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How to Read Guitar Chords

It is important to learn how to read guitar chords in order to learn how to play guitar chords.  Just about the only way out there to learn all guitar chords, from beginner guitar chords to guitar power chords is to read them from tab or from chord diagrams.  Being well versed at reading from both is quite important to becoming a better guitarist.  Below shows examples of the D and F chord diagrams and their equivalent in tab.

Chord Diagrams

Chord Diagrams


Chord diagrams are the standard method of displaying various chords and how they are held.  There are books that are nothing more than page after page of chord diagrams for all different types of chords and chord voicings.  While they might follow slightly different formats, all chord diagrams show the same kind of information in about the same way.

The chord is usually noted right over the box, which is a grid representation of the strings and frets of a guitar.  The low E string is the far left and the high E string is the far right.  Unless specifically noted otherwise, it is always assumed that the guitar is in standard tuning, though it is just as easy to write chord diagrams for other tunings.  Unless otherwise noted, the top horizontal line would correspond to the nut, and each line below would be one fret higher on the neck.

The space between the fret lines is the same as the space between the actual frets on the neck, so if a dot is in the space between the first and second fret lines, then you would fret between the first and second frets, which is fretting the second fret in actual fact.

How to read guitar chords is the same for all guitar chords, so you would read a beginner guitar chord in the same way as a guitar power chord from the diagram.  Their names would be used to differentiate their type rather than the diagram.  In addition these diagrams show how to play guitar chords by showing the fingering as well.  At the top of the diagram, the X means to not play a string at all, while the O means to play an open string.

The circles show where to place the fingers (1 = index, 2 = middle, 3 = ring, 4 = pinky), and in this diagram is listed along the bottom of the diagram.  Some diagrams will also directly write the finger numbers into the circle as well.  The F chord diagram also shows an example of a bar chord being written on a chord diagram.  The index finger bar is drawn across all of the strings, even those which are actually fretted by the other fingers higher up.  These longer bars show when to hold a single finger over multiple strings, whether is for all 6 strings or just 2.


Reading Chords From Guitar Tabs


Learning how to read guitar tabs is not quite as easy a method for how to read guitar chords, but can be necessary to learn all guitar chords in some songs.  Even if a song does diagram some chords, usually beginner guitar chords and power chords will not be, under the assumption they are too straightforward to have to show how to hold.

This can make learning how to play guitar chords a bit more difficult, but by comparing them to chords you already are familiar with, it is quite possible to figure them out from guitar tab.  For example, the F chord has 3 strings played on the 1 fret, which is a good indication that a bar chord is needed.  As nice and convenient as diagrams are, it is sometimes necessary to learn chords straight from guitar tabs.