Reading chord diagrams is a simple matter and rather necessary when getting started with your first open position chord voicings. The variables with reading a chord diagram are:
1. The Strings – Vertical lines
2. The Frets – Horizontal lines – Roman numerals indicate fret spaces
3. The Fingers – Arabic numbers on strings
4. The Open Strings – indicated by 0 above the nut or top line
Strings and Frets
The diagram is laid out as if the frets were facing you with the head of the guitar pointing at the ceiling, “*the nut” would be the top line of the diagram and is sometimes shown as a slightly thicker line. The strings are therefore indicated as 6 vertical lines, high E on the right and low E on the left. The headstock of the guitar is not normally shown or indicated in a chord diagram but if it were it would be at the top.
The Frets are horizontal lines with the top line indicating the nut (as mentioned), the space between the top horizontal line and the 2nd horizontal line will be Fret I. Frets are the spaces between the lines and are normally indicated as Roman Numerals.
The combination of strings and frets forms a grid on which we place our fingers to form a chord. The fingers are numbered:
index – 1 middle – 2 ring – 3 baby finger – 4
When a number (finger ) is placed on the string/fret grid this number indicates a finger or “fingering”.
When a chord requires “open strings” these are indicated by an “0” above the top line to indicate that the string should be played as an open note. Remember that “open strings are notes” and when indicated as open are a part of the notes in the chord. In the case of the E minor chord the notes in the chord are E – G – B , as a first position chord in open position these notes would appear as follows:
(bottom) 6 – open E 5 – B – II fret, finger 1 4 – E – II fret, finger 2 3 – G – open 2 – B – open 1 – E – open (top)
As you can see there are only *3 notes in the chord but they are duplicated in order to fill out the sound of the chord. In the case of E minor in open position we have 3 E’s, 2 B’s and one G note.
When an open string does not belong in a specific chord that string will have a mute string indication marking, usually a wavy line or sometimes an “m” for mute. It is important to avoid open strings that are not a part of the chord.
* a three note chord is called a “triad”
* the nut is the piece of bone or plastic that the strings cross over at the top of the fret board, it is between the fret board and the head stock.
Note: There are different ways of describing a chord. One is as a “voicing” which refers to the arrangement of the notes of the chord, another is “fingering” which refers to the finger placement and yet another is “chord form” which refers to the “shape” your fingers form when put in place for a specific chord.