.

If you hear some noise (known as 'fret farts') while doing this, you might want to take your guitar to a music shop and ask them to set it up for you. It might be that the action on the instrument is too high (meaning the strings are too far from the fret board), making it more difficult for you to produce a clear note.

Of course, a simpler way to diagnose that kind of issue would be to ask someone who plays the guitar (a teacher or friend) to play that a chord, and see if they can sound a clear note on each string while holding the chord.


Since an E Major chord is often used with an A Major chord, the relationship between your middle and ring finger should stay the same, using your pinky finger for the A chord on the second string and using your index finger for the E chord on the third string.

  • Which is just what I answered 4 days ago!
    – Tim
    Mar 18, 2017 at 15:46

It surly might be the case that with a unfortunate combination of neck width and chunky fingers playing this particular chord might feel awkward.

What you might try:

  1. Make sure you use middle to pinky fingers and not index to middle.

  2. Try to use "classical guitar" hand position where thumb rests in the middle of the back of the neck and the thumb and the fingering fingers are the only places where your hand touches the neck and the whole hand 'hangs' almost perfectly perpendicular to the neck

  3. More advanced but very effective way of playing this chord is to use part-barre with index finger so that you manage to bend the finger so that it is not touching the top E string.

  4. Finally being practical and what actually many musicians do - don't play the top E note. There, I said it!

There's actually another good reason not the play the top E. The first postition open A chord on properly tuned guitar (I'm not using word perfect for a reason as guitar cannot be tuned perfectly - it is all only approximation and compromise - many beginner don't realize that) is typically the most out of tune chord out of the basic open chords. And the worst interval is precisely the top C# and E. On some guitars it sounds better then on anothers but in general it is problematic in studio ect.


Do you mean this A chord in the open position?

A chord Open position

Or this A barre chord on 5th fret?

A chord 5th fret barre

I cannot see a problem here! It's not one of those creepy chords where you break your fingers to take it, just a simple chord for three fingers.

You might want to try this chord which'd be a challenge for your fingers:


  • 1
    This seems rather unhelpful, and if it is a request for clarification could have been done as a comment – without the pictures of course, but I don’t think that is such a problem.
    – PJTraill
    Mar 16, 2017 at 21:41
  • OP is a beginner, so it's not a barre! It's the open version, and he's catching the top string open, amongst other problems.
    – Tim
    Mar 18, 2017 at 15:41
  • 1
    @Tim When I was a beginner, the first thing i started learning are chords in different positions that included barre chords. Mar 19, 2017 at 10:52
  • @SovereignSun I totally agree, although barring as a beginner is quite hard, it is really useful to learn them earlier than later, and this goes for alternative ways to play a chord as well. It really helped me a lot to learn all these from the start
    – rock-on
    Mar 20, 2017 at 10:50

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