Guide Into Guitar Chord Diagrams


Guitar chord diagrams are the simplest and most intuitive way to illustrate where on the fingerboard you press the strings to play a chord.

Chord diagrams used in guitar chord charts as well as in many song books and on the web pages along with lyrics, to help you to focus on learning a song instead of looking up the chords elsewhere.

There are a couple of types of guitar chord diagrams.

1. vertically orientated

Vertically orientated guitar chord diagram

2. horizontally orientated

Horizontally orientated guitar chord diagram

The only difference between them really is how they are positioned.

• Vertical orientation diagram is the most used on the net.

The six vertical lines represent the strings. The low E, A, D, G, B, and the high E string are positioned from the left to the right at the chord box.

The horizontal lines are the frets on your fingerboard. The top line of the diagram is the guitar nut, each other line towards the bottom is the 1st, 2nd, 3rd... fret accordingly.

The horizontal and vertical lines create a simple visualization of the fingerboard.

Illustration for the Guide into How to Read Guitar Chord Diagram

Now as an example let's use the diagram of the C major chord to illustrate how to interpret it and play this chord.

C Major Chord - Guitar Diagram

The circles in the diagram tell you where to press the strings with your fretting hand. The numbers in the circles are the recommended, comfortable fingering.

It means you press:

  • the B string at the 1st fret with the 1st finger,
  • the D string at the 2nd fret with the 2nd finger,
  • and the A string at the 3rd fret with the 3rd finger.
Playing C Chord on the Guitar - a Fretting Hand Close-Up
when talking about playing the guitar the word fret means the space the two nearby metal strips and not the metal strip itself

Now let's talk about symbols at the top line of the chord box that represents the guitar nut

x and o symbols on the guitar diagram

A "X" symbol says to avoid the string below it. You don't press and don't strum this string.

A "O" symbol indicates an open string. You don't press this string with your fretting hand but you need to strike it with your strumming hand when playing a chord.

So in order to play the C major chord you need to withdraw the low E string and strum only open strings and strings you're pressing with your fretting hand:

A → D → G → B → high E.

Another kind of a vertical guitar chord diagram you may find online is a very compact one:

C major chord:  32 1

The top string is the fingering. The bottom is the frets you need to press.

• At the horizontally orientated chord diagrams the horizontal lines are the strings and the vertical are the frets.
Horizontally oriented guitar chord diagram

Barre chord notation

Note: barre chords also often called as bar chords.

Barre is the way to press a few or all strings with a one finger simultaneously by laying it down across these strings.

Playing different kinds of bar chords (fretting hand)

In guitar chord diagrams barre illustrated as flat or arch line across a few strings.

The number near this line shows on which fret you press barre. If there's no number, you count from the nut.

Here is a few different instances of bar chord diagrams:

A guitar chord diagram for the B flat major chord
A guitar chord diagram for the E minor seventh chord
A guitar chord diagram for a simplified version of the F major chord
A guitar chord diagram for the D major chord, which played farther away from the guitar nut

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This article was last updated on January 18, 2024