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Lesson #3: Reading a Chord Chart

by Tyler de Witt posted on 1999-10-17
Topic: For Beginners Subtopic: General
Level: Beginner Number of Readers: 73552

Reading a Chord Chart

Probably the first thing you're going to want to do is strum a couple of chords. In order to do this, you're going to have to learn how to read a chord chart, because this is the only way I can communicate to you where to place your fingers.

First things first. At the very most left extreme of the fretboard, the first fret you see is called (low and behold) the first fret. As you move to the left, the fret number increments. If you want to play a note on the first fret, you're actually going to have to place your finger _before_ the first fret, and press down. This will cause the string to touch the metal of the fret, and this is what you want. It has nothing to do with how your finger contacts the string and the wood, just as long it results in the string touching crisply and firmly to the metal of the fret.

Try this for a minute, just pick any fret on the fretboard, and any of the six strings, and use one of your fingers to press just before the fret, and then sound the string with your right hand.

Now on to reading a chord chart. Consider the following:

strings

654321
------
......	1	frets
......	2
......	3
......	4

Try to imagine that this is a piece of your guitar fret board. The part at the top(-------) is the nut of your guitar, and the six columns are the strings, each dot representing a fret. The numbers along the top tell you which string number each column corresponds too, and the numbers along the side indicate the fret number. Now consider the following:

------
......	
...@.@	
....@.	
......

The places where I put the dots are to indicate to you where to place your fingers. The dot which is on the third string is on the second fret. The dot on the second string is on the third fret. The dot on the first string is on the second fret. Make sense? Remember to place your fingers right before the fret, and not right on the metal part.

If you're already fingered this shape on your guitar and played all the strings, that's good, but there's still a few things I've got to show you. Consider this:

------
......	
...1.2	
....3.	
......

Now I've replaced the dots with numbers. These numbers correspond to the fingers of your left hand as follows:

index finger	1
middle finger	2
ring finger	3
pinkie		4

Now I'm going to add something else:

xxo---
......	
...1.2	
....3.	
......

The strings with an 'x' placed above them are not to be played when you strum this chord. The strings with an 'o' above them _are_ to be played. And of course, the strings that you are pressing down are to be played, or else you wouldn't be pressing them! The only reason you would have to put an 'o' or 'x' in a chord chart is to indicate which 'open strings' to play. An open string is a string that you play with out pressing on any of the frets on the string.

Now you're ready to play this chord. Form the shape according to the finger numbers given, and only play four of the strings, and not the first two. This should give you a nice harmonious sound.

This type of chord is called an 'open chord' because it involves open strings. This actual chord is called the D Major chord. Now I'll show you a couple of more open chords:

A Major		C Major		G Major
xo---o		x--o-o		--ooo-
......		....1.		......
..123.		..2...		.1....
......		.3....		2....3
......		......		......

Don't worry about memorizing these right away. This is more like an exercise in chord chart reading than anything else. All these chords should sound harmonious. If they don't, and you're absolutely sure you have your fingers placed in the right positions, it's probably because your guitar is out of tune! But don't worry, tuning your guitar is the next lesson.

This lesson was mainly to actually get you playing something, because we could talk about holding the guitar, tuning, preparing and stuff like that all day, but since you're a beginner, you actually want to play something. Now that you have a couple of chords to practice, we'll talk about a couple of other things first, then we'll come back to look at chords and strumming in more detail.

Things to remember from this lesson:

strings

xxo---
......	frets
...1.2	
....3.	
......	

1. A chord chart diagram is a picture of a piece of your guitar fretboard, with the nut at the top, and the strings running down in columns.
2. The numbers indicate which finger to place where on the fretboard.
3. The 'x's indicate _not_ to play the open string underneath it.
4. The 'o's indicate to play the open string underneath it.


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