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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Grandpre

Reading Chord Diagrams


A quick Introduction to chord diagrams


by Stan Shelnutt



Do these symbols confuse you? Have you seen them before and they just look like random lines and dots?


I’ll try to clarify these black and white pictures for you!


First things first - let’s take out the dots. We just see what looks like a square grid.



We are going to read the grid from the top to the bottom - NOT left to right (you may see chord diagrams that read left to right, but this is far less frequent)


  1. Each horizontal line (up and down) designates one of the guitar strings.

  2. Each vertical row (left to right) designates a fret bar.

Imagine you are holding your guitar in your lap with the strings pointing to the ceiling. Look at the neck of the guitar - the strings go one direction and the frets in another. This is where the chord diagram gets its shape from.


So we will add the string names to the diagram:



We see that the string on the left is the low E string - this is the string that is closest to your face when you are playing, and the string on the far right is the high E string.


The thick line at the top represents the end of the fretboard. The first row of squares below that represents the 1st fret, the next row represents the 2nd fret, and so on. See numbers in red below to the right of the diagram



Now we add different symbols to show how to play the chords



‘X' means the string is not played

'0' means the string is played open

  • shows the fret that is being held down


In the above example - C -


E - not played

A - 3rd fret

D - 2nd fret

G - Play open

B - 1st fret

E - play open

You may occasionally see numbers in the circles - that just indicates which fingers are recommended to use for the chord


And in case you are not sure


1 - index finger

2 - middle finger

3 - ring finger

4 - pinky

If I a chord is played higher on the fretboard you may see an additional fret number to the right of the diagram:



“3fr” - this indicates which fret the chord is on. In the above example, the chord is played on the 3rd fret


E - do no play

A - do not play

D - 3rd fret played with index finger

G - 5th fret played with middle finger

B - 6th fret played with pinky

E - 5th fret played with ring finger






You will also see chord diagrams with a curved line above them - this indicates a bar chord.


For this example - the 5th fret is played with a bar chord by holding the index finger down


E - do not play

A - barred on 5th fret with index finger

D - 7th fret held down with the ring finger

G - Barred on 5th fret with index finger

B - 6th fret held down with middle finger

E - Barred on 5th fret with index finger




And there you go! I hope this was helpful! Any questions or comments add a comment or send us a message!


-Stan Shelnutt

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