Diagrams of guitar chords... a "How-to" guide.

...a Simple Way to Visualize Exactly How to Finger Chords on the Guitar Fretboard

Diagrams of guitar chords are an essential tool for all guitar players, from beginner to advanced. They are a simple way to visualize exactly how to finger chords on the guitar fretboard. Diagrams of guitar chords can be used as a tool to learn new chords, chord progressions, and the rhythm parts of songs. Groups of chord diagrams can be conveniently presented in the form of a chord chart.

The ability to understand and use chord diagrams does not require the ability to read musical notation. This greatly simplifies the process of learning to play the guitar, and is a big reason why the guitar is such a popular instrument.

In the spirit of the Guitar Player’s Toolbox focus on providing only practical , “how to” tools, the following info is provided below:

• Types of Guitar Chord Diagrams and How to Read Them
• Tips for Using and Finding Chord Diagrams
• Additional Resources for Chord Diagrams and Charts

NOTE: If you already know how to read and use diagrams of guitar chords , you may want to jump straight to Guitar Chord Charts

Types of Guitar Chord Diagrams and How to Read Them

A chord diagram visually illustrates how to form a chord, and can provide additional musical information. Diagrams of guitar chords come in various flavors. The most common type is a simple “chord box” (see Figure 1 below) that shows the fretboard in a vertical orientation, with the six strings running up and down. The low E (thickest) string is on the left, and the high E (thinnest) string is on the right. The horizontal lines are the frets. The thick solid line at the top of the box represents the nut of the guitar (end of the fretboard).


Figure 1. A basic chord diagram example

Another common way of showing diagrams of guitar chords is to have the strings run horizontally, usually with the low E (thickest) string on the bottom and the high E (thinnest) string on the top. The same D Major chord is shown in Figure 2 below.

NOTE: in the diagram below, reverse the #2 and #3 finger positions!


Figure 2- Another style of chord diagram

These example diagrams of guitar chords show the use of some standard symbols that illustrate exactly how to finger a particular chord. Referring to the D Major chord diagrams above, note how a lot of info is put into a small package!

• The circles (or dots) show which strings to finger at which fret
• The numbers on the circle / dots indicates which finger to use on that string (1= index finger to 4 = little finger).
• A “O” symbol at the top of the box means the string is played open
• An “X” symbol at the top of the box means that the string is NOT played
• (Sometimes, the musical notes corresponding to each fretted string are also shown).

The next example below ( Figure 3) shows Barre chord diagrams, in this case a G#7. These examples show a couple of more important points about reading chord diagrams.


Figure 3. Example of a Barre chord diagram

Do you see the number to the left of the box, adjacent to the 1st fret? This number shows the fret number that is the starting point for fingering the chord. So for the G#7, it starts on the 4th fret. The top fret represents the 4th fret, rather than the guitar nut. Also note the dots with the arc across them. This indicates a Barre chord formation, with one finger laid across the fretboard to form multiple notes.

Note: Guitar chords can also be illustrated in the form of guitar tabulature. Guitar tabs are another essential tool to help learn chords, and more importantly to learn to play the rhythm parts of songs. Click here for more info about Guitar Tabulature and how to read it.

So much for the basics of how to read a chord diagram! Let’s get on to some practical ways you can use diagrams of guitar chords in help you improve your playing.

Tips for Using Chord Diagrams

Here are a some ideas on how you can use diagrams of guitar chords to improve your playing, whether you are a beginner or more advanced guitarist.

1. Appreciate how useful chord diagrams really are! -- the basic chord diagram is one of the single most useful aids to learning guitar, or to play new songs. Using chord diagrams, you can learn to play songs pretty quickly, without knowing anything about music theory or how to read music.

2. Get comfortable with using chord diagrams-- they are among your best friends! You should be able to quickly translate what you see in a chord diagram to actually fingering the chord on your guitar. At first it may be tough to make this connection, but it will come with practice.

3. Know how to read chord diagrams-- The basic symbols used in chord diagrams are explained in the section above. There are really only a few key things you need to understand to be able to read them.

4. Make good use of chord charts -- multiple chord diagrams can be assembled together into a chord chart. Chord charts are tremendously useful in learning and playing new chords, chord transitions, chord progressions, and songs.

5. Take advantage of free online resources for chord diagrams-- There are a lot of free web-based chord diagram tools that you can use to generate chord diagrams.

6. Find out how to create customized chord charts-- There are great online tools as well as PC-based software for creating your own custom chord charts. Chord charts are the best way to use chord diagrams for real-world practice and playing.

7. Use the Guitar Player’s Toolbox as your guide-- I’ve already researched and tested many chord diagram and chord chart tools and websites. Take advantage of the leg-work I’ve already done, by reading the section below on Additional Resources.

Additonal Resources

Free Online Guitar Chord Chart Tools -- how to create customized guitar chord charts.

Learn How to Play Chords and More with Online Guitar Lessons


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