How To Read Guitar Chord Boxes

Difficulty: White

The first thing that you need to know before actually learning any chords is how to read chord boxes. These show you where to put your fingers on the fingerboard when playing chords.

Strings, The Nut, & Frets

The six vertical lines represent the six strings. The line on the furthest left is the thickest string. The two lines at the top of the box represent the nut (the plastic, bone or metal piece that the strings go through on the headstock), and the rest of the horizontal lines represent the frets.

Finger Dots

The dots represent the places where you put your left-hand fingers and they are numbered to show which finger to use. Number 1 is the index finger, 2 is the middle finger, 3 is the ring finger, and 4 is your pinky (little finger). If you have played the piano, make sure you don't get confused! Piano finger numbering is completely different (guitar players generally don't use their left-hand thumbs).

Open or Unplayed Strings

Notice some strings have an X or an O above them. The O means that you play the string ‘open' – with no fingers holding it down – and the X means that you should not play that string at all. you will always play the strings that have fingers on them.

String Numbers & Names

String numbers are commonly used - the thinnest string being String 1 and the thickest, String 6. This is sometimes clearer when explaining where to put a finger. For example, I'll say the 3rd string (String 3) rather than the "third thinnest string," which is long-winded and a bit confusing.

You will find some people prefer to name the string by the pitch they are tuned to, and that's usually fine, too. However, I have found that later in the journey when people often explore different tunings that doing this can get pretty confusing. For this reason, my preference is to stick with calling them Strings 1-6.

For Left-Handed Players

I would recommend that left-handed people get used to reading right-handed chord boxes, just because most of the best information online and in print is only presented in one way - usually right-handed. That said, if you do find a left-handed chord box, it will be flipped so that the thinnest string is on the left. It's a mirror image of a regular diagram (well, hopefully not with the numbers mirrored, too - that might get hard to read!).
 

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