How to Read a Guitar Chords Diagram

Chord diagrams are visual depictions of chord notes on a fretboard, often including three specific pieces of information: strings, frets and notes.

Each number on a chord chart represents where your finger should go when playing specific notes; for instance, “2” on the A string means placing your index finger at its second fret.


Reading a chord diagram involves following vertical lines representing your strings – those furthest left being your thickest (low E), while those to its right represent your thinnest string (high E).

Chord charts use boxes to illustrate frets. Their numbers indicate which fingers to use to play them – index finger (index), middle finger (2nd), ring finger (3rd), and pinky (fourth finger).

On occasion you may see “X” and “O” above individual strings to indicate whether or not to play them; an ‘X” indicates mutes while “O” suggests playing open. Thick black lines that cross multiple strings represent bars. As soon as you master these shapes the easier they’ll become for moving up and down your fretboard; thus making learning them early paramount!


Frets are raised or lowered portions of a guitar neck where you place your finger, and when strings pass over them they sound differently than when passing by an open string because a fret mutes their vibration, lowering pitch and changing tone.

Chord diagrams use horizontal lines to represent strings, while vertical ones indicate which frets you should press with your fingers. They may also feature dots (sometimes with numbers within them) that show which finger should press which fret.

Thicker black lines spanning multiple strings, known as bars, indicate chords requiring you to lay one finger across more than one string at once. Circles or Xs above any string indicate it should be muted or not played at all (O). Chord diagrams display chord progressions through letters and numbers while some even include lyrics and rhythmic notation as well.


Reading a chord chart may initially seem overwhelming due to all of its symbols; however, with regular practice you will quickly become acquainted with all of them.

For example, an X on the chart indicates that it should be “muted”, while an O indicates an open string to be played.

Chords use letters to denote their quality (major, minor and diminished). Furthermore, you may encounter chords which use slashes as part of their name; these are known as slash chords. C/G indicates a C major triad with G added in bass; this makes reading uneven harmonic rhythms easier; without seeing a slash symbol the chord will fall under standard time while with one present it will have syncopated time signature.


Chord diagrams depict your guitar’s six strings vertically; their thick line at the top represents its nut; it’s where you place your first finger when playing open chords (those without frets).

Above the horizontal frets is a series of black dots representing fingers on your left hand, each marked with its number – for instance ‘1’ for index finger, 2 for middle finger and 3 for ring finger – showing which one of those fingers to use to press that string’s fret.

Bar chords can also be recognized by their thick line or arc that crosses all strings; this symbol, known as a bar chord, indicates that you should flatten your first finger across all strings – using an index as your index finger on all the strings – some chord charts may omit this information or use an alternative symbol such as T for these types of chords; they are more difficult to play than open chords and therefore not recommended for beginners.