Reading A Guitar Chord Chart

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Learn How To Read A Guitar Chord Chart!

In this guitar lesson we are going to go over how to read a chord chart on the guitar. We are talking about the type of chord chart that you would find in a “Real Book” or when you show up to play a cover gig. If you have never seen a chart like this there is really not all that much to them. They are like a stripped down road map for a song. You could usually expect to see some chords above the staff, sometimes a melody, a suggestion for the musical style, maybe some rhythm indicators and some symbols to follow for the form of the song.

The best way to understand chord charts is to just jump right in a take a look at one. Let’s start with a simple example. Take a look at the chord chart that goes with this lesson. For each measure you will see four diagonal slashes. These are rhythm indicators. Usually, when you see consistent slashes like these you can come up with your own rhythm to fit the style of the song or you can play straight quarter notes. The keys to deciding what rhythms to play with the chord progression are listening to what the other players in the band are playing and fitting your playing to the style of the song.

The chord chart that goes with this lesson is a simple progression in the key of G major. The progression is B minor 7, A dominant 7, A minor 7, D dominant 7, G major 7. Each chord gets one full measure except for the A minor 7 and D dominant 7 chords. Look at the third measure of the chord chart. The A minor 7 chord is above the 1st slash and the D dominant 7 chord is above the 3rd slash. On a chord chart like this, when you see a chord placed above a specific rhythm, you should play that chord when that rhythm occurs. In this case you would play the A minor 7 on beats one and two of the third measure and the D dominant 7 chord on beats three and four of the third measure.

You will see charts like this a lot in jazz music, but there are times when you might show up to a pop or cover gig and see a chart like this too. Being familiar with following charts like this can get you out of some tight spots and make you look like a pro.

I suggest that you go out and buy a “Real Book”. This is just a huge collection of jazz standards that are all written out in a way similar to the example that you saw in this lesson. Start with some of the easy songs first to get more familiar with how these charts work. Find some songs that you like and listen to recordings of those songs to see if you are matching the style properly.

This Lesson Has 13 Comments

  • Mixalis says:

    hello Nate!!!

    I Need to ask you a question… Where in guitar the lessons tab can i find those chords such as d7,a7 bm7 i don’t know non of this Help please!!!

    • Rachel says:

      You can definitely see your exrpteise within the work you write. The world hopes for more passionate writers like you who are not afraid to mention how they believe. All the time follow your heart. The only way most people recognize their limits is by trespassing on them. by Tom Morris.

    • Vitor says:

      Excellent read, I just passed this onto a culelagoe who was doing some research on that. And he actually bought me lunch as I found it for him smile So let me rephrase that: Thanks for lunch! He who walks in another’s tracks leaves no footprints. by Joan Brannon.

  • vivek says:

    You can find every chord on

  • Felicitas P. Calicdan says:

    This lessons is very easy to UNDERSTAND!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • All says:

      Hi Lisa,I have been following your youtbue videos and other free stuff to learn the guitar. I love playing the guitar but time and other constrains have restricted me though I own a very old guitar. Now with your free stuff I have started learning it again. Thanks to you and the internet for the free stuff.

  • Kelviin says:

    Ummm…how do u get ‘f’ key on your guitar??

    • Lali says:

      Hi I just wanted you to know that my husanbd found you on youtube. he plays guitar but a lot of the holiday songs that we pulled up the chords to were very difficult. With your help and your downloads we were able to play for our local nursing home!!! He really enjoys the way that you teach and it was very easy for him to play these songs. THank you so much !!!Linda

  • sandals says:

    You really make it appear really easy with your presentation but I find this matter to be really one thing which I think I might never understand. It sort of feels too complex and extremely extensive for me. I’m looking forward to your next publish, I will attempt to get the grasp of it!

  • buxbuny says:

    he even keeps a guitar properly

  • buxbuny says:


  • Mary says:

    Hey, Nate! This is a really awesome site. I do have a few questions though that may not relate to this exact video. Does it matter the order I learn chords in? I started on the website and I began with the first 3 chords being A, D, and E. Is there a better way to start? Another thing is when I’m changing between chords, sometimes I hear a buzz. This happens mostly between my D and A chords. How do you suggest I eliminate the buzzing noise?

    Thanks. I love your website.

    • Nate Savage says:

      Hey Mary, It’s nice to learn chords that go together and are in the same key. A D and E major are all in the same key so that’s great because you can play some real music. :) G, C, and D major are all in the key of G so those are good to learn together. A lot of times changing between chords can be frustrating if you don’t get the individual chords down by themselves first. Work on just the individual D and A chords by themselves, and really get them down to where you can go right to them. Once you have that down, changing between the chords will be much easier. :) Have you gone through the Beginner Guitar Quick-Start Series yet here on the site?


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