How To Read Guitar Chord Charts

Reading guitar chord charts is an important skill when learning how to play guitar – and will carry through as an important tool even as you become more advanced and start learning more challenging chords. Fortunately, learning how to read guitar chord charts is super easy using the following guide.

Starting with chords really is one of the best ways to improve your guitar playing skills. Scales can be overwhelming, and sprawling songs really can bring a beginner guitarist undone – but guitar chord charts really are magic because they show you exactly how to play the chord, and you’ll immediately hear any issues in your technique or whether you’re making an error with the chord; either the chord will just sound ‘wrong’, or you’ll hear fret buzz and other artifacts that don’t belong in a nicely played chord.

What is a guitar chord, and what is a guitar chord chart?

Chords are a series of musical notes played together in union, in the case of guitar strummed, creating a set of harmonious pitches.

A guitar chord chart is a simple way to learn and identify new chords when you are playing guitar. Over time you will learn to memorise the common basic chords like C, Em, G, F etc, but more challenging chords might not necessarily be in your repetoire, and a quick glance at the chord diagram will have you playing that tricky D#MinAdd9 in no time flat. The secret to reading guitar chord charts is to learn the following key;

Diagram 1. In the first diagram, we see an Open chord, where the open/unfretted strings are either left to ring at their original pitch, or muted to avoid disharmony. The solid line at the top indicated the nut of the guitar, where the strings are held before running to the tuning heads. The lighter horizontal lines indicate the literal frets (the metal bars set into the neck at various intervals), and the vertical lines indicate the strings themselves.

The “X” indicates a muted string that does not ring/is not played, the open “O” indicates an open string which is left to ring in the chord, and the solid dots are fretted notes – often marked with a number as in diagram two, indicating which finger should fret the note;

  • Finger 1 – Index Finger
  • Finger 2 – Middle Finger
  • Finger 3 – Ring Finger
  • Finger 4 – Pinky Finger

Diagram 2.  In the second diagram, we see a barre chord (Commonly referred to as a Bar Chord). The solid line running through the centre of a fret is a barre usually created by the index finger lying across each string – the number found next to this bar indicates the fret number at which the barre is created. The number indicated in the fretted note itself indicates the suggested finger to use in the chord as above.

As you can see, chord diagrams are easy with this simple key. I encourage you to get started learning some beginner chords using the simple key to guitar chords.

Do you have any questions about how to read guitar chord charts? let me know in the comments below!


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