How to Read Guitar Chords

how to read guitar chords

Being a beginner, knowing how to read the guitar chords is one of the most essential skills. There are approx 4000 possible chords & memorizing all of them will be a  pain in the arse. Instead, we can learn to read & understand the guitar chord structure.

Guitar chords can be shown in two methods, first being in the form of tabs & the second being in the form of diagrams. We have already learnt how to read tabs, the next thing we need to know is how to read chord diagrams.  

By the end of this artefact, you should be able to read & understand all the guitar chord diagrams & play them as well.

A Simple Chord Diagram

Before we start with the understanding of the diagrams, let me first show you how a guitar chord diagram looks like.

E major chord diagram

As shown in the image, this what generally chord diagrams look like.  Now before, we start understanding the various components of the above chord, let us have a look at what an empty chord diagram looks like.

An Empty Chord Diagram

Below is a image of an empty chord

Empty chord diagram

Now to start, the broad black border at the top of the chord diagram denotes the nut of the guitar. It can often be indicated by any other color or by any other object.

describing the guitar nut

The five blocks below the border denote the frets below the nut. Here in this diagram, there are five blocks. Hence, it represents fret 1, fret 2, fret 3, fret 4 & fret 5.

Fret distribution

The vertical lines running down from the bold black border represents the six strings of the guitar. The extreme right represents the thinnest 1st string, while the extreme left represents the thickest sixth string.

String description

Now that we fully understood a blank chord diagram, now let us proceed to the other components of a guitar chord.

The Numbers

The numbers at the bottom of the chord structure diagram represent the fingers, which we need to use. If you look at the chord diagram, you will notice that the numbers are placed below every vertical line(which represent the strings.).

figer declaration

For example, if 1 is written below the third-string, it means that you have to use your 1st finger or the index finger to press the string against the fret.  Most of the chord diagram often use the four fingers. However, you may occasionally see the letter ’T’ instead of the number. This T means you have to use your thumb to press the string against the fret board.

The Black Dots
E major chord

The black dots on the chord diagram denotes the fret which needs to be played. If we consider the above diagram, we see that the dots are in the 1st fret of 3rd string & 2nd fret of the 4th and 5th string.

So to explain how to play this chord, I can say that you have to press the 1st fret of the 3rd string with your 1st finger. Then you need to hold the 2nd frets of the 5th string with your 2nd finger & the 2nd fret of the 4th string with your 3rd finger & play them all together.  You just played the E major chord.

That’s how simple this is. Now with this knowledge, you can play some chords. However, there are some more components in the chord diagram structure, which we need to know & understand.

The Blank Dots
E major chord

If we once again consider the same chord, we see that there are some blank dots over the 1st, 2nd & 6th strings. These empty dots represent the open strings. That is we can play these strings without holding them against any frets.

The X Symbol

 Now  let us consider a  different chord diagram.

X description

In this chord, we see that there are two X symbols at the top of the 6th & 5th strings. This simply means that we don’t need to play those two strings. So here in this chord, we will hold the 2nd fret of the 3rd string with our 1st finger, the 3rd fret of the 2nd string with our 2nd finger & the 2nd fret of the 1st string with our 3rd finger. We will keep the 4th string open. Now we will strum from the 4th string to the 1st string. That is a  D major chord.

So we did not play the 5th & the 6th string as they are marked with the X symbol.

The Barre Chords

Once you have mastered the root chords, you would probably want to play the barre chords. Now barre chords are a bit tougher than the root chords & they need a lot of strength in your fingers.

Below we have a chord diagram of a G major barre chord.

bar chord

Here in this chord the straight dark bar in the 3rd fret, denote the barre in this chord. They can also be indicated by a curved line above the nut position. Here in this chord, we see that we need to use our 1st finger to barre the 3rd  fret & then use our 2nd, 3rd & 4th finger accordingly.

We will learn more about barre chords in the later articles.

Chords beyond the Fifth Fret

Once you are thorough with your root/open chords, you will be introduced to a world of chords beyond the 5th fret.

Em bar chord

Let us consider this chord diagram. This is the chord diagram of the E minor chord. If you see this chord, you will notice that this chord is different from the previous chords. In this diagram, there is no nut border. Instead, there is a ‘7fr’ symbol beside the first fret in the diagram. This simply means that the chord diagram starts from the 7th fret.  So to play this chord, we need to barre the 7th fret with our 1st finger. Then we need to hold the 8th fret of the 2nd string with our 2nd finger & so on.

Play your First Chord

You are all set to play your chords. You can use our Chord library to gain access to over 1000 chord diagrams with the help of a simple search console.

[Tip: Start with the open Em chord]


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