In order to play guitar, you are expected to master the beginner or simplest as well as most common chords for the instrument. If you are taking classes or an instructor-composed self-study course, you will most likely have a dedicated lesson for them.
This is not to say that you will not be learning the chords in other parts of the course — you’ll very likely encounter several of them as you go, given their foundational nature — but it tends to make them easier to remember to separate them from the rest of your study subjects.
As an example, look at the Jamorama guitar courses by Mike McKenzie. He teaches many of the beginner chords in the first lessons, but still sets aside a dedicated series of videos for learning them individually.
Once you get to that part of your training — focusing on learning the beginner chords one by one — several things can help you imprint them more indelibly (and correctly) into your memory. Try the following suggestions if you feel you are not learning the chords as easily or well as you should.
Play them slowly at the beginning
This seems self-evident, but you would be surprised how many guitar students transgress this rule. You always have to start by playing the chords slowly when you are still learning — you’re not Van Halen, after all. The temptation to do them quickly can be very powerful, but you should not try it at all before you get the technique perfect.
Build up speed/tempo as you go instead. Start out by playing them at the slowest speed you can until you do them perfectly over several repetitions, then moving up a beat each time you get that result.
Do not be afraid to use backing tracks or metronomes
Getting rhythm and timing down is important, so learning how to play the chords while following a beat can be one of the best things you can do for taking yourself from memorization to application. This gets you more used to the ways these chords are actually used in songs. The metronome can help you with pacing your speed in playing the chords too (see the previous note).
Have goals you can aim for when learning
Another self-evident rule, but again another oft-transgressed one. If you tell yourself that you’re going to learn 7 chords this week, you will have something to work towards.
That helps a lot more than most people know: it serves as both motivation and an aid to self-evaluation. Set whatever number you feel is most workable for you. It could be 2 chords, it could be 5. What matters is that you have a goal to get to.
Keep in mind that you can take this goal-setting to the next level by using different levels of difficulty for each week’s goals. Assume you are learning 5 chords this week, for example. Your goal for the next week can then be something like learning how to change between those 5 chords fluently. The goal for the week after that can be learning how to strum with those chords, and so on and so forth.
Do not give in to the urge to use capos too often
Yes, we all have chords that tend to trip us up more often than others. For most people, for example, those are the barre chords. But many of these “trip chords”, like barres, are actually very common as you begin delving into all sorts of music. This means that you dodging them early on is not a good idea.
Have a bit of courage: take them on as many times as necessary until you master them. Over time, your fingers will actually gain the dexterity they need to do those chords more easily. This actually benefits your playing on the whole.
Make sure you’re using the right gear.
Of course, some will tell you that you should be capable of learning how to play the chords on all types of guitars, but they really are a bit harder on some guitars compared to others. You should have a good, comfy instrument as a novice. It does not need to be expensive or even great-looking, because you are really still only starting out. It needs to be comfortable when you hold it and easy to tune.
In fact, keeping your guitar tuned is one of the most important things you can do when learning the beginner chords. You are training your ear as well as your fingers, after all, so if you do not get used to the way the note is expected to sound, all your training might as well have been for naught.
Learn how to tune your guitar by ear as well as with a tuner. A chromatic tuner is the best option, as it will tune all of the notes on your instrument, and not just E, A, D, G, B, and E.
Learn chord application by trying to play simple songs that you like
Take note that there are two requirements in song selection here besides the one about the song containing the chords you’re learning. First, the song has to be relatively simple. This simply means that it should be playable for someone of your guitar-playing level. Secondly, it has to be a song that you like. In other words, it has to be a song that you will enjoy playing as well as hearing.
The second requirement is as important as the first. This is because the tedium of repetition can very quickly take away someone’s enthusiasm for learning something new. Adding enjoyment to the formula helps to counter the fatigue caused by the repetition.
Another reason practicing with songs that you like is a good idea is that people retain and recall information based on a variety of cues. While you should be using aural as well as tactile cues to recall the chords, you can add some level of sentimental recollection to further sharpen your memory of them. It becomes significantly harder to forget what a chord felt like (when you were playing it) or is supposed to sound like when you can attach it to a song you know well enough to sing in your head or out loud.