How To Read Guitar Chord Boxes

Learning how to read Guitar Chord Boxes - or Guitar Chord Diagrams - is essential to any guitar player! A chord box shows you how to play a chord. Before you can imagine, you'll use chord box diagrams to play your favorite songs. Fun, eh? :)


What do the Symbols Mean on Guitar Chords

Let's take a look at the image below. It'll help you get familiar with the symbols we use in a chord box diagram. 


What do the Lines Mean on Guitar Chords

Understanding what the lines mean it's essential when reading chord boxes. It's not hard! Take a look:

- The vertical lines in the diagram 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 rest of the horizontal lines represent the frets.


What do the Dots & Numbers Mean on Guitar Chords

The dots represent the strings you should place your fingers on. The numbers show which finger to use.

- Number 1 is the index finger.
- Number 2 is the middle finger.
- Number 3 is the ring finger.
- Number 4 is your pinky.

We usually use numbers to refer to the strings as well. It's useful when explaining where to put a finger. For example, I'll say "the third-string" rather than "the third thinnest string." So, memorize that:

- The thinnest string is string 1.
- The thickest is string 6. 

Some people prefer to name the string by pitch, but it can be tricky later on in our Beginner Guitar Course. My preference is to stick with calling them Strings 1 - 6.


Reading Chord Boxes: Which Strings to Play

When reading a Chord Box Diagram, it's important to note that some strings have an X or an O above them. They tell you if you should or should not play a string!

- The 'O' stands for 'open.' It means that you play the string 'open' – with no fingers holding it down.
- The 'X' means that you should not play that string at all.

You'll always play the strings that have fingers on them.


Piano Fingering vs. Guitar Fingering

If you've played the piano, make sure you don't get confused! Piano finger numbering is entirely different from guitar finger numbering. Guitar players generally don't use their thumbs to fret a string.


What Is a Guitar Nut

The nut is what we call the plastic, bone, or metal piece that the strings go through on the headstock.


Chord Diagrams For Left-Handed Players

I recommend that left-handed guitar players get used to reading right-handed chord boxes. Most available resources only present the information in one way – usually right-handed.

That said, if you do find a left-handed chord box, be aware that the thinnest string is on the left. It's a mirror image of the right-hand diagram!


Guitar TABs vs. Chord Diagrams

Guitar TABs is a way of writing music for guitar, while chord diagrams only tell us how to play a chord. We'll learn about tablatures later on in our Beginner Course. If you want to learn guitar tablatures right now, I recommend checking out my lesson on how to read guitar tabs.