7: How Read Guitar Chord Charts

Now you’ve learned to play some beginner guitar riffs, it’s time to get you playing your first few chords. 

A chord is two or more notes that you play together. They are fundamental for every guitarist to learn—most songs use chords! 

We’ll teach you how to play some beginner guitar chords, before showing you how to play your first full song! But first you need to learn how to read guitar chord charts.

Guitar chord charts tell you how to play chords. They explain where to place your fingers on the strings, as well as which strings you’re going to strum. 

Even advanced guitarists use them to learn unusual chords. 

Reading guitar chord charts is much easier than teaching yourself traditional sheet music notation. It consists of a series of simple symbols that you’ll have down in no time. 

If you need more help then check out our article on best beginner guitar chords or our article on how to read guitar tabs.

How to read a guitar chord chart

Guitar chord charts can be a little overwhelming when you’re first starting, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll be strumming like a pro in no time. 

What does a guitar chord chart look like?

Guitar chord charts look like a section of the guitar neck. Here’s a quick overview of what it shows:

  • The vertical lines represent the strings 
  • The horizontal lines are the frets
  • The black dots show where to place your fingers 
  • The white dots show strings that you play but don’t press down on
  • You can see the chord name written above or below the chord diagram
  • The open string names are sometimes written above

What are the lines?

Let’s look at the lines in more detail. There are three different lines on a guitar chord diagram:

  • The thick, dark line at the top represents the nut. This is the piece at the very end of your guitar’s neck that holds your strings over the fretboard.

  • The horizontal lines represent the frets. The box closest to the nut is the 1st fret, then 2nd, and so on. Some chord diagrams label the frets to the left if it’s further up the guitar’s neck. You can see this in the diagram below—the nut isn’t shown here because we’re not on the first fret.

  • Vertical lines represent the guitar strings. The furthest line to the left is your low E string, or string 6, and the furthest to the right is your high E string, or string 1. In order, the six lines represent EADGBE. 

What are the dots?

There are two different sets of dots on the chart. The black dots show you which string to press in each fret box. 

So, for example, if there is a black dot on the 1st vertical line in the 2nd horizontal box, you’ll play the second fret on the low E string. 

The other white dots along the top of the diagram means that you’re playing that string without fretting it. 

What are the numbers?

Each string with a finger dot on it also has a number at the bottom of the chart. 

These numbers show which finger you should be pressing that string with:

  1. Index finger
  2. Middle finger
  3. Ring finger
  4. Pinky

In some cases, there may be a circle with a “T” instead of a number. That lets you know you should use your thumb. 

What are the Xs?

The Xs are in the same position as the open string notation dots along the very top of the diagram. 

An X is a symbol for “mute,” which means that you aren’t playing the string that the X is above. 

What are the long curved lines?

These represent a barre. This is when you place your finger across all strings. This allows you to hold down two or more strings at opposite sides of the fretboard. We call these ‘barre chords’. Beginners tend to find these chords very difficult to play. They take a lot of practice and you have to build up strength in your fingers.


Learning guitar chord charts builds a solid foundation for learning guitar. 

In our next lesson, we’ll begin teaching you some of the best beginner guitar chords.

Keep practicing; you got this!

Leave a Comment