How to Read Guitar Chord Charts

One of the very first skills for guitar beginners is to learn how to read guitar chord charts, which are sometimes called chord diagrams. In this article, I’m going to show you how to read guitar chord charts as well as the most common guitar chords and barre chords/bar chords. Have fun 🙂

What is a Guitar Chord Chart/Chord Diagram?

A guitar chord/chord diagram looks like a box made of 6 vertical lines and at least 4 to 5 horizontal lines. 

From the first left of the vertical lines is the 6th string(the thickest one), then the second left is the 5th string until the last one on the very right is the 1st string, which is the thinnest one.

The first of the horizontal lines, the thick black line on the top is the guitar nut, then the second line is the 1st fret bar, the third line is the 2nd fret bar…etc. 

Sometimes, there is a number next to the chart on either side to show the fret you are making reference to. For example “3” means the third fret..

How to Read Guitar Chord Charts

The Guitar chord charts contain a lot of information for guitar players: chord name, which fingers you use, which strings you play and mute, and where you place your fingers on the fretboard.

Chord Name

  • C means C major chord
  • Dm means D minor chord
  • G7 means G seventh chord

X and O

There are some Xs and Os above the chart/diagram to show which strings you should play or mute. An X means you should not play or even mute it while an O means you should play open string(no finger pressing and touching).

Left Finger Numbers

On the chart/diagram, you can see some dots with numbers on them. These show you where you should place your fingers on the fretboard. 

  • 1 is your index finger
  • 2 is your middle finger
  • 3 is your ring finger
  • 4 is your pinky

It is easier to get a sound clean when you place your fingers as close to the further down fret bar as you can.

You should press down the string as hard as needed for you to play the note properly(clean). The more you practice, the easier you will feel.

Most Common Guitar Chords

Here are the most common guitar chords:

Barre Chords/Bar Chords

A Barre Chord, also spelled as Bar Chord is a type of guitar chord with your index finger placed across a set of strings like a bar while the rest of the fingers press different strings depending on the chords. This basically creates a new nut for you to play different chords with the same chord shape by moving up and down on the fretboard. To learn more about chord shapes, please check our guide on CAGED System Guitar(coming soon).

For example, in an F chord, place your index finger on the 1st fret pressing on all six strings at the same time, then place the rest of the fingers on other strings as indicated. It will be a little bit tricky for beginners. However, after plenty of practice, you will finally get used to it and feel comfortable.

Try this: practice with your other fingers helping the index finger press down tightly then play all six strings individually to get a clean sound.

Here are the common bar chords:

For this shape of a bar chord, we usually use our ring finger to press down the 4th, 3rd, and 2nd strings but free the 1st string. It is very tricky and you may need some time to practice to get it done properly.

Easy Version of Bar Chords

Here is the easy version of those common bar chords:

Some of them you still need to bar but fewer strings.

What to do next?

Next lessons(coming soon):

Fingerstyle Guitar Lessons for Beginners

Strumming Guitar Lessons for Beginners

You should be able to play some beginner songs after practicing the above guitar chords. I’ve chosen some reasonably easy songs for beginners. Please check the article Easy Guitar Songs.

Here is another article about Ultimate Guitar Tabs(coming soon) which contains plenty of free guitar tabs or chords.

Photo of author


Gavin W has been mastering several types of music instruments like guitar, drum, bass, and audio mixing tools for over 15 years. He has participated in many rock shows such as Hajin Chan and Super Junior concerts. He was the guitarist of a pop-rock band called Pendular, which has won some significant awards like Asian Beat, Champion in Warehouse Youth Band Competition, and No Drug Music Contest. He is also active in the music education sector and has been a music tutor in schools and music learning centres since 2008.

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