In 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!