Learn how many chords you need to know
The short answer is, you don’t need to know ten thousand chords to be able to play the guitar, so those books that have that many chords are sort of overkill. On the other hand, you shouldn’t stop after learning seven chords like Marc Bolan did, although he did manage to write a few platinum hits with just those seven chords. The other question is, how many chords do you need to have mastered before you can start playing some songs?
Learn the open chords first . . .
If you learn how to play E minor and this chord
you can play “A Horse With No Name” by America, and that’s probably the quickest way to getting to an actual song. If you learn E major, A major, and D major, you can play along with “Stir It Up” and “Three Little Birds” by Bob Marley, though you won’t be playing the actual inversions his guitar player is playing (contact me for a free lesson if you’d like to know what an inversion is). A good place to start is learning those chords I just mentioned, and then also G major and Cadd9, as well as A7sus4 and Em7. Once you know those there’s a good amount of songs on the G chord list I have on this website that you can play, and also probably a lot of newer country songs. After you’ve learned five to ten of those songs, try mastering the C chord, and then check out that songlist.
. . . then try the barre chords
Here’s where it starts to get a little more difficult, and if you haven’t been doing scales on a regular basis, you’re probably going to run into problems. Playing barre chords requires more strength and flexibility in the fret hand, something that chord exercises and learning songs don’t help with as much as scales do. The next step is to learn the F chord; for more help with that, check out this blog post.
The 30 chords you really need to know
If you’re not playing jazz, there’s about 30 important chords you need to eventually learn to be able to play a lot of songs, not including barre chords. If you are playing jazz, then I’m sorry, but you really do have to learn ten thousand chords.
I’m mostly kidding.
Anyway, check out the pdf below of a page from my book, “Beginner Guitar Chord Exercises” that lists these chords.