How to Read Guitar Chord Symbols

Guitar chords, or any chords for that matter, can be expressed in a variety of different ways.  Sometimes this means guitar chords might include weird symbols or numbers.  

I want you to be able to identify the different ways guitar chords can be written, even if you don’t quite have a full grasp of what the chord might be representing.  For that reason, I’m not going to go too deep into the theory behind these ways of writing guitar chords or show you how to play these chords.  To learn how to play guitar chords, visit our growing list of guitar chords with chord chart diagrams here.

1. Major guitar chords

Often major guitar chords are just represented by a capital letter.  For example: G, D, C.  Sometimes major chords might have an added “maj” attached to the letter like: Gmaj, Dmaj, Cmaj.  Those can all be understood as major guitar chords.

2. Minor guitar chords

Minor guitar chords will often be represented by a capital letter followed by a lowercase “m” or “min.”  For example: Em, Amin, C#m.  Sometimes a minor chord will just be represented with a lowercase letter like: e, a, or c#.  This is uncommon though in pop music.

3. Chord Inversions

Examples: G/B, C/G, D/F#  

The above examples are ways to express a chord inversion.  The first letter before the slash is the type of chord.  The letter after the slash is a note taken from the chord that will be put in the bass.  G/B reads: a G major chord with a B note in the bass.  The notes in a G major chord are G, B, & D.  In other words, the lowest note of the G major chord will be the B note of the G major chord.

4. Seventh (7th) chords

Seventh (7th) chords are represented by the number ‘7.’  Examples of seventh chords are: G7, Gmaj7, Em7, C#m7.  

You might be wondering, “What’s the difference between a G7 and a Gmaj7 chord?  Aren’t they both major chords?”  

There is a difference.  A G7 chord is a dominant seventh chord, while a Gmaj7 is a non-dominant seventh chord.  

5. Diminished chords

Diminished chords are represented often with a little circle or a degree symbol superscripted next to the letter name of the chord.  The letters “dim” will also commonly follow too.  Examples are: , F#dim, C#°.

6. Augmented chords

Augmented chords will either be represented by plus (+) sign or the letters “aug.”  Examples of augmented chords are: E+, Daug, G+.

7. Altered chords

Altered chords are chords with extra markup in them like b5, add9, #5.  These chords require a bit of music theory to fully understand.  Again, we won’t go into this here.  Examples of altered chords are: Cadd9, Gmin7b5, D9.  

In the examples above, the number represents a note.  In the case of Gmin7b5, the 5th note of a G minor chord is a D.  The flat symbol or ‘b’ preceding the number 5 indicates that the 5th note should be lowered one half step or “flatted.”  So a Gmin7b5 chord would be understood as a G minor chord with an added seventh and with a flat fifth.  

Let me know if you have any questions about this.  Let’s plan on diving into the theory behind all of this soon!

About Brett McQueen

Brett McQueen is a musician, songwriter, and the founder and editor of Guitar Friendly and Ukulele Tricks. Learn more about him here and follow him on Twitter at @GuitarFriendly.

Comments

  1. clint

    What about this chord:

    CM7, in other parts of this pacticular peice of music, minor chords are represented with lower case m lik Em and Am7, should I assume that the capital M means Maj?

  2. Hi, I have seen a delta sign or small triangle superscript to modify a named chord, as in G-delta or G-triangle. What does this mean? Thank you so much, your page is a very helpful resource for the working musician as well as the beginning student.

  3. Clint – You are correct. CM7 would translate as Cmaj7.

    Adam – A small superscript triangle is used to indicate a major 7th chord. It’s another way of saying ‘maj7′ or ‘M7′ such as was the case with Clint.

  4. Dave

    “There is a difference. A G7 chord is a dominant seventh chord, while a Gmaj7 is a non-dominant seventh chord”. What?! This doesn’t really explain the difference. The KEY difference is the number of half steps from the root to the 7th degree, and what that means to the sound of the chord. G7 — yes, it’s a dominant 7th, but only in the key of C — has 10 half steps from root of chord to the 7th, the interval of a minor 7th. the dominant 7th chord most often resolves to the tonic chord the root of the key. The Gmaj7 chord — no meaning in the key of C — has 11 half steps to the 7th degree, the interval of a major 7th. The resolution of a maj7 chord is very ambiguous.

  5. christine

    hey, i’m trying to learn this song and it has D2 in it what is that?

  6. chris

    hey im learning off the ‘easy songs’ for beginners. What is C2???

  7. Hey Chris, C2 (also known as C9 or Cadd9) is played: x32033.

    In case those numbers make no sense, each one represents a string and then the numbers represent the fret number on that strong. From left to right, it’s the lowest E string to the highest E string. So a C2 “x32033″ would be played where the low E string is muted, the A string is played on the 3rd fret, the D string is played on the 2nd fret, the G string is open, the B string is played on the 3rd fret, and the high E string is played on the 3rd fret.

  8. Dylan

    Hey Brett, thank you very much for all the musical information you have provided it’s very help in understanding chords and what the symbols behind them indicate. I was courious what the symbol (#) indicates like for example (C#) does the mean C sharp? Like the G# note in the key of the E chord.

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