An Essential Tool for Learning to Play the Guitar

How do you use guitar chord diagrams? A complete understanding of how to read and use diagrams of guitar chords is essential knowledge for any guitar player, from the “greenhorn” beginner to more advanced players. The best and easiest path to becoming a competent guitar player is by learning some chords and then applying them to learning the rhythm parts of songs. Guitar chord diagrams help you do just that!

What is a Guitar Chord Diagram?

A guitar chord diagram is a graphical representation of a single guitar chord, often referred to as a “chord box”. It is basically a box in the shape of a rectangle that shows you how to play a particular chord. It represents the guitar fretboard, and shows you exactly where to place your fingers to form the chord, and which strings to strike to play it. It is truly amazing how much useful information is packed into such a small package.

How to Read a Chord Diagram

There are several different styles and formats, but all chord diagrams have these common elements:

• There are six lines that represent the strings of the guitar. Depending on the format of the chord box, the strings run vertically up and down the page (most common), or else across the page horizontally.

• For vertical diagrams, the string on the left represents the low E string (thickest one), and the string on the right is the high E (thinnest string.)

• There are a series of lines running across the string lines (at a right angle) that represent the frets.

• The string lines and the fret lines come together to form a grid representing the guitar fretboard.

• Circles or dots are placed on the grid to show exactly which strings to press on which fret to play the chord.

With just this basic information on a chord diagram, you can form and play any guitar chord. The best part is that you don’t need to know how to read standard musical notation, or even guitar tabulature, to read a chord diagram. Well enough words! View examples of guitar chord diagrams here.

Here are some additional features of chord diagrams that pack in even more useful information:

• At the top of the box is a thicker line representing the guitar nut, or end of the neck

• An “x” symbol above the nut line means “Do Not Play This String”.

• An “o” symbol above the nut line means that the string is played open (not fingered.)

• Numbers (1 to 4) on the dots (or under the box) indicate which finger to use on that string, with 1= the index finger, and 4= the little finger.

• A line or bar running across two or more strings indicates a “Barre Chord”, in which one finger presses more than one string.

Tips for Using Guitar Chord Diagrams

1. Chord Diagrams are the single most powerful tool for learning and improving your guitar playing. Make good use of them!

2. Individual chord diagrams can be combined to form chord charts. These are a practical means to learn basic chords, chord families and sequences, and songs.

3. Make use of the wealth of free online resources to help you learn about guitar chord diagrams and chord charts. One such resource is The Guitar Players Toolbox.

Play well!

Copyright 2005 Peter Bussey of

This article can be reprinted freely online, as long as the entire article and the resource box are included.

Peter Bussey has been an avid guitar player for over 10 years. In 2004 he became Editor of The Guitar Players Toolbox, a website dedicated to helping advancing guitar players improve with practical tools, tips, and information. Visit for a variety of free, practical resources such as guitar chords, guitar chord charts, song chords, and much more.