How To Read A Guitar Chord Chart (easy beginners guide)
Guitar chord charts (also known as chord boxes or chord diagrams) show a vertical depiction of a guitar neck and how to play a guitar chord.
They look very confusing at first, so in this article we’re going to break it down as simply as possible to ensure you learn this quickly and easily.
If you already understand the basics, here’s a very short overview (don’t worry if you don’t understand some of this, we’re going to explain each part in more detail further down this page):
Quick Chord Chart Explanation
- Each horizontal line represents a fret
- The top horizontal line represents the nut
- Each vertical line represents a guitar string
- The line on the left represents the low E string (the thickest string)
- The line on the right represents the high E string (the thinnest string)
- The dots represent where you put your fingers
- An X above the the top of a string means don’t play (or sometimes mute) this string
- If there is no X above a string and there’s no dot anywhere on the string – you play that string open (you don’t press a note with your left hand but you play the string anyway)
- Some chord charts show an O above the string to make clear it’s an open string. But this isn’t usually used as it’s not necessary.
- A solid line going across the middle of the strings represents a barre (pressing one finger across multiple strings)
If you find guitar apps helpful when learning, take a look through our list of top guitar apps for 2023 that we recently reviewed and ranked.
Matching The Diagram To Your Fretboard
As you can see in the image above that shows a vertical fretboard next to a blank chord chart, it really is just a simple diagram of your fretboard!
The vertical lines show your strings, the horizontal lines show your fret bars, and (more often than not) the thick line at the top shows your guitar’s nut.
We’ve also included the string names above the nut so you can easily see how each string is represented on the chord charts.
Just remember that the E string on the left represents the low E string (think one) and the E string on the right represents the high E string (thin one).
Now that you understand a blank chord chart, we’re going to look at the dots
SEE ALSO: The Best Apps To Learn Guitar In 2023
Understanding The Dots
The dots on chord charts show you where to place your fingers on the fretboard. So let’s take a look at the G chord for example:
As you can see, to play a G chord, a finger must go on the:
- 3rd fret of the low E string
- 2nd fret of the A string
- 3rd fret of the high E string
If we flip the fretboard graphic around it becomes far easier to see how you need to replicate it on your own guitar:
Here’s an image showing what the G chord looks like when you place your fingers in those exact positions:
Over time, your brain will get used to mentally flipping the chord charts around in your head and you won’t need to give it much conscious thought.
The X’s On Chord Charts
Above some strings you’ll see an X, this means do not strum this string. This is one of the hardest parts of learning chords at the beginning but fear not – with time it’ll become completely natural.
Let’s take a look at one of the most common chords, the C chord:
As you can see, the X above the low E string shows us that we need to strum all of the strings, except for the low E string.
SEE ALSO: Major Guitar Chords (how to play them with easy versions)
Solid Line Across Strings On Chord Charts
If you see a solid line going across multiple strings, this means it’s a barre chord. With barre chords, you need to press one finger across multiple strings.
These are a little bit more difficult to play than other types of chords and we wouldn’t advise rushing into trying to play these straight away as it can be unnecessarily discouraging.
In our book, “Your First Six Guitar Songs”, we share easy variations of the difficult barre chords you can learn in a few minutes that sound equally as good (if not better)!
Solid Line Across Strings Followed By “2fr”
Sometimes you’ll find chord charts for barre chords that have “2fr” written next to the barre (like we do on the B chord). This stands for “2nd Fret”, and means that although it might show the barre on the 1st fret (like it does with the B chord), we should actually place our finger on the 2nd fret instead.
3fr stands for 3rd Fret, 4fr stands for 4th fret etc.
Numbers On Chord Charts
Some chord charts will include numbers to help new guitarists understand where to place each finger.
We don’t add finger numbers to chords charts as they’re unnecessary to most of our website users. However, with that being said, we do understand that there’s a lot of people who are learning to play song chords on our website that don’t know the finger positions for chords, which is why we’ve included a step by step instruction of which finger goes where and which strings to strum on each chord on our chord pages.
Some Easy Guitar Chord Charts To Start Off With
Here are some of the first chords you should start off practicing:
G Guitar Chord
- Place your index finger on the 2nd fret of the 5th string
- Place your middle finger on the 3rd fret of the 6th string
- Place your ring finger on the 3rd fret of the 1st string
- Strum all strings
E Guitar Chord
- Place your index finger on the 1st fret of the 3rd string
- Place your middle finger on the 2nd fret of the 5th string
- Place your ring finger on the 2nd fret of the 4th string
- Strum all strings
D Guitar Chord
- Place your index finger on the 2nd fret of the 3rd string
- Place your middle finger on the 2nd fret of the 1st string
- Place your ring finger on the 3rd fret of the 2nd string
- Strum all strings, except the 5th and 6th strings
C Guitar Chord
- Place your index finger on the 1st fret of the 2nd string
- Place your middle finger on the 2nd fret of the 4th string
- Place your ring finger on the 3rd fret of the 5th string
- Strum all strings, except the 6th string
A Guitar Chord
- Place your index finger on the 2nd fret of the 4th string
- Place your middle finger on the 2nd fret of the 3rd string
- Place your ring finger on the 2nd fret of the 2nd string
- Strum all strings, except the 6th string
Want To Master Chord Charts In The Next 8 Days?
Now that you understand how to read chord charts, you need to put it into practice if you want to remember what you’ve learned.
The good news? This is achievable in just 8 days (and it won’t take you any more than 9 minutes).
But there’s a catch – you need to commit to a minimum of 9 minutes per day (3 minutes on each chord) for the next 8 days.
Sound good? Okay great, here’s exactly what you need to do:
Print this out: Common Guitar Chords PDF
Day 1: Practice A, A7 and Am chords
Day 2: Practice Am7, Amaj7 and B chords
Day 3: Practice B7, Bm and C chords
Day 4: Practice C7, Cmaj7 and D chords
Day 5: Practice D7, Dm and Dm7 chords
Day 6: Practice Dmaj7, E and E7 chords
Day 7: Practice Em, Em7 and F chords
Day 8: Practice Fmaj7, G and G7 chords
Commit to these next 8 days and I guarantee you will not regret it. Because on day 8 you’ll not only have practiced reading chord charts enough to remember it for the rest of your life, you’ll also have experience playing the 24 most common chords you’re going to need for your future.
And remember, if you need help knowing which fingers go where for any of the chords, you can find instructions for each on this page here.