Adrian Curran learn guitar online how to read guitar chords
22 December 2023
Adrian Curran

How to read guitar chords
in 3 Simple Steps

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Guitar chord diagrams explained

"How to read guitar chord charts?" is a question I'm always asked by by new guitar players. 

The good news for beginner guitarist's is that it is easy to read guitar chords using the Guitar By Numbers system and a Guitar Chord Diagram (check out the video below where I show you how to read and play a G major Chord using the three steps) to play cool easy guitar chords.

Guitar chord charts allow you to "read" guitar music without being able to read standard musical notation.

They are a visual representation of the guitar strings, guitar frets and finger you use to play the guitar chord.

This is a superb lesson for learning guitar chord shapes for beginner guitar players to get you started with basic chords.

I love the Guitar Chord diagrams because it breaks up the parts of guitar chords by string, fret and fingers making easier to learn and play the chord.

This new skill will teach you how to read guitar chord charts for a song and is the perfect lesson for learning guitar chords for beginners.

What is a Guitar Chord Chart and Guitar By Number System?

Everything that we use to play a note or a chord on guitar is numbered:

1. The String

2. The Fret

3. Your Finger

The Guitar By Numbers system makes it easy for us to navigate around the guitar - I call it Guitar Maps! - with finger patterns for guitar chords. 

The Guitar By Numbers system is what we use to read a Guitar Chord Chart or Diagram.

Once you know the number of the string, frets and fingers that you use to play a chord, the guitar diagram will help you play the guitar chord.

What is a Guitar Chord Diagram / Chart ?

Understanding the Diagram

Chord diagrams are graphical representations of chords, showing you exactly where to place your fingers on the fretboard.

A guitar chord diagram can also be called a guitar chord chart. 

The guitar chord diagram is a grid of lines representing strings and frets.

The vertical lines represent the strings of the guitar.

The horizontal lines represent the guitar frets.

In the example below, I show you the G major chord (scroll down the page to watch the video teaching you how to play the G Major Chord).

A Major Chord is constructed using 3 notes - it is sometimes called a Triad.

The G major chord is an open chord which means that you play strings without fretting a note as part of the major chord.

The guitar chord diagram / chart is the view you get when looking face on at the guitar fretboard.

Check out the interactive diagram below where you can hover over strings, frets and fingers for explanations of what each is

Frets with Guitar by Numbers

Guitar frets are the thin metal strips that run along the neck of the guitar.

When you place your fingers on the strings at a certain point along the neck, you are pressing the string against a fret, which changes the pitch of the note that the string produces.

Frets are usually spaced out so that pressing the string against one fret will raise the pitch of the note by one half-step.

The guitar chord diagram illustrates the fret position.

On the Guitar Chord Diagram,  the frets are numbered RED 

You scan from left to right to see what fret number your note is on.

Learn to read guitar chords frets

Strings with Guitar by Numbers

A guitar string is a long, thin piece of metal or nylon that is stretched across the neck of the guitar and secured at both ends.

When picked or strummed, the string vibrates and produces a sound.

The six strings of a standard guitar are typically tuned to the notes E, A, D, G, B, and E, starting from the bottom string and working up to the top.

6th String E (Low)

5th String A

4th String D

3rd String G

2nd String B

1st String E (High E)

The strings are of different thicknesses, with the bottom E string being the thickest string and the top E string being the thinnest string.

On the Guitar Chord Diagram, the strings are numbered in GREEN

You scan from left to right to see what string number your note is on.

Learn to read guitar chords strings

Basic Finger Positions

guitar by numbers hand

You play a note on guitar by pressing the tip of your finger onto the guitar string and pushing it down onto the fretboard.

Check out the picture above for your guitar finger numbers: 

1. the index finger is 1

2. the middle finger is 2

3. the ring finger is 3, 

4. the pinky is 4.

On the Guitar Chord Diagram, the notes are numbered in Yellow on a Black DOT

Learn to read guitar chords fingers

X's and O's on a Guitar Chord Diagram


When you see an "O" on the Guitar Chord Diagram, this means you play the string without fretting any notes on the fretboard.

This is called an Open string.

Open strings


When you see an "X" on the Guitar Chord Diagram, this means you DO NOT play the string as part of the chord.

guitar by numbers x

Common Chord Examples

Check out the G Major, C Major , D major and A Major Chord Diagrams which are easy guitar chords for beginners below!

Focus on practicing each chord slowly and focusing on accurate finger placement. 

You now know how to read 6-string guitar chord diagrams.


Adrian Curran Guitars G Major Chord




Check out the video below on how to read Guitar chords using the Guitar Chord Diagram - a great lesson for a beginner guitar player.

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