Here’s an overview of the most common chords in the key of C, suggested voicings, and some explanations.
The most common chords in the key of C (in order of importance) are C, G, F, Am, Dm, and Em.
This is the standard voicing for C, fingered as x32o14. There are two slight variations of this, but the original is preferable because it keeps all four fingers on the strings. The first variation works if you want to emphasize the E.:
C5 and C2
There are two additional variations of C, which are C5 and C2:
The C2 is similar to a common variation, C(add9).
In the key of C, the Csus usually resolves to C (in the key of F, Csus usually resolves to F). Here’s one version of the Csus; you can also use F(alt), which is shown later.
The G chord in the key of C is pretty important. There are several ways to voice this. Here’s the most common. Notice that the 2nd string is muted to avoid a muddy sound. Also, it is essential to finger G as 32ooo4, NOT 21ooo3. Correctly fingering the G allows smooth transition to C.
G5 and Gsus
G/D and F/C are commonly used when there’s frequent movement between F, G, and Am. Compare G/D with F/C which appear later, and you can see the similarities. Both are fingered as x3421x.
G/B works when you want smooth bass motion from G to C:
Here’s the standard voicing for F, which requires a barre chord:
Similar to G/B, the F/A comes in handy when bass movement is important:
As shown above, F/C works well with G/D in a G-F-Am context:
This chord has a distinct sound, and it has a very similar fingering to C:
F(alt) or Csus(addE)
The F(alt) is a unique chord. It’s actually an Fmaj7 chord with an added 2. Although it’s not a “standard” voicing, it’s a variation that sometimes may come in handy:
Am and Am7
The first is the default voicing for Am, fingered xo2310. The second is Am7, fingered as xo2o1o. Am7 is sometimes shown with the 4th string 3rd fret, but this isn’t an ideal voicing.
Am9 is an unconventional voicing that can sometimes function as an alternative to the Am7:
There is no easy voicing for a Dm7. If the song calls for a Dm7, you can play an F chord while the bass player plays a D. Your other option is the Dm9: another unconventional chord that can sometimes function as an alternative.
The Em7 is less common, but sometimes appears in the key of C.