For new beginners out there, reading a chord chart might look like just a bunch of lines and circles, thankfully reading a chord chart is not very difficult at all!
There’s just a few different things we need to keep in mind when reading chord charts.

Let’s start with finger positioning – Each finger on your fretting hand is assigned a number/letter. This is the same regardless of whether you are fretting the guitar with your left or right hand.

Any circle with a number/letter designation on a chord chart simply means you will need to push that particular string down on that particular fret with the designated finger.

  • 1 – Index finger.
  • 2 – Middle Finger.
  • 3 – Ring Finger.
  • 4 – Pinky Finger.
  • T – Thumb.

Visually, the chord charts are a visual representation of generally 4-5 frets of a guitar neck standing vertically as shown in Figure 2. Therefore from left to right we have the thickest strings to thinnest strings respectively. Simple!

Figure 1. Fretting Hand Finger Designations

Figure 2. Guitar Neck

Figure 3. Blank Chord Chart

Figure 4. Cmajor Chord Example

Figure 5. C#minor Chord Example
Play this string open Nut of the guitar

Figures 4 and 5 show examples of chord charts. These charts have been annotated with the red arrows to further explain what the different parts of the chord chart mean.

The main items to note:

    • An open circle above a string means that the open string should be played in that chord. Do not mute it or push down on any fret of that string.
    • A cross above a string means that we do not play this string in that particular chord.
    • The thick black line at the top of the chord chart in Figure 4 represents the nut of the guitar neck. Figure 5 does not have this black line, meaning that this chord shape is further up the guitar neck.
    • The “4f” note next to the chart chart in Figure 5 means that this chord shape begins at the 4th fret.
    • The thick white bar across Figure 5 indicates a barre chord – hold down all strings along the white bar with the finger given in the white circles (for this example hold down 5 strings starting from the low A string on the 4th fret using the index finger)

The concludes everything you need to know in order to be able to read a chord chart!

Guitar Chord & Songwriting Cheat Sheet