The Definitive Guide To Reading Guitar Chord Charts

The Ultimate Guide To Reading Guitar Chord Charts

The Ultimate Guide to Guitar Chord Charts / Guitar Chords Diagrams
The Definitive Guide to Guitar Chord Charts / Guitar Chords Diagrams
Essential Chord Diagram Chart
The Ultimate Guide to Guitar Chord Charts / Guitar Chords Diagrams

Every guitarist has to learn chords. Its the easiest place to start. Chords are the foundation that songs are built upon. Luckily for us, most songs use the same chord progressions over and over again. Its just the way music is. For beginners thats great news. It means you can learn a few dozen chords, and be able to play just about any song you want to. By the end of this page, you’ll be reading chords like a pro!

The simplest way to learn new chords is through chord diagrams. The terms chord diagrams and chord charts are interchangeable. They are exactly what they sound like, a diagram or chart showing how and where to play chords on your guitar neck.

A Chord Diagram or Chord Chart is just a map of the guitar’s fretboard. 

  • The thick black bar at the top is the guitar nut, its where the fretboard starts.

  • The thin horizontal lines below, are the frets

  • The vertical lines are the strings.

  • The circle above each string indicates an open string. 

E Major Open Guitar Chord

E Major Chord Diagram / Chord Chart
E Major Chord Diagram / Chord Chart

Recognizing a Chord Diagram / Chord Chart

Chord Diagrams pretty much all follow the pattern, no matter who made them. They will all look very similar to the picture above. 

Blank Guitar Chord Diagram / Chord Chart

Blank Chord Diagram / Chord Chart
Blank Chord Chart / Chord Diagram

Chord Diagram / Chord Chart Components

Before we get into the details of the chord diagram / chord chart, lets get the basics out of the way.

The picture above is a blank chord diagram / chord chart. Lets break down the components.

Gretsch Guitar Nut_edited.jpg
 

What is a Guitar Nut? 

A Guitar Nut is piece of bone, ivory, or plastic at the top of the fretboard.

  • Its where the strings first contact the guitar neck.

  • It holds the strings in their slots.

  • Its the thick black bar on the chord diagram / chord chart.

The Frets on Guitar Chords Chart:

How the Guitar Frets Translate to Guitar Chord Diagrams / Chord Chart
How the Guitar Strings Translate to Guitar Chord Diagrams / Chord Chart

The Strings on Guitar Chords Chart:

How the Guitar Strings Translate to Guitar Chord Diagrams / Chord Chart
How the Guitar Strings Translate to Guitar Chord Diagrams / Chord Chart

Put It All Together to Build the Chords Diagram:

Combine what you know so far: The nut, frets, and strings are the basis of the bland chord diagram / chord chart.

Guitar Strings, Frets, and Nut translate to Chord Charts / Chord Diagrams
Guitar Strings, Frets, and Nut translate to Chord Charts / Chord Diagrams

Add the Fingers & Numbers to the Guitar Chords Chart / Chord Diagram

Combine what you know so far: The nut, frets, and strings…then you add the fingers 1, 2, 3, 4, to the guitar chords diagram / chords chart. The fingers are added to the mix. If you are right handed, use your left hand to fret. If you are left handed, use your right hand to fret.

Adding the Fingers to Chord Charts / Chord Diagrams
Adding the Fingers to Chord Charts / Chord Diagrams

Remember the "O" = Strummed Open String in the Guitar Chords.

When it comes to reading and playing Open Guitar Chords you must remember to apply the details. Open Guitar Chords often utilize the open strings to build a full sounding chord. Check all guitar chords diagrams for the circles just above the thick black bar ( the guitar nut ).

There may be up to 4 “O”s for open guitar chords. Some “O”s will be on neighboring strings ( like the Open D Major Guitar Chord ), making it easy to apply. Other “O”s may be on seperate sides of the fretboard ( like E Major Open Chord ), making it a bit more difficult to apply.

Remeber: The goal for all guitar chords is to get all of the intended notes ring out in full. To get better at this, try switching between chords. Gradually speed the switching of guitar chords up so that your brain builds that muscle memory.

Adding the Fingers and Open Strings to Chord Charts / Chord Diagrams
Adding the Fingers and Open Strings to Chord Charts / Chord Diagrams

Side Note: If you see a “T” on a chord diagram or chord chart, that indicates that you should fret that note using your thumb. You would typically see this is barre chords, and the Thumb is usually used to fret the Top/Big E String.

Need help with tuning?

If you need more help with guitar tuningsetting up your guitarchanging your strings, or need help finding the right guitar just click on the following buttons.

What about the black dots on the strings of the chord chart / chord diagram?

The black dots (circles) on the guitar chords diagram tell you what frets you place your fingers on. Just think of the dots as your fingertips. This becomes second nature after a while, and you will get it with practice! I believe in you.

E Major Open Guitar Chord

E Major Chord Diagram / Chord Chart

So for example, this dot…..tells you to place:

  • Your first (index) finger behind the first fret of the G string. 

The other two dots tell you to place:

  • Your second (middle) finger will go behind the second fret of the A string.

  • Your third (ring) finger will go behind the second fret on the D string.

Once your fingers are fretting those notes, the chart indicates to strum all six strings.

*Remember that the open circles “O”, means it is an open string. That means you will include that string when you strum the chord.

What about the "X" on the Chord Chart / Chord Diagram?

Often times a chord diagram / chord chart will have one or more “X”s above certain strings. That means your must not strum those strings, and ideally you should mute them while playing the chord.

F Major Open Guitar Chord

F Major Chord Diagram / Chord Chart How to Mute X strings.
F Major Chord Diagram / Chord Chart How to Mute X strings.

In the above diagram / chord chart we will only strum four strings. Did you notice the “X’s” above the E, A, and e strings? That means we don’t want to strum those ones. The 4,3,2, and 1 strings will be strummed together to play the “Open D” chord. 

It will seem tricky at first, but your hand and brain will adapt so you won’t even need to think about it. One of the ways that will happen will be to left hand mute the top two strings with your thumb. Sounds hard right? Don’t worry! It is an easy skill to master quickly.

What does Mute mean?

Anytime you rest your finger/hand on a string without pressing down is called “muting”. This technique ensures the string(s) cannot ring out. Sometimes you need to play a chord that doesn’t use all the strings. The easiest way to avoid playing those strings is to mute them with your left hand. That way if you accidently strum that string, it won’t ring out.

D Major Open Guitar Chord

D Major Chord Diagram / Chord Chart How to Mute X strings.
D Major Chord Diagram / Chord Chart How to Mute X strings.

In the above diagram we will only strum four strings. The D, G, B, and e strings will be strummed together, while muting the E and A strings, to play the “Open D” chord.

There are two main ways to mute a string. The first is the Left Hand Mute, and the second is the Right Hand Mute.

The way I would mute the strings in the D chord diagram / chord chart above, would be to use the left hand method. I would rest my thumb on the E and A strings, letting my thumb hang naturally over top of the neck. It’s very easy to master, so don’t skip this! 

What is a Barre Chord?

Barre chords are a more advanced way of playing guitar chords. At first, you’ll want to master all the open chords. When you feel comfortable, the next step is to learn barre chords diagrams / chord charts.

 

Barre Chords are how we move open chords up the fretboard. Think of the your index finger as a guitar nut that you can move. In order to move upward on the fretboard using the open chord shapes you just learned, you need to bar the strings with your index finger.

E Major Open Guitar Chord

F Major Barre Guitar Chord

E and F Barre Chord Charts / Chord Diagrams
E and F Barre Chord Charts / Chord Diagrams

This can seem very challenging to any guitar student. The goal here is to use your straightened index finger to bar the E, A, and e strings at the first fret. Your index finger will be fretting three strings all at once. 

You’ll likely feel uncomfortable, and may not get all the strings to ring out. That’s okay! Every person who has ever learned barre chords has experienced this! Even Jimmy Hendrix and Eddie Van Halen struggled when they first attempted the Barre Chord!

Guitar Chords Beyond the Fifth Fret

As you progress in your study you will encounter chord charts with extra markings on them. Don’t be intimidated by a few unusual numbers or symbols…be excited! The more you learn, the farther ahead of the competition. 

Markings like: “6th Fret” or “7th Fret” or “9th Fret” etc. In the really advanced guitar chord charts you will see Fm7th. That means F minor with an added 7th note. You’ll see that in Jazz or Blues Genres a lot.

B Minor Barre Chord

Chords beyond the 5th fret like Bm Chord Diagrams / Chord Charts
Chords beyond the 5th fret like Bm Chord Diagrams / Chord Charts

This simply indicates that the chord is to be played at the 7th Fret. In other words:

  • Barre with your index finger at the 7th fret.

  • Ring Finger(3) at the 9th fret on the A string.

  • Pinky Finger(4) at the 9th on the D string.

You now understand how to look at a guitar chord diagram / chord chart, and be confident in your knowledge. 
Congratulations!!!

   That pretty much covers everything you need to know about Guitar Chord Charts and Chord Diagrams! I’ve given you all the information you need to read and understand any chord diagram out there. If you feel overwhelmed, don’t fret!

   Lol, its normal to feel that way. Learning how to play guitar takes more than a few days. Certainly longer than it takes to read this article.

_____________________________________________________________________________

   The good news is, you are starting to comprehend chords and how to use chord diagrams. Believe me, once you memorize the chords they will stick with you for the rest of your life. You just need to hang in there and practice at least five minutes everyday.

   Before you know it, a week will have gone by, then a month, then a year. By then you’ll be strumming away, not even thinking about the chords you are playing. 

_____________________________________________________________________________

   That is one of the coolest aspects of learning this instrument. Once your muscle memory is trained, you won’t have to think about what you are playing anymore. It will come to you like it is second nature.

   All it takes your willingness to put in the work up front. If there is one thing I can guarantee, its that you will never ever regret the time and effort you put in. Learning to play the guitar is one of the best things you can do in this life. Plus, everyone knows guitar players are cool. They always will be.

B Major Barre Chord

B Major Guitar Chord Charts / Chord Diagrams
B Major Guitar Chord Charts / Chord Diagrams

Wait! Before You Go....

The 9 Essential Guitar Chords Diagram PDF

 

Thanks for reading this far. Before you go I want you to have the essential guitar chords cheat sheet. It’s a guitar chord diagrams pdf  with the basics to help you along. It will set you up with the chords you need in order to play the vast majority of songs. You can even print it out and tape it to the back your guitar…temporarily of course!

Essential-Chord-Diagram-Chart-1.jpg
Essential-Chord-Diagram-Chart

Guitar Cheat Sheet

Blank Chord Diagram / Chord Chart
Guitar Chord Diagram Blank PDF Free Download

Guitar Chord Diagram Blank PDF Free Download

  • What is a "Guitar Chord Diagram"?

    The simplest way to learn new chords is through chord diagrams. They are exactly what they sound like, a diagram showing how and where to play chords on your guitar neck.

    A Chord Diagram is just a map of the guitar's fretboard. 

    • The thick black bar at the top is the guitar nut, its where the fretboard starts.

    • The thin horizontal lines below, are the frets

    • The vertical lines are the strings.

    • The circle above each string indicates an open string. 

  • What is a guitar nut?

    A Guitar Nut is piece of bone, ivory, or plastic at the top of the fretboard.

    • Its where the strings first contact the guitar neck.

    • It holds the strings in their slots.

    • Its the thick black bar on the chord diagram.

     

  • What is a Barre Chord?

    Barre chords are a more advanced way of playing guitar chords. At first, you'll want to master all the open chords. When you feel comfortable, the next step is to learn barre chords. 

    Barre Chords are how we move open chords up the fretboard. Think of the your index finger as a bar. In order to move upward on the fretboard using the open chord shapes you just learned, you need to bar the strings with your index finger.

  • What are the Xs for on a Chord Diagram?

    Often times a chord diagram will have one or more "X"s above certain strings. That means your must not strum those strings, and ideally you should mute them while playing the chord.

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