How To Read Chord Diagrams

Reading chord diagrams, like reading tab, is fairly straight forward. The biggest difference here is that, in a chord diagram, the numbers do not represent the fret. Instead, the numbers represent which finger to use.

In each chord diagram you will see six lines in a row. These six lines, just as they do in a tab line, represent the 6 strings of the guitar.
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Most of the time you will see chord diagrams with the strings running up and down, and the fret lines running across. This can sometimes be changed and the strings run across left to right and the frets running up and down. Typically you can decide what type of diagram you are looking at by the shape. Is it longer up and down? Then odds are, your strings are running up and down. In this case, count and make sure you have 6 strings running up and down.

If the diagram is longer from side to side vs up and down, odds are, the diagram is running left to right.
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Count your strings. Generally you will have fewer frets in a chord diagram than you will have strings. This isn’t necessarily always the case, but you will always only have 6 strings, and strings are usually closer together than frets. So remember that.

The next thing you notice about a chord diagram is the dots. The dots are placed directly on a string and in between frets. This is another characteristic that will make it obvious whether the line is a fret or a string…if there’s a dot on it, it’s a string, and strings run parallel with each other. So, with the dots sitting on a string and in between frets, all you have to do is place a finger on that string whatever fret location it shows on the diagram.

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The easiest thing to do when starting out is to take it one string at a time. Start with string 1. Is there an O or X on top of the string? If there’s an O, play the string without pressing any frets, or “open”. If there’s an X before the string, that string will be silent. In the diagram directly above, you see a dot on string 1 at the 3rd fret. Place a finger there. Strings 2, 3, and 4 have “O” over them. Those three strings should be played open. String 5 has a dot at the 2nd fret. You will place a finger there. And string 6 has a dot at the 3rd fret. You will place a finger there as well.

The last thing to notice is the numbers inside the dots. Those numbers represent which finger you will use to play that string at that fret. Keep in mind that in guitar, we only have 4 fingers. So finger 1 is your index, finger 2 is your middle finger, finger 3 is your ring finger, and finger 4 is your pinky.

In the diagram above, you will use finger 4 (pinky) to play the first string at the 3rd fret. You will use finger 1 (index) to play the 5th string at the 2nd fret. And you will use finger 2 (middle finger) to play the 6th string at the 3rd fret.

Check out this video if you have any other questions and it should clear it up nicely. If not, feel free to drop me a line and I’ll be happy to answer any questions you have.

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