How To Read A Chord Diagram

Learning how to read a chord diagram is probably one of the most helpful things you can do in order to start playing your favorite songs fast.  Chord diagrams give you a very visual representation of how to place your fingers on the fret board in order to strum out the perfect chord that you are looking for.

Almost all guitar tabulature or tabs that you will get have chord diagrams that show you how to play a specific chord and where it is played in the song.  All you have to do is press the right strings on the right frets and you are in business!  It’s most typical for chord diagrams to use little dots to show you on which strings and frets you need to press in order to get the right chord.

There are a few different ways these diagrams are used, but they basically all work about the same.

The diagram is typically shown like it is in the picture below.  A square box with  lines running vertically and anywhere from 5-7 lines horizontally.  As you can see, it’s a graphical representation of the actual guitar fret board starting at the 1st Fret (or nut) of the guitar, and going up to about the 5th or 6th fret..  It goes to the 6th in the picture below.

The two fuzzy dots you see are actually the dots that exist on most guitar fret boards, and they signify the 3rd and 5th frets.  They are used as a visual anchor for guitarists.

If any strings are played or struck without pressing on them at any fret, this called playing an open string  The standard tuning of a guitar is also shown below from 6th to 1st string, being E-A-D-G-B-E.  The first string is the thinnest, and the 6th string is the thickest.

how to read chord diagrams


So now that you know how a chord diagram basically works, let me show you a few different ways that they can be used.

D Chord

The D Chord is used in so many songs, it’s almost a staple of guitar!  It’s also one of the more easy chords to learn, therefore many beginner guitarists typically know this chord.  The picture below represents the D Chord Fingering Diagram.

D Chord Fingering DiagramThe numbers at the top of the diagram X-0-0-2-3-2 tell you what fret to play that particular string on.  The X means do not play this string for this chord!  The blue dots with the 1-2-3 in them, tell you what fingers should be used to press down on that string at that fret.  You can read about proper guitar fingering here!  The A-D-A-F#-D along the bottom of the diagram tells you what notes will come out of each string if you press them according to the diagram!

Here’s another variation of the Chord Diagram for D.D Chord Diagram

So in this Chord Diagram variation, you can see it’s a bit different.  First of all, the dots don’t have numbers, but instead notes and leave it up to you to figure out where to put your fingers!  There is also an absence of the 3rd and 5th fret dots. But it’s basically still the same.  You can tell where you need to place your fingers by looking at the dots, or the top row of numbers!

Alright, that should cover how to read almost 99% of Chord Diagrams out there! Now just get out and play!

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