When you're learning guitar or when you want to learn a new chord, guitar chord diagrams are going to be one of your first stops. But what exactly are chord diagrams, and how do you read them when you're learning guitar?
In this article, we'll look at a simple definition of a chord diagram and how you can read them quickly. This will help you improve on chords you've already worked with, while making it easy for you to pick up new chords as you improve and expand your musical vocabulary.
We'll start with a definition a guitar chord diagram and go from there.
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Guitar Chord Diagrams: How to Read
Chord diagrams are different depending on the instrument.
For guitar, they are usually displayed with six vertical lines - representing six guitar strings - along with four to six horizonal boxes, representing frets. Circles, usually with numbers that represent a recommended finger, are used to indicate which strings and frets you should press to play the chord in question.
Here's an example of a guitar chord diagram for a C chord:
We mentioned that the yellow numbers indicate fingers, so here's a "key" that shows you which finger equals which number:
Here's how to read all the elements of the example C chord diagram, above:
- Blue Dots: Mark the string and fret that should be played
- Yellow numbers: Indicate recommended finger to use
- Blank dot outside diagram: Indicates open string to be played
- X outside diagram: Indiates string that should be muted or not played
- Gray numbers outside of diagram: Fret numbers
For some, chord diagrams can be confusing to read, even after going through the elements and what they mean. For people who might still find it confusing, it can be helpful to have the process explained to them step-by-step.
In keeping with the above C chord diagram example, you would read it as follows:
- Use your ring finger to play the third fret and fifth string (second thickest string)
- Use your middle finger to play the second fret, fourth string
- Let the third string ring open
- Use your pointer finger to play the first fret, second string
- Mute the first string (the thinnest string)
Thus, the above chord diagram, showing you how to play a C chord, would look like this:
What if the chord diagram is displayed left to right (landscape) instead of up and down (portrait)?
In some cases, you might come across guitar chord diagrams that are displayed left-to-right instead of up and down. Formally, this is not the correct way to display guitar, chords.
You can still read them the same way, applying the information we've already given you about the portrait version. In most cases, these diagrams use all of the same elements and can be understood the same way:
In the above example, your string lines are vertical while the fretboard boxes are horizontal. This is still fairly easy to read, but not technically correct.
Guitar Chord Diagram Resources
If you're looking for other guitar chord diagram resources, we've put together a list of helpful sites that we've used in the past and would recommend to you.
A downloadable list of blank chord diagram sheets that can be printed out and written on. Helpful for lessons and teachers.
TrueFire has a massive poster-style chord chart that can be easily download for classroom's or personal study.
Like TrueFire, Guitar Tricks has a collection of chord diagrams built on HTML5 in individual categories and pages, covering just about every chord you could imagine. It's not a poster-style download like TrueFire, but instead a helpful reference where you can easily navigate through different chord types quickly.
The Chordify app is one of the easiest ways to learn songs using chords only. It's great for bass players and acoustic guitar artists who do a lot of covers.
Once you get the hang of reading chord diagrams, it's a really simple and intuitive process. If you take the time to learn it when you start playing, as a beginner, the skill will stick with you and you'll be able to pick up new chords along the way.
Just try and visualize the six strings and the fret indicators, as though you're looking straight at the fretboard.
If you're familiar with those elements, you'll be able to read the dots and finger numbers pretty easily.
Your Questions about Chord Diagrams
Do you have questions about how to read chord diagrams or the examples we've given? If so, get in touch via the comments section below and we'll help out as best we can.