How to Read Guitar Chords for Beginners

It’s true that you do not need to read music to learn how to play the guitar, but you should know how to read guitar chords. Musicians have developed some tricks like chord diagrams so that they can communicate basic ideas such as chord progressions, song structure and rhythmic figures. You should not worry as reading a chord chart is not like reading music. It’s very simple; you just need to understand where to put the fingers to form a chord.

This is what a basic chord chart looks like:


Chord diagrams are graphics that tell where you should put your fingers on a fretboard so that you can play a specific chord. These chord diagrams are usually placed throughout the music chart or near the top of the music chart.  Sometimes the charts are put there to help you in instances where you do not know the chord or maybe the person who had written the songs wants a particular shape to be played out for that chord.

Here are some things to look for in a chord diagram

  1. In the chord name, the single capital letter or the single capital which is followed by a flat or sharp represents a major chord. The other chords are based on the additions and alterations to the notes in a major chord.
  2. The grid of six vertical lines and as many as five horizontal lines represent the guitar fretboard. You should think of it as looking straight at the upper portion of the guitar’s neck from the front side. The string on the far left indicates the low E and the string on the far right represente the high E. The diagrams will usually have plain black dots indicating the position where the fingers should be kept and sometimes there are black dots with numbers on it. The numbers portrays the number of the finger which you are expected to use to play those notes. You will also find that some strings have white dots. The white dots represent an open string. These strings with white dots need to be played open without fretting them. Strings that do not have the white or black dots are not played at all.
  3. The vertical lines represent what is known as guitar strings, and the horizontal lines represent frets. The numerals right below each string line indicate which fingers on the left hand you can use to fret that note.

In a majority of the cases, you will deal with chords that are placed within the 1st four frets of the guitar. The chords that fall within the first four frets are usually open strings. Hence, they are also referred as open chords. However, there are some special cases where a chord may start on any fret other than the first fret. If this is the case, then watch out for a numeral that will appear to the right of the chord diagram thereby indicating on which fret you will are expected to start.

Reading chord diagrams can prove to be an arduous task initially but if you diligently follow it you will get to recognize and understand certain chord diagrams quickly. Just get hold of a piece of music that you love or just look for one on the web. This is a great way to check if you can understand the much-coveted chord diagrams.

Here is a really great video on Reading chords charts.  Enjoy!

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