How To Read Guitar Chord Charts For Complete Beginners

chordbox image

chordbox image

One of the most important skills every guitar player should posses is the ability to read and comprehend chord-boxes (also called guitar chord charts).

“Why?” you may ask.

Because they are extremely useful. As simple as that. You probably know how important chords are when it comes to learning the guitar. In most cases, chords are what guitar players start out playing  and practicing with during their early days. And to play chords, you have to know how to read chord-boxes.

You can think of  chords as exercises. They help build up the strength and dexterity in your fingers before you upgrade into more advanced styles of playing.

Without any further ado, let’s get rolling.


chordbox basics

Chord-boxes consist of 6 vertical lines, as shown above. Those lines represent the 6 strings of the guitar. The line on the right is the higher E string, and the one on the left is the lower E string. The horizontal lines are the frets. The number beside each of them is just the fret number on the guitar. And in case you don’t know this, the letters above each of the 6 horizontal lines are just the open letters of the strings.

You might notice that two lines (or strings) are labeled with the same letter but they don’t have the same sound or tone. While they are technically the same, the low E string (the one closest to you) is two octaves lower than the high e string. And the reason we call it the low E is because it’s low pitched, while the latter is high pitched. It also has a longer wavelength, thus the thickness of the string. It’s a bit early to go into this topic as it might confuse even further, so just focus on understanding the chord charts for now.

A simpler way to visualize this is by holding your own guitar vertically in front of you, focusing only on the fretboard. You will immediately realize how this works.

Okay. Now that we have got the basics under our wings, let’s focus on what the dots on the lines mean. Refer to image below:

For the sake of this article, I will  be demonstrating a simple example using the C-major 7 chord.

As you can see, there are two black dots on the A and D lines respectively. You can also see that there is a number inside each one of them. But we will talk about them later.

Those black dots are simply the location of where your fingers will be . In our case here, we will press the second fret of the 4th string, or the D string. This is one finger out of the way. Now for the second, press the 3rd fret of the 5th string.

What about the numbers?

The numbers written inside each dot just tell you which to use for this particular note. In our example, the number 2 on the 2nd fret is telling you to use your second finger to play this note. And we know that the second finger is the middle finger. We DO NOT count our thumb, as we don’t use it  for playing.

Similarly, the number 3 on the 3rd fret is telling you to use your third finger to play this particular note. Third finger means the ring finger.

And tada! You now know how to read chord-boxes. If not, go back and review the explanation. I am not saying that you will immediately muster the ability to read chord-boxes. You will get better, even if you’re having difficulties now. But certainly don’t give up.

Oh! We almost forgot the ‘X’ and ‘O’ signs. Sorry!

The X on top of the lines means that you will not be using this string. It’s a closed note. Simply put, the ‘X’ sign means “don’t include this string while playing this chord.”

The ‘O’ sign, on the other hand, is called the open note, meaning that you should play this string. Whenever you see an ‘O’ sign above each line, it means “play this string”.


Happy playin’!

Don’t forget to keep us up to date with your progress!

See also: How to Play The D Chord On The Guitar ( With Alternative Technique )


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