How to Read Chords Diagrams

C major chord guitar diagram

This quick tutorial will teach you how to read diagrams for guitar chords, like the ones in our online guitar chords dictionary To learn more about written music for guitar, be sure to check out our how to read music for guitar.

Strings and Frets

In the diagrams, fretboard strings are shown vertically, with the thickest string (6th E low string) on the left. So you have, from left to right:

  • (6th) E low string
  • (5th) A string
  • (4th) D strings
  • (3rd) G string
  • (2nd) B string
  • (1st) E high string

Frets are from fret 0 (open string, at the top of the diagram) to fret 5. For fingerings that are placed in higher fretboard area, you'll find the corresponding fret numbers on the left of the diagram, listed vertically.

0 or X above the strings

X, 0 or fret on chord diagrams
  • At the top of the diagrams, above each string you can find a X, that means that you don't have play the string
  • If you see a 0, that means that you play the string open, without press any frets (fret 0)
  • If there are no X or 0, you have to play the fret shown on the diagram

Fingers Notation

guitar chord finger notationThe fret that you have to play are denoted with a black circle on the proper string. The numbers 1,2,3 and 4 tells which finger you have to use to press the fret:

  • 1: index
  • 2 middle
  • 3 ring
  • 4 pinky

Note Names and Tones

At the bottom of the diagram, you find the name of the note on the fret of the related string. The diagrams also shows which tones of the chord the note is. To learn more about chord construction, check our full tutorial on chords building

Bar chords

If a position requires you to play a bar chord, this will denoted in the diagrams with a thick black line, instead of a single circle.F bar guitar chord

Chord Tags

To help you quickly identify the fingerings you need, the diagrams are tagged in the following way:

Open The fingering uses open strings, it's likely easier than the other.

Movable The shape is movable, which means that you can shift the pattern up and down the fretboard without changing fingers configuration, to play chords of the same type (maj, min, 7, etc) but with another root (C, C#, D, D#, and so forth). You find more info about how the fretboard works here

Barrè This chord shape requires you to make a barre with one or more fingers; it could be a little difficult for a beginner. Learn more about bar chords here.

Example: how to play a C major chord

Let's see how to read a C major chord:F bar guitar chord

  • You don't have to play the E low string (because there is an X at the top of the leftest string)
  • You have to press the 3rd fret with the ring finger (because of the circled 3 placed on the 3rd fret)
  • You have to press the 2nd fret with the middle finger (because of the circled 2 placed on the 2nd fret)
  • You have to press the 1st fret with the index finder (because of the circled 1 placed on the 1st fret)
  • Finally you have to play the E high string open, without press any fret (because of the 0 above the string)

The diagrams also tell us that this chord is composed of the notes: C, E, G, C, and E, that corresponds to the 1 (root), 3 (major third), 5 (perfect fifth), 1 and 3 degrees (tones) of the related C major scale.

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