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A Guide To Guitar Chords

How to Read Guitar Chord Charts

The topics covered in this tutorial:
  • Guitar chord charts and how to read them
  • Guitar chord fingering

If you want to learn how to play guitar chords, the first thing you need to do is learn how to decipher guitar chord charts.

A guitar chord chart is a list of chord diagrams. A chord diagram is a visual representation of a guitar chord.

Here's an example of a guitar chord diagram:

Guitar chord chart of C

Let me explain to you how to read this guitar chord diagram:

Guitar chord chart explanation

You see six lines going from left to right and six lines going from top to bottom.

The lines going from left to right represent the guitar strings. The line most to the left represents the thickest string of the guitar (the low E string). The line most to the right represents the skinniest string of the guitar (the high E string).
The lines in between represent strings A, D, G and B.

The lines going from top to bottom represent the frets.  The top line is the nut of the guitar (see picture above), the second line is the first fret, the third line the second fret, ...

The black dots on the guitar chord diagram represent the fingers.
A black dot means you have to place a finger there (between the two frets) and push the string down.  The chart doesn't tell you which fingers you have to use, but most of the time it's obvious what finger goes where.

The white dots represent an open string.  In our example above the white dots above string G and E mean that those strings have to be played open (so without fretting them).

Strings that don't have a black or a white dot are not played.

The C on top of the guitar chord chart represents the chord name.  In our example it's the chord of C.

Let's look back at our example:

Guitar chord chart of C

  • the low E string has no dots, so it's not played
  • the A string has a dot above the 3rd fret (we say 'on the 3rd fret', but you place your finger behind the fret and not on it).  So we put a finger on the 3rd fret
  • the D string is fingered at the 2nd fret
  • the G string is open
  • the B string is fretted at the 1st fret
  • the high E string is open
More information about chord names and how to construct chords you can read in the guitar chord theory tutorial. There's one more thing you need to know to be able to read guitar chord charts.
Have a look at the following example:

Guitar chord chart of C

You see a 5 standing to the left of the guitar neck.
This means the first fret on the guitar chord chart is the actually the 5th fret on the guitar neck.

So in this example we play:

  • no low E string
  • 5th fret on the A string
  • 7th fret on the D string
  • 7th fret on the G string
  • 6th fret on the B string
  • 5th fret on the high E string
This chord is actually a guitar bar chord.

One more thing we need to talk about is guitar chord fingering.
Like I told you above, it is most of the time obvious which fingering you use, but in some cases it's not.

Fingers are named as followed:

Guitar chord fingering

P.S. All guitar chord charts on this web site are free and printable, so you don't have to go online all the time to look up a chord.  You can also download the guitar chord charts.
For printing place your mouse pointer on a guitar chord chart sheet, right click and select 'Print Picture...'.
For downloading place your mouse on a guitar chord chart, right click and select 'Save Picture As...'.


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