How to Read Guitar Chords

Being able to read guitar chords is a very important skill for any guitarist. If you play pop, rock, blues, jazz, samba, or even classical guitar, it is important skill to have.

By learning guitar chords, you can play accompaniment for most song by just reading the chord notation.

In this article, I present an overview of how to read guitar chords quickly, with some exercises that will make it much faster for your to read chords.

Learning to Read Guitar Chords

Reading guitar chords may seem daunting at first, but after some quick practice you will start to find it easy and practical.

You just need to understand the basics of chord notation, and how to translated this information into guitar chords. After a while, this process will become second nature for you.

Learning About Chords

The first step to understand chord notation is to learn the basics about chords. A lot of people have no clue about chords are formed, in this makes it very difficult to learn to read chords.

On the other hand, learning about the basics of chords will give you a great basis to determine how such a chord can be constructed.

Defining Chords

A chord is a set of music notes that are played at the same time.

In western culture, chords are created by stacking thirds. This means that we can start with a note, then skip the next node of the scale, and get the next node, which is a third.

So for example, starting with F, you have F,A,C. This immediately tells us that this is a major chord.

Similarly, if you get an A chord that has notes A,C,E, then you just need to look at the second note. It is a minor third, thus the chord is a minor chord.

The Parts of a Chord Notation

Chord notation can be explained using the different components of a chord.

The first component is the name of the tonic of the chord. For example, the G chord has as first component the note G. The F#m7 chord has as first component the F# chord.

The second component will tell you if the chord is minor or major. For example the Am7 chord has the letter m as second component to indicate the resulting chord is minor.

The third component determines the extensions of the base chord. These extensions normally indicate the degrees of the scale that can be added to the chord.

For example the B7 chord has a base note (B) and an extension note indicated by the number 7. The seventh note is a common extension note, and is used to provide a “preparation” for the tonic.

Determining Chord Positions

To determine the position of  a chord from a chord symbol, you have a lot of freedom.

First, you need to determine the position of the guitar fretboard where you’re more familiar. However, you need to try and practice different regions of the guitar to increase you familiarity to all kinds of chords.

For example, for the Gm11 chord, the first information we have is that is a chord based on G.

Then, the second element of information is that the chord is minor. Thus, the next note used in this chord in Bb, because if is a minor third from the G note.

Finally, you have the extension note 11. This means that you’re adding an 11th interval to the chord.

To determine the right position, remember that the 11 is the same as the 4th in terms of involved notes. Thus, the 11 extension corresponds to the C note, when building the Gm11 guitar cord.

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