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Chord Diagrams

A chord diagram is the box with lines and dots shown below.  These diagrams are commonly found in music books to show the player what chord to play and how to play it.  Chord diagrams will look different in different texts, so don’t be confused if some of the elements shown here are missing or different in other books.

Understanding the Diagram

Chord Name

This is the name of the chord.  If only a letter name is used, the chord is major.  For example: “C” represents a C major chord.  A lowercase “m” indicates a minor chord.

Guitar strings

The vertical lines represent the six different strings on a guitar.  The lowest (thickest) string always appears on the left and the highest (thinnest) string appears on the right.


The horizontal lines represent the different frets on a guitar.  The top horizontal line is the nut of the guitar where the strings are held in place.  Each line after that is a subsequent fret on the fretboard.  

Muted strings

Often times a chord will not use all of the strings.  An “X” is sometimes placed above each string that is not meant to be played.  

Fretted notes

The black dot represents a note to be fretted.  It is placed on the string to be used and behind (above) the intended fret where the finger holds down the string.


Finger numbers are sometimes (but not often) given at the top of the diagram to show what fingers to use.  The index finger is “1,” the middle is “2,” the ring is “3,” and the pinky is “4.”

Open strings

Strings that are played but not fretted are marked with a “0.”  Some books will use a very small circle instead of a “0,” and some will not have any marking at all for open strings.  Books that have no open string marker will use an “x” for each muted string instead (all strings not muted are to be played).


In the example above the name of the chord is C major.  The 1st finger is placed behind the first fret on the B-string, 2nd finger is placed behind the second fret on the D-string, and the 3rd finger is placed behind the third fret on the A-string.  All strings are played except the low E-string.

Simple Chords

There are many ways to form each chord.  These chord diagrams show you simple ways to play common chords using only the top three strings.  Although these chords are traditionally played using four, five, or six strings, these simple versions will help to get you started.  

Be sure to use the recommended fingerings at the top of each diagram.  Some of the finger choices may seem strange, but they will help you transition to playing other versions of the chord using more strings.

Chord Diagrams and Simple Chords