How To Read Chord Charts In 7 Easy Steps

How To Read Chord Charts In 7 Easy Steps

In this lesson, you will learn how to read chord charts in 7 easy steps.  In doing so, you will add to your music knowledge and understanding of how to read sheet music. the notes that are created by this wonderful instrument.


What is s guitar chord chart?

Guitar Chord Charts are diagrams of chords that relate to playing guitar.  They are usually found in standard notation music books. Their written a bit different than tabs and can be a little more difficult to understand.  So I will do my best to explain how to read them in this post.

Why are Chord Charts hard to read?

Because of the way they are designed.  When viewing someone playing guitar, the fretboard (where the chords are played) is horizontal.  When looking at chord charts, the guitar is facing vertical, as in the picture to the right. 

This is confusing because this is not how the guitar is played.  When the guitar is facing upward, the horizontal lines represent the frets (where the chord is played) and the vertical lines represent the guitar strings.  This is the opposite of reading guitar tabs.


Watch the video below


Is reading chord charts necessary?

If you’re a serious player…..Yes!!  If you just want to mess around on the guitar than no.  Reading chord charts is important because it might appear in your favorite book of songs and if you don’t know how to read them, you won’t be able to play them.  If you do know how to read them, you can add that to your toolbox of guitar skills.  This will separate you from the average self-taught guitar player.

Guitar chord charts in more detail.

If you look at the chord charts above and you imagine that the guitar is facing upward (as in the picture) You will see a few different things.  The black dots (with the numbers inside) represent where the fingers are to be placed & what fingers to use. The white dots represent which strings are open (played but with no finger put down) & the X’s represent strings that are muted (notes not sounded out)

With this information in hand, we can clearly see that to form the E chord, we place our 2nd and 3rd finger on the 5th and 4th string on the 2nd fret & the first finger on the third string first fret.  For the A chord, we simply put our 1st, 2nd and 3rd fingers on the 2nd, 3rd and 4th strings on the 2nd fret. 


Muted and open strings

The 6th string is muted, and the 1st and 5th strings are open.  Can you figure out how to form the G, D or the C chord?  If you take a bit of time to think this through, it’ll come to you.  Here’s another example of how it should look.

It takes a bit to get this figured out but like I said, if you work at it a little bit at a time, you’ll soon see how it works and how it can benefit your learning & playing of the guitar.

Reading Music

The more you know about reading sheet music specifically written for guitar, the better guitar player you’ll become.  The better you’ll understand the instrument & the quicker you’ll be able to learn your favorite songs.

Guitar Tricks Free Trial

 learning how to read sheet music for guitar is like a car mechanic learning how to use a tool that benefits his craft. You don’t need to learn how to read standard notation (regular sheet music) unless you want to, but I’d highly recommend you learn the basics of how to read guitar tabs and learn how to read guitar chord charts.


Read guitar chord charts in 7 easy steps

Step #1.   Remember, guitar fretboard is facing vertical, not horizontal (look at the picture above)

Step #2.   Horizontal lines indicate the frets, Vertical lines indicate the strings (biggest to the left, smallest to the right)

Step #3.   Black dots indicate where to put your fingers (to form the chord)

Step #4.  White dots indicate strings that are open (not played)

Step #5.  X’s indicate strings that are not sounded (muted)

Step #6.  Chord chart covers only 5 frets at a time (look again at the picture


Step #7.  Numbers at the bottom of the chart indicated what fingers to use (this important to learn)


Reading guitar music

It is not always easy to read sheet music.  especially for guitar players.  Most guitar players don’t read sheet music,  They just play guitar by ear.  But if you take some time to learn how to read chord charts and basic tabs, it can help you become much better.

It will also give you a better understanding of how music works.  How notes work in harmony to create the chords and how the chords work in harmony to form the rhythm. I recommend learning how to read chord charts.


Enhance your music knowledge

If you need help in this area, check out Rhythm Guitar Alchemy.  A comprehensive guide to improving your rhythm guitar playing.

Rhythm Guitar Alchemy

This book that I authored and published myself is packed with lesson plans that teach you how to reach chord charts and how to use this information to improve your guitar playing.  In a very simple step-by-step method that is fun to learn from.

You’ll learn how to form basic chords, how to add notes to them to create different emotions and how to string them together to create songs.  The essence of any song in any style is the chords and progressions that are created with them.

If you are interested in expanding your knowledge of chords, reading chord diagrams, chord progressions, and chord theory, this is the book for you.



There you have it.  Seven easy steps to learn guitar chord charts.  If you’re serious about learning the guitar and playing it for a lifetime, I’d highly recommend you learn how to read chord charts.  Follow these 7 easy steps and you’ll be able to do it very quickly.  Beware though, you might even impress your friends.

Thank you for reading.  And if you have any questions, feel free to contact me.

And as always, be sure to check out my books to help improve your guitar playing.

Thanks again & until our next guitar lesson, take care.

Dwayne Jenkins

Dwayne Jenkins