Reading Guitar Chord Diagrams

The purpose of this page is to teach anyone starting out on guitar all about reading guitar chord diagrams.

Chord diagrams are actually very easy. They look like the guitar fretboard because that is what they are, just like a thumbnail of an image on the web.

You will see chord diagrams in all types of written music. These are popular in books written for piano, voice and guitar, or in lesson books. They are also all over the Internet. You don’t have to be able to read or understand music, perfect for getting started.

Chord Diagrams

The Vertical Lines are the Strings
Reading Guitar Chord Diagrams

The diagram is read from left to right with the vertical lines being the strings. The first line on the left is the 6th string, the heavy E and the rest just follow 5-4-3-2-1

The strings on the guitar are as follows from the top string, the Heavy String to the thinner string. E – A – D – G – B – E

The last E is 2 octaves higher than the 6th string.

Horizontal Lines are the Frets

The horizontal lines represent the frets. If there is no number alongside the diagram then it is a first position chord.

If there is a number on the side of the diagram that is the number of the fret. A 7 would mean they are showing you the 7th fret in relation to the chord. The number may be on the left or right side of the diagram. The number may also be written in Roman Numerals like I, IV, or V.

What are the X’s and O’s
Reading Guitar Chord Diagrams

An X along the top of the diagram means that string isn’t used in the chord. It will be dampened by the left or right hand or not played at all as in a chord like the D minor above.

An O means that the open string gets played, usually a first or second position chord but not always.

The letter on top is the name of the chord. This may also have a number with it but that is for another lesson. All you really have to do for now is put your fingers where it shows.

Guitar Chord Finger Numbers
Reading Guitar Chord Diagrams

Left Side Fret Numbers

The numbers on the left are the fret numbers, this is where you place your fingers. If you see a 5 or a V this means the 5th fret.

Bottom Numbers

The diagrams above have the finger numbers at the bottom. The C chord would be played using your 3rd finger on the A string, the 2nd finger on the D string and the 1st finger on the B string.

When you play the F chord your 1st finger will barre the first fret all the way across. If you can’t play a barre chord yet then just play the fist two strings with your first finger and don’t play the two upper strings at all.

Bottom Finger Numbers

  • Your index finger is number 1
  • middle finger number 2
  • ring finger number 3
  • your pinky is number 4

If you are just learning or if you have been playing for a little bit and have trouble with barre chords this will help you.

Place your 1st finger across all the strings on the 10th fret, with your thumb in the center of the back of the neck, play all the notes one at a time.

You will have to adjust your finger up or down and left or right slightly until you find the right spot that lets you have good tone on every string. No buzzing or strings not sounding, this will help you in the future with barre chords.

When you get consistent at getting clear notes move down to the 9th fret and do the same thing again. The closer you get to the first fret the harder it will be to do.

Do this all the way down to the 1st fret one fret at a time. It will be easier if you start at the 10th fret because the strings push down easier near the middle of the string length and work your way back.

The index finger will be used for all your barre chords like the F chord below so get good clear notes and remember the thumb in the center of the neck.

Don’t Squeeze Too Hard

Only squeeze hard enough to get a good clean sound, no Vulcan death grip. You will have to experiment with the amount of pressure you use.

By using the least amount of pressure that you need makes it quicker to release and move on the next chord increasing your speed. It will also make your chord changes smoother.

This also applies to single notes too. Only enough pressure for good tone.

Later on you will add other fingers to make different chords and this exercise will make it easier if you have practiced. You may have to make slight adjustments in your hand and index finger for these new chords.

C Scale Chords

These are the basic chords from the C major scale. Practice playing these chords. When you play these chords use your fingertips except for the F chord. You may have to cut your fingernails.

Also keep your fretting hand thumb in the middle of the back of the guitar neck. This is important, it will keep your fingers arched so they don’t hit the strings and deaden notes from ringing out.

Thank you for visiting our Reading Guitar Chord Diagrams page.