A Beginner’s Guide to Reading Chord Charts

the-beginners-guideto-reading-chord-chartsThis post is meant to be a resource for you and your students as you teach them to read chord charts.  (Most of the information applies to lead sheets as well.)  It explains fifteen common chords, the symbols used to represent them, and other general tips.  If a student learns all the symbols in this post, they will be prepared to learn almost any pop chord chart.

This is a follow-up post to “What’s the Difference Between Chord Charts and Lead Sheets?”  If you haven’t read it, I recommend doing that first.

 

I’ve summarized the information in this post as a free printable that you can give to your students (or keep yourself for future reference).  If you’d like the printable, click the button below:

chord-chart-button

 

Below are fifteen of the most common chord types you will see in chord charts (especially pop chord charts).  The first letter in the symbol represents the root of the chord.  In the examples below, I always use “C”, however you may use any note as the root (D, F, Ab, C#, etc.).

Let’s get started!

 

C (or CM or CMaj or CΔ)

c

Translation: C Major Triad

 

Cm (or Cmin or C-)

cm

Translation: C Minor Triad

 

C7 (or Cdom7)

c7

Translation: C Dominant Seventh Chord (or C major-minor seventh chord)

 

CM7 (or Cmaj7 or CΔ7)

cmaj7

Translation: C Major Seventh Chord (Major Triad + Major Seventh)

 

Low on time?  Click here for a printable version of this post for future reference…

 

Cm7 (or Cmin7 or C-7)

cm7

Translation: C Minor Seventh Chord (Minor Triad + Minor Seventh)

 

*Slash Chords (examples: C/E, C/G, C/D, Cm/D)

slash-chords

Translation: The note name on the left is the chord (e.g. C = C major triad).  The note name on the right is the bass (lowest) note.  (e.g. E = play E as the lowest note).

Slash chords can be used to show an inversion of a chord (much like figured bass) or to simply show a pedal tone or to show another chord altogether.

 

Csus2

csus2

Translation: The third of a C major triad (e.g. E) is replaced by a second (e.g. D)

 

Csus4

csus4

Translation: The third of a C major triad (e.g. E) is replaced by a fourth (e.g. F)

 

C2 (or Cadd2 or Cadd9)

c2

Translation: C major triad with a second or ninth (e.g. D)

 

C6

c6

Translation: C major triad with a major sixth (e.g. A)

 

Another common chord is Cm6 (a C minor triad with a major sixth)

cm6

 

C5

c5

Translation: C with a perfect fifth above (you can also think of it as a triad with no third)

 

N.C.

n-c

Translation: This means “No Chord” and you should either play only the melody or don’t play at all (if accompanying someone)

 

Cdim (or Cº)

cdim

Translation: C Diminished Triad

 

Caug (or C+ or C+5)

caug

Translation: C Augmented Triad

 

Cdim7 (or Cº7)

cdim7

Translation: C Fully-Diminished Seventh Chord (it can help to think of it as three minor thirds stacked up)

 

Click here for a printable version of this post that you can give to your students or keep for future reference:

chord-chart-button

5 Comments

  1. Thank you! I love that you’ve given these such simple explanations. I’m definitely going to print them for my students.

  2. Lovely simplicity!!! Thank you!

  3. I beieve every musician should learn this which is why I teach, write, and demonstrate it all day long.

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