You are currently viewing How to Read Guitar Chord Charts? – Step by Step

Last Updated on January 12, 2024 by Justin Thomas

photo reveals owner of guitaristnextdoor.com

Author: Teemu Suomala

I first grabbed the guitar in 2009. I started this website in January 2020 because I couldn’t do window installation anymore due to my health problems. I love guitars and have played dozens and dozens of different guitars through different amps and pedals over the years, and also, building a website interested me, so I decided to just go for it! I got lucky and managed to get awesome people to help me with my website.

I also got lucky because I have you visiting my website right now. Thank you. I do all this for you guys. If you have any recommendations, tips, or feedback, just leave a comment, I would love to chat with you. I have also been fortunate to produce content for several large guitar websites, such as SongsterrMusicnotesGuitarGuitar, and Ultimate Guitar.

I spend my spare time exercising and hanging out with my wife and crazy dog (I guess that went the right way…).


Are you ready to dive headfirst into the world of guitar chord charts?

Get your six-stringed chariot tuned up, your picks at the ready, and let’s tackle this thing together. Don’t worry, it’s not rocket science (even I can figure this stuff out); it’s a lot more fun than that! Prepare yourself for a whirlwind tour through the land of dots, numbers, and the occasional X and O. By the time we’re through, you’ll be navigating chord charts like a pro!

If you want more help with learning to play the guitar, check the How to Play The Guitar– article I made for you. It’s the guide I wish I had when I started.

Here you can learn 12 must know beginner guitar chords.

Check out our best gifts for guitar players.

How to make sense of guitar chord charts?

Reading chord charts is one of the first things you should learn when starting out.

  1. Six vertical lines represent the six strings of the guitar. On the left side is the thickest, and on the right side is the thinnest.
  2. The first horizontal line is the nut of the guitar(strings go through this piece at the headstock). This line is usually thicker than the others.
  3. All other horizontal lines represent frets.
  4. Numbers show which left-hand finger you should use to play the note/press the fret. (1=index finger, 2=middle finger, 3=ring finger and 4=pinky)
  5. In(or sometimes over)the nut can be X and O’s. Meanings are: X=don’t play this string, O=play the open string.

This picture shows you how to read chord charts/chord boxes. I use the D-chord as an example:

image reveals How to read chord charts
Note that some chord charts can present guitar fretboard horizontally. In the image above, the guitar fretboard is vertical.

If everything is not yet clear to you, let’s go through everything step-by-step.

Step 1: What on Earth is a Chord Chart?

Let’s get the basics out of the way. What’s a chord chart, you ask? Well, it’s like a map of your guitar’s fretboard. It tells you exactly where to put your fingers to strum those perfect chords. But unlike a typical map, there’s no “You Are Here” sign. That’s up to you to figure out!

A chord chart is a diagram. It shows you the guitar frets and the strings, and includes circles to represent where your fingers should go. It’s like a game of Twister, but for your fingers. Right hand pinky finger on third fret? Check!

Step 2: Reading the Diagram

Alright, let’s dive into the nitty-gritty. Imagine your guitar neck is a ladder you’re looking at from the front. The horizontal lines on the diagram are your frets, those metal ridges that give your fingers a workout. The vertical lines? Those are your guitar’s strings. The thickest string, E, is on the left, and the thinnest string, also an E, is on the right.

“But I’m left-handed,” you say… don’t worry, my left-handed friends, just flip that mental image, and you’re good to go!

Step 3: The Fingers Have Landed

The black dots you see on your chord chart are your fingers’ destinations. Those dots are where you’ll be pressing down. Now, you might see some numbers around or inside those dots, ranging from 1 to 4. No, those aren’t lottery numbers; they tell you which finger to use! Here’s the breakdown:

  1. Index Finger
  2. Middle Finger
  3. Ring Finger
  4. Pinky Finger

And if you see a T, it stands for the thumb. But let’s be real, unless you’re Jimi Hendrix or John Mayer, you’re probably not going to use your thumb a whole lot.

Step 4: The Mystery of the X and O

You might see an ‘X’ or an ‘O’ above some strings. Don’t worry, we’re not playing Tic-Tac-Toe here. An ‘X’ means don’t strum that string. It’s like the string’s day off, let it rest. An ‘O’, on the other hand, means strum the open string. Let that open string sing!

Step 5: The Barre Chords

Ah, the infamous barre chords, guitarists’ Achilles heel. In your chart, if you see a curved or straight line over some dots, that’s a barre. It means one finger, usually the index, has to press down on multiple strings at the same fret. Tricky? A bit. Impossible? Absolutely not. Just remember, practice makes perfect.

image reveals an Easy bar chord progression
Examples of barre chords on the fretboard.

Step 6: Practice, Practice, Practice

Now you’re armed with all the knowledge to read chord charts. Congrats! Remember, the more you practice, the better you’ll get, and soon enough, you’ll be reading chord charts and playing chords as easily as ordering your favorite coffee.

So go forth, fearless guitar player, into the wide world of music, and let those chords ring out! After all, what’s life without a little strumming and plucking?

If for some reason you are not sure how to read guitar chord charts, check this video version:


Conclusion

Well, there you have it, the ABCs of reading chord charts, now at your fingertips. You’re no longer a mere mortal strummer, but a well-informed guitar conqueror, ready to decode any chord chart that dares cross your path. Remember, every chord chart is a new musical story waiting to be told.

If you have any questions, just leave a comment down below, we are here to help you!

Keep rocking!

Check our favorite Youtube channels for free guitar lessons here!


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Teemu Suomala

I first grabbed the guitar in 2009. I started this website in January 2020 because I couldn’t do window installation anymore due to my health problems. I also noticed that most guitar websites don’t do a really good job, so I decided to just go for it! I got lucky and managed to get awesome people to help me with my website. I also got lucky because I have you visiting my website right now. Thank you. I do all this for you guys. If you have any recommendations, tips, or feedback, just leave a comment, I would love to chat with you. I have been fortunate to produce content for several large guitar websites, such as Songsterr, Musicnotes, GuitarGuitar, and Ultimate Guitar. I spend my spare time exercising and hanging out with my wife and crazy dog(I guess that went the right way…). Expertise: guitar learning techniques, electric guitars, and guitar amplifiers. You can connect with me on LinkedIn or just email me.
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