Here are the essential steps to read guitar chords, from understanding chord diagrams to mastering finger placement and chord variations. We also teach this and more in our guitar lessons.
Guitar chord diagrams
Chord diagrams are visual representations of guitar chords. They consist of a grid or a series of horizontal lines representing the guitar’s fretboard and vertical lines indicating the frets.
- The Fretboard Grid: The horizontal lines in the diagram represent the guitar’s fretboard, with the top line depicting the nut (the part of the guitar where the headstock meets the neck). The vertical lines signify the frets.
- Finger Placement: On the chord diagram, you’ll see numbered dots or circles, each corresponding to a finger on your hand. The numbers indicate which finger to use: 1 for the index finger, 2 for the middle finger, 3 for the ring finger, and 4 for the pinky.
- Strings: The vertical lines representing the strings are typically labeled from the lowest-pitched string (the thickest string) at the bottom to the highest-pitched string (the thinnest string) at the top. The strings are often referred to by their standard tuning: E, A, D, G, B, and high E.
Basic open chords on the guitar
Open chords are among the first guitar chords you will encounter as a beginner guitar player. They are played using some open strings and are generally easier to fret. Here are some common open chords on the guitar.
- C Major: To play a C Major chord, place your ring finger on the 3rd fret of the A string, your middle finger on the 2nd fret of the D string, and your index finger on the 1st fret of the B string. Strum from the A string downward, avoiding the low E string.
- G Major: Form a G Major chord by placing your ring finger on the 3rd fret of the high E string, your middle finger on the 2nd fret of the A string, and your index finger on the 2nd fret of the low E string. Strum all the strings except the low E.
- D Major: Create a D Major chord by pressing your index finger on the 2nd fret of the G string, your middle finger on the 2nd fret of the high E string, and your ring finger on the 3rd fret of the B string. Strum from the D string down.
Barre chords and chord variations
Barre chords, also known as “moveable” chords on the guitar, involve using one finger to press down on multiple strings on the guitar. They are more versatile than open chords and can be moved up and down the neck to create various guitar chord variations. A common barre chord is the F Major, which is played by barring all the strings on a particular fret with one finger and forming the major chord shape with the other fingers.
Guitar chord variations, such as minor, augmented, or diminished chords, involve altering the intervals between the notes in a chord. For instance, to play a C minor chord, lower the third note (E) in a C Major chord by one fret.