Frets, guitar neck, C-major chord

Fingering for an open-position C major chord (with the 5th, a G note, in the bass) played on a six-string acoustic guitar. A chord voicing such as this can be symbolized C/G.

A guitar chord is a chord, a collection of tones usually sounded together at once, played on a guitar, a type of chromatically fretted string instrument.

Chord voicings designed for the guitar can be optimized for many different purposes and playing styles. Guitar chords can be composed of notes played on only a few strings at a time, whether occurring on adjacent strings or not, or on all the strings.

The instrument is generally very capable and versatile for chording purposes, but it does exhibit some differences with other instruments. Most guitars only have six strings, which means that for the very largest of chord-voicings it's often necessary to drop or omit one or more tones from the chord; this is typically the root or fifth. The layout of notes on the fretboard sometimes demands that the notes in a chord do not run in tonal order, or makes possible a chord which is composed of more than one note of exactly the same pitch. Many chords can be played with exactly the same notes in more than one place on the fretboard.

Guitars can vary both in the number of strings they have, and in the way they're tuned. Most guitars used in popular music have six-strings and are tuned (from the lowest pitched string to the highest): E-A-D-G-B-E. The internal intervals present among adjacent strings in this tuning can be written 4-4-4-3-4 (being mostly perfect fourth intervals plus one major third interval near the middle). Conventionally, the string with the highest pitch (the thinnest) is called the first string, and the string having the lowest pitch is called the sixth.


Chord diagramsEdit

Common guitar chords

A summary of common guitar chords in six-string standard tuning.

Guitar chords can be represented in standard musical notation, tablature (frequently referred to as tab), or in chord diagrams, which are shown below.

There are several symbols used in the chord diagram format:

  • Vertical lines represent the guitar strings. The line on the left represents the sixth (or thickest) string on the guitar.
  • Horizontal lines represent frets on the guitar. Unless a different fret number is indicated on the right-hand side of the diagram, the top horizontal line represents the nut (or "zeroth" fret).
  • An X above a vertical line indicates a string that is not played.
  • An O above a vertical line indicates an open string (a string that is played without being fretted).
  • A filled circle on a vertical line indicates the position in which a string is fretted to play a note.
  • A filled circle and square on a vertical line also indicates the position in which a string is played, and that the note is the root note or an octave of it.
  • A curved line is used to indicate a barre, which is a single finger used to hold multiple strings down at once.
  • Numbers beneath certain string indicate the finger number that is usually used to play this note. (One represents the index finger, two is the middle finger, etc.).

Note that the chord diagrams have to be reversed for left-handed guitars and guitarists.

Fret numbersEdit

A shorthand for chord diagrams is to simply give the fret numbers of each chord. For example, this might be given as [X 3 2 0 1 0] in the case of the C major chord which is pictured below. The leftmost character gives the fret number of the sixth string (in this case X means it is not played) and the rightmost character gives the fret number of the first string (in this case open).

Six-string guitars with standard tuningEdit

Guitar chords take advantage of the intervals between the strings, which in each case are perfect fourths excepting the interval between the B (second) and G (third) strings, which is a major third. To go above standard tuning it is common in many forms of hard rock as well as metal to use drop D tuning. This requires the player to change the low E string tuning to that of a D note.

CAGED major chordsEdit

Major chords contain a root note, a note a major third above the root and a note a perfect fifth above the root.


C Major

In the case of C Major, these notes are C, E and G. The graphical representation on the right shows how left-hand fingering produces:

  • E on the first string
  • C on the second string
  • G on the third string
  • E on the fourth string
  • C on the fifth string

No note is played on the sixth string.
In a similar way, the chords A Major, G Major, E Major and D Major are often played as:


A Major


G Major


E Major


D Major

These five chords are fundamental to guitar for a variety of reasons including:

  • they are all major triads, and as such they are all primary reference chords
  • they all occur and are available in open position: the first three frets plus open strings
  • each has its root on a different string
  • their overall gross large shapes become the basis of the CAGED system
  • they can be connected and linked together to create one large long contiguous 12-fret or one-octave greater resource pattern of major triad tones encompassing the entire fretboard.

B major and F major shapesEdit

The two remaining whole tone major chords (to complete an octave) are those of B major and F major. These are commonly played as barre chords, with the first finger used to press down multiple strings across the guitar fingerboard.


The A major shape on the second fret becomes B major

On examination, it becomes clear that these two chords are logical extensions of the A major and E major chords above. The B major chord is the same shape as the A major chord but it is located two frets further up the fretboard. The F major chord is the same shape as E major but it is one fret further from the headstock. In effect, barre chords act as if the whole guitar has been shortened, like a moveable nut or capo.


The E major shape on the first fret becomes F major

Barre chords in the shape of A and E major can be played anywhere on the fretboard. Wherever they are played, these chords are major because they have the same shape, and this determines the intervals between the notes. The root of the chord in any position can be worked out from the diagrams above.

C major, G major and D major shapesEdit

The other three shapes in the CAGED system are C major, G major and D major. These can be transformed into barre chords in a similar way to the A major and E major shapes.

The CAGED system therefore creates five major barre chords which can be used to play all the major chords in more than one position on the fretboard.

Other CAGED chordsEdit

The CAGED system can be modified to produce many other chords, only some of which can be covered here.

These require the basic shape of the chord to be modified so that it has slightly different intervals between each note. Once this is done, the shape can be played anywhere on the fretboard, as above.

Minor, Augmented and DiminishedEdit


The E minor shape on the first fret becomes F minor

Minor chords (commonly notated as C-, Cm, Cmi or Cmin) are the same as major chords except that they have a minor third instead of a major third. This is a difference of one semitone.

To create F minor from the F major chord (in E major shape), the second finger should be lifted so that the third string plays onto the barre.

The other shapes can be modified as well:

Chord name Fret numbers
E minor [0 2 2 0 0 0]
A minor [X 0 2 2 1 0]
D minor [X X 0 2 3 1]

The C major and G major shapes cannot be modified in this way because the major third in those shapes falls on the bar (or nut). It is therefore impossible to lower that note by one semitone (to produce the minor third) and retain the barre. C minor and G minor therefore have to be played using one of the other CAGED shapes.

Augmented chords (major third and augmented fifth) and diminished chords (minor third and diminished fifth) can be created in much the same way.

Slash (Inverted) Edit

A chord is inverted when the bass note isn't the root note. For example, if the note E (the open sixth string) were to be played over the A minor chord (as in the table above), the chord would be [0 0 2 2 1 0]. This has the note E as its lowest tone instead of A. It is often written as Am/E, where the letter following the slash indicates the new bass note.

Seventh and extendedEdit

Seventh chords (notated by 7 or "maj7") are constructed by adding a fourth note to the major triad, which is a minor or major 7th above (i.e., a whole or half step below) the tonic. There are various types of seventh chords depending on the quality of the original chord and the quality of the seventh added.

Other extended chords, such as ninths (9), elevenths (11) and thirteenths (13) can also be constructed. These can all be played with the CAGED shapes.

Power chords Edit


F power chord

Power chords (sometimes notated as 5) consist solely of a root note and a fifth. Sometimes an octave is included as well.

Since power chords do not have a third, they cannot be defined as true chords, either major or minor, but rather as simple intervals or dyads.

On a guitar with six strings, it is possible to play any of five power chord shapes. Each can be played anywhere along the neck. The basic shapes are

Chord name Fret numbers
E5 [0 2 X X X X]
A5 [X 0 2 X X X]
D5 [X X 0 2 X X]
G5 [X X X 0 3 X]
B5 [X X X X 0 2]

See power chord for more variations and information.

Six-string guitars with alternate tuningEdit

There are many alternate tunings (like drop D tuning, for example). These change the way chords are played, making some chords easier to play while others may be more difficult. Also, guitars may be tuned to a chord so that a slide may be used to play the chord at a multitude of pitches.

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