Understanding Chord Diagrams

In this extremely concise post, I want to take the time to share my expertise in reading chord diagrams in an easy to read, simplified way. I understand that guitar teachers are likely to know this already, so I’m aiming this post more towards curriculum music teachers and parents of students learning to play the guitar.

I have made a more focussed, detailed resource for you to download to use as a companion to this post – or as stand alone resource – to further your diagram reading understanding. You could use this resource to hand out to your class, or use it to inspire your own resource. It is free of copyright, made specifically for you to use, share and enjoy! In the name of inclusivity, I’ve also made a left handed version, too!

Download it beneath.


In a nutshell, there are only four areas to get to grips with when learning to read and understand chord diagrams:

  1. The Strings
  2. The Frets
  3. ‘Naughts and Crosses’
  4. Finger Placement

The Strings and Frets

Above is a blank chord diagram. The vertical lines are the strings, and the horizontal lines are the frets. The letters above the strings are the string names. Notice the number 3 and number 5 next to the diagram. Those are fret numbers.

A good mnemonic is useful to help children and adults alike remember the string names. I like to use either of these:

  • Elephants
  • And
  • Donkeys
  • Grow
  • Big
  • Ears


  • Eddie
  • Ate
  • Dynamite
  • Good
  • Bye
  • Eddie

‘Naughts and Crosses’

The Xs mean that you don’t play those strings, and the Os mean that you do play those strings. Os are referred to as open strings. This is true whenever you play a string on guitar without holding a finger down on a fret.

Finger Placement

The black dots indicate which string and fret to place your finger on. The number inside the dot is the finger that you should use. Any open strings should be played simultaneously with the fretted note.


Further Development

To further develop your knowledge and guitar playing skills, I’ve included some extra chords in my downloadable Chord Diagram Reading Resource for you to learn, explore and enjoy.

Have fun!

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