Learning how to read music makes you a better player. Discover how to understand the guitar better with these 10 Tips on how to read a guitar chords chart.

Learning to play the guitar can be one of the most satisfying and enjoyable things you can do, at any age. It can even be good for your health and wellbeing.

But if you have never read a guitar chords chart before, they may look a bit strange and undecipherable at first.

So how do you learn to read chord charts?

Read these 10 tips for learning to read guitar chord charts, and take your guitar playing to the next level.

1. What Is A Guitar Chords Chart?

Guitar Chords Chart

All guitarists need to know how to play chords. So what are chords?

A chord is a group of notes, usually played at the same time, that create musical harmony. Because a guitar has six strings, the guitar chords chart is made up of six notes or less.

Chords are made using the fingers of the left hand (if you’re right-handed) and strummed, or plucked using the right hand.

Chord charts are a visual representation in the form of a chord diagram. Most guitar tutorial books contain charts of guitar chords.

So what do chord charts look like?

A chord chart has vertical lines representing the strings, and horizontal lines representing the frets. Dots, or circles, on the vertical lines indicate where on the strings the fingers must press to make that particular chord.

Some chord charts include numbers within the circles, which indicate which particular finger you should use.

On some chord charts, you may also see an X or an O at the top of the vertical line representing the string.

These show whether the string should be played or not. If there is an X, then that string is not part of the chord and should not be played. An O indicates that the string should be played open – ie, without a finger pressing on it.

2. Get To Know Your Guitar

Once you have become familiar with what chord charts look like and what the various symbols mean, you need to translate them to your guitar.

It is important that you get to know the physical make-up of your guitar. Playing guitar chords can only become second nature when you know exactly which string is which, and where to place your fingers on the fretboard.

3. Learn Finger Numbering


To start with it might feel like you are constantly checking between the chord chart diagram and your actual guitar.

However, it won’t take long before you instinctively know which finger to place on which string to make certain power chords.

Learn the numbering of your fingers according to the chord chart. So your index finger is 1, and your pinky is 4. Occasionally a chord uses your thumb on the bottom string, this will be indicated by a T.

4. Start With The Basics

So, once you are comfortable with how your guitar and your fingers are represented on a chord chart, you can start to play some chords.

Guitar books often contain charts of dozens of chords. Try not to get distracted by just how many chords there are to start with.

Start with some basic chords, that are relatively easy to play such as G major, C major, D major, E major, and A major chord. All these chords only require three of your fingers on the strings and involve some open strings.

5. Don’t Run Before You Can Walk

It’s tempting to start to try more challenging chord charts before you are ready, but it’s important that you get used to playing the basic chords and changing between them first.

There are plenty of chord progressions you can play with the basic major chord and minor chords. Try playing the 12 bar blues, which is a great way to practice changing chords and keeping to a rhythm.

Before you know it, reading chord charts and playing chord progressions will start to become second nature.

6. Practice, Practice, Practice

As with any aspect of learning a musical instrument, you have to practice chord charts.

The more you practice the more fluent you will become in reading the chord charts and playing the chords without looking at your fingers.

The longer you leave it between each guitar practice session, the more likely it is you will forget what you have already learned. So set aside sometime each day to work on chord charts.

7. Get To Grips With Barre Chords

Barre Chords

Once you have mastered the basic chords it’s time to move on to barre chords.

Barre chords are moveable chords that keep the same chord shape but move up and down the fretboard to make different chords.

The reason you can move a barre chord to different frets is that it contains no open strings.

In order to make a barre chord with your fingers, you have to use your index finger to press across all of the strings (make a bar). This is effectively making your own capo with your hand. Your other fingers can then create the rest of the chord in front of the bar.

On a chord chart, a barre chord can be annotated by a line across all of the strings, or just dots containing the number 1 (for your index finger) on all of the strings.

8. Play Some Familiar Songs

So how do you keep all of this practice fresh and fun to play?

Well, one of the best ways is to find some chord charts for songs that you already like.

Sometimes playing a song that you don’t know can be a bit frustrating as you are never quite sure if you are doing it right.

Playing songs that you already know means you know what it should sound like, and so the chord charts should already make sense.

9. Find a Great Teacher

Sometimes there is no substitute for getting help from someone with lots of experience.

If you feel like you need some help learning about chord charts then consider taking some guitar lessons.

Not only will you be able to watch an experienced guitarist play chord progressions, but they can also give you loads of advice and help.

10. Don’t Forget To Enjoy It

It’s really important that you enjoy learning the guitar. If you stop enjoying it then the practice becomes a chore and is not going to progress.

Make practice fun by introducing new chords every week.

Focus on features of the chord types of music you like, whether that’s rock, jazz, or blues. When you start to make some cool sounds, you will want to keep playing.

Music Tuition That’s Right For You


Learning to read a guitar chord chart is an important step on the road to becoming a great musician.

Remember to practice, focus on the music that you love, and don’t forget to have fun.

If you want more information on music lessons, don’t hesitate to contact us today.