How to Read a Guitar Chord Diagram

How to Read a Guitar Chord Diagram

Guitar chord diagrams show you how play chords. At first they can look like confusing grids of lines, numbers, and circles. Soon, though, they become useful tools for learning and writing down finger positions.

A chord diagram represents a section of the guitar neck. Picture the guitar hanging on the wall, body down, strings facing you. A chord diagram is oriented this way.

The topmost horizontal line represents the nut. (There are exceptions to this.) The other horizontal lines represent frets. Count from the nut to find the fret. For example, the third line down on the diagram represents the third fret on the guitar.

The vertical lines represent strings. The leftmost vertical line stands for the low E string. The rightmost one stands for the high E string.

A chord symbol sits on top of the diagram and looks something like "A," "Dm," or "Bm7." This is just the name of the chord. A capital letter by itself means a major chord. Just call a major chord by its letter. A letter followed by an "m" indicates a minor chord. For example, "Dm" means a D minor chord. When numbers and other symbols appear, it can indicate more complex chords. For example, "Bm7" indicates a B minor seventh chord.

How to Read a Guitar Chord Diagram

There are little circles or dots peppered throughout the diagram. These represent the positions of your fingertips. They show which string your finger goes on (vertical line) and at which fret (horizontal line).

Sometimes the finger circles have numbers inside them, and sometimes there are numbers at the bottom of the diagram. Wherever they are, the numbers show which finger goes on that string. Count fingers up from the index finger to the pinky, from 1 to 4.

If you see the same number multiple times in a diagram, the chord has a barre. This means to press down with the same finger on two or more strings at the same time. Barre chords can be challenging for beginning players and take practice, but they are worth being able to read and identify.

Above the nut and below the chord symbol, you might sometimes see X's and O's. Sometimes these are at the bottom with the numbers. X's mean not to play that string. O's mean to play the string open. Don't finger an open note, but let it ring from the nut.

One final note: Sometimes the top vertical line in the diagram is not the nut. If it has a number next to it, it indicates that numbered fret. For example, the number 5 next to the top line means the chord is "based" on that fret instead of at the nut.

Learning to read a chord diagram is an important step in learning to play chords on a guitar, and becomes faster and faster with time, until it is second nature.

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