How To Read Chord Diagrams

Learn How To Read Chord Diagrams For The Guitar!

How To Read Chord DiagramsIn this guitar lesson we are going to learn how to read chord diagrams. Chord diagrams are graphics that tell you where to put your fingers on the fretboard in order to make a specific chord. Often you will see chord diagrams at the top of a music chart or throughout the chart. Sometimes these are put there just in case you don’t know the chord, but sometimes the person who wrote the song wants that specific shape to be played for that chord.

Chord diagrams have six vertical lines that represent the strings of the guitar and a few horizontal lines that represent the frets. The far left string represents the low E and the far right string represents the high E. Sometimes you will see diagrams with plain black dots that indicate where you should put your fingers, and sometimes you will see black dots with numbers in them. These numbers represent the finger number that you should be using playing those notes.

Learn how to number your fingers for guitar here!

There are a couple more chord diagram symbols that you should be aware of. If you see a rectangular block at the top of the diagram, that just represents the nut of the guitar. If you don’t see the nut you will probably see a number to the left of the diagram that indicates what fret you should be on. An X above one of the strings means that you should mute or just not play that string. If you see a black dot or just a circle above one of the strings, that means that you should be playing that string open. Thick black lines or arcs that go over multiple strings represent bars. If you see a thick black line like this you will probably be playing a bar chord.

Learn how to number your fretboard here!

Now that you know what all of the symbols in a chord diagram mean, let’s try a few examples. Start with an open G major chord. If you were to look at a diagram of this chord you would see dots on the 3rd fret of the 6th string, 2nd fret of the 5th string, and 3rd fret of the 1st string. All of the other strings would have dots or circles above them to indicate that you should play them open.

Try a G major bar chord. For this example, you would see a thick black line or an arc across all six strings. This is a bar with your 1st finger. Odds are that you would see 3 to the left of the diagram indicating that you should place your bar on the 3rd fret. There would be three more dots on this diagram. The dots would represent your 3rd finger on the 5th fret of the 5th string, 4th finger on the 5th fret of the 4th string, and your 2nd finger on the 4th fret of the 3rd string. Again, some diagrams may have finger numbers on the dots and some may not.

Reading chord diagrams may come slowly at first, but if you stick with it you will start to recognize certain chord diagrams instantly. Grab a piece of music that you like or look one up on the web. See if you can read the chord diagrams and maybe even learn some new chords in the process.

After you have finished this guitar lesson, you may want to learn more about guitar theory, and reading guitar sheet music!

This Lesson Has 50 Comments

  • angela says:

    hey nate!
    thanks for these lessons, they are really awesome.
    You mentioned that the white dot indicates that we play that string open what does a black dot (right on the top of the chord diagram) mean?

    • Avir Goes says:

      Black and White both are equal to each other….its an open string….play it open without fretting……

    • Uzal says:

      The black dot at the top of 4th string indicates the ‘root note G’ in open string position. The other two black dots marked 3 & 4 are also the G notes. So all the black dots represent the ‘G’ note which is the root note of G Major Chord (G B D). You may be aware that a particular note or the root note of a chord appears more than once in a chord depending on the shape and position of the chord just as the G note has appeared 3 times in the given diagram.

      6th string 3rd fret – G Root note
      1st string 3rd fret – G Root note
      4th string open – G Root note

  • joanne says:

    i am sorry, i didnt get anything!!!

    • Francis says:

      Yes I can but setmmieos the capo makes that “plus” you know ;D. Makes you feel cool

    • thomaS says:


  • charles says:

    oops, i cant get anything………..

  • Zane says:

    Thanks Nate for the extr help! I already knew how to strum the chords and everything, but thanks for clarifying everything for me! And if anyone needs help with anything, contact me at, i will try my hardest to help you with any questions you might have, because im sure Nate is probably busy giving amazing lessons!

  • Mike says:

    What is the difference between the white dots and the black dots?

    very confusing why these are not all the same.

    • oswalr says:

      The black dot represents the name of the root. One of these examples has the D as the lowest note, the G “the black dot” as the middle note and the B as the highest note.

    • Greg says:

      What does it mean if there is a a finger number on multiple strings. like a number one on string 5,2, and 3? i think it means you can use any of those strings

  • JC Francois says:

    The black dots represents the root note of the chord. In the example above of the G Major chord it highlights the G.

    • Matthew says:

      That would work if there was only one dot “highlighted” but the dots on the strings are also black and white?

  • mickey says:

    Nate,u have any band???

  • CJohn364 says:

    Okay, I understand the black dot at the top of the diagram represents the root note and the white dots are played openly. Now, what’s the difference between the white and black dots for the finger placement. Like why is the #2 finger in a white dot while the #3 and #4 fingers are in black dots? I’m confused.

    • Mathias says:

      I agree this is confusing because it hasn’t been spelled out above. Took me quite some thinking and experimenting to work out. :)

      The #3 and #4 fingers are also black because they too are G-notes, the same as the root note. I.e. if the string with the #3 finger on it was open it would be an E. Adding a finger to it on the third fret makes it a G (finger on first fret = F, second fret = F#, third fret = G, because the semi-tones are A, A#, B, C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#, so E+3=G). The #4 finger is also on a string tuned in E, so the exact same thing is true here too. Finger #2 on the second fret makes the A string a B, so it’s not the same as the root note and thus shown in white. The third open string is a D and the fifth open string is another B. So the chord consists of three Gs, two Bs and a D. At least these simple chords are always three distinct notes.

  • trinity says:

    i’ll just turn my paper sidewayes to represent the neck

  • Alexander says:

    I think am doing well because of your help, but i need lesson on how to scale on the guitar. thank you all.

  • Kate says:

    Hi Nate, I have downloaded some guitar chords but they are all abbreviated. Please tell me what A’m’ or B’b’ means??

  • Des says:

    I am trying to figure out the white dots? and what does it mean to “play open”? am I mising something? thanks. :)

    • brad whittington says:

      you gotta read to get the answer.theres more important questions like theory and where’s the “c” come from at all.what this guy talkin about with subtractions and does # mean major or minor(3,3#)if so whats the symbol for the other g# equals g major then g minor looks like g?.is there even g minor.WHAT/WHERE DO WE FIND THE BASIC NOTE INFO AT?HOW DID THEY DECIDE ON NON ALPHABETICAL ORDERED E , A, D, G, B, E,???? (EAT ALL DAY GO(to)BED EARLY)

  • Ash says:

    What’s the difference between the black and white dots ????????

    • Uzal says:

      Each chord is built on a specific note and that particular note is called the root note and the root note has been indicated in black.

      (For Example the ‘C Major’ chord is built on the ‘C’ note and the 3 notes of C major chord are C E G (1 3 5). ‘C’ remaining at the root(1st position) of the chord structure, is there for called the root note.)

    • Chandula(S.L.) says:

      Black dot means- the string is fingered.
      White dot means- the string is ‘open’. ‘Open’ means it’s not fingered (touched). When there is a white dot, it says not to finger it/ play open(don’t totch it).
      I think I’m right… Plz 4gv me if it’s nt.

  • Addman says:

    I know one thing that has really helped me is memorizing every note on each fret for every string.

  • jitu says:

    ooh it is very is best for me to learn from begin.

  • acoustic guitar learn play says:

    I believe that is among the so much significant information for me. And i’m happy studying your article. But wanna commentary on few normal issues, The website taste is ideal, the articles is in reality great : D. Good task, cheers

  • Joe Miranda says:

    Hi. I was wondering if you coould do a guitar cover on a song by Cypress Hill called “Carry Me Away”. It would mean alot to me. Thanks. :)

  • Infinite says:

    thank you sir…

  • Jenny says:

    thanks sir..
    this is so helpful…

    • Caio says:

      diha ka Kat hawod diay si Jason play guitar sus, ning akong bugoy.. giiplatan na nako gitara kay gusto daw.. karon di na pud.. kalagot jud…;) agi ko oi..

  • Garima says:

    Great Job Nate !! this is just awesome. i picked up the guitar myself without any training, and i think i play reassonally well now.
    However, i have problem with there a way i can get a good hold on that?

  • Mohamad says:

    I keep getting this ad for wildfire and Bears and I can’t to the video lesson, what is the solution

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  • tinaah says:

    you guys you are realy awsome and l appreciate it these things they are realy helpful…

  • alice says:

    teach me more i am a complete learner thanks email back

  • lizzy says:

    oh! this is just hard and confusing! I’m beginning to wonder what I got myself into! :(

  • Lance X Rocking ON Heavens Door..!!!!!!!!!! says:

    Good!! :)

  • Hansi says:

    I think I can read a guitar code well now..:)

  • honey says:

    Alas !! This is too much confusing.

  • Chuck says:

    Nate, thanks for all your great work, I’m so much from your website and videos. I was just wondering what do the black dots mean on the guitar tabs, as opposed to the white dots? Thanks again :)

  • Gbenga says:

    Helloo,i like ur lesson its a good work, Gbenga by name.i need more guitar lesson from u,this is my 4yrs of playing it.But i still want to get so technique on how to play solo notes,how to play rhythm notes and the deference between pentatonic and chromatic.How to progress chords perfectly.

  • koffi says:


  • Destiny says:

    This site is rili grt bt cn we jst pls hav diagrams in dis site i rili luv u guys tnks alot

  • Tshoks says:

    wow i never thought of playin a guitar considerin the fact that its a very unique instrmnt to play but after this leasons i think i’m gonna buy myslf a guitar n stat practisin right away. thanx u r more understandable

  • Anchal says:

    Helped a lot


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