Chord Basics Part 1 

How to Read Chord Diagrams and Open Chords

Recommended Prior Knowledge:

  • Learning the Guitar String Notes and Tuning
  • Learning The Note Values & Counting


Below is a list of some of the basic open chords that every guitarists should know. Open chords are chords that utilise the open strings of the guitar; also known as chord shapes these positions can be movable with the aid of the 1st finger barre, which we cover in part 2. The chords in this section are your basic major and minor open positions. The difference between major and minor is best described by how they sound and feel: major sounds happy, minor sounds sad. Chords that have only one letter above it, for example E, they are major chords, if they have an m following it, for example Em, they are minor. 


Also included is a detailed description on how to read chord diagrams, I recommend you know the names of all the open strings before you start, which you can do on my  Learning the Guitar String Notes and Tuning page.


First up, reading a chord chart. The below picture outlines the features of a chord chart which include the strings, frets and finger positions. 

Diagram Example for open Chords.jpg


Once you are familiar with how to read a chord chart, try these open chords. 

There are countless strumming patterns that you can learn but before you attempt any of them you should try and get comfortable changing between each chord. Below is a simple exercise to get you changing chords, it requires you to play the chord thats written on beat 1 of each bar giving you 3 beats to change to the next. You’ll notice a bracket above each of the chord notes, this indicates a down stroke or down strum. I recommend playing this at a quarter note = 60 and changing up the chords once you are familiar with those in the exercise. 


Basic Open Chord - Strumming Pattern.jpg


If you are finding it difficult to get both the positions with the left hand and the strumming in the right, try leaving the right hand out and focus on the left hand changes. Be relaxed and deliberate with your changes, try and plant all the fingers at the same time.