Strings and Frets

It might be helpful to first identify the strings on the guitar.  Look at the picture below (click to enlarge).

Strings and Frets

A couple of observations from the above graphic include:

  1. The string names E, A, D, G, B, E.  These strings in this order are named from lowest pitch to highest pitch.  We also refer to the strings by numbers.  However, we start with the “top-pitched” note, thus the high E is number 1, the B is number 2, etc.  Sometimes we see them written this way: E1, B2, G3, D4, A5, E6.  We call E1 the “top” string, and E6 the “bottom” string.
  2. Each fret represents a half-step interval.  When E6 is fretted on the 1st fret, the note played is a half-step up from E: the F note.  The note played on E6 on the 3rd fret is G.  The note played on B2 on the 3rd fret is D.  This is especially important when we incorporate chord formulas to modify an existing chord.

Chord Diagrams

There are different ways we write down what we are playing on the guitar.  Chord charts, text, and tab.

Figure 1 represents a standard chord chart for the Am chord. An ‘x’ represents a string not to be played, and the numbers represent which fingers to use on which frets/strings in the chart.  The ‘x’ in this diagram is on string E6.  Strings A5 and E1 are not fretted and are played ‘open’.

Figure 2 is a less common ASCII format for the Am chord. It is meant to replace the standard chord chart when using an ASCII text editor.  The ‘x02310’ represent the fingering: x means the string is not played, 0 means the string is played open, and 2,3 and 1 are the fingers used.

Figure 3 again uses ASCII text and simply tells you which frets to press on which strings for the Am chord.  The strings are represented beginning with E6.


Figure 4 demonstrates how we would show the Am chord using tablature, or simply, TAB. The top line represents the top string, or E1.  This chart says that E1 is played open, B2 is played on the first fret, G3 is played on the second fret, etc.  There is no number on E6 meaning the string is not played.  Because these numbers are ‘stacked’, we know they are played simultaneously (or strummed).  For more information on how to read TAB, click here.

Once you know the strings and the half-step intervals of frets, you can begin to apply chord formulas to standard chords. When you see the chord G2, you can take your normal G chord and modify it. The G chord is G,B,D (according to the formula 1,3,5). The G2 uses the chord formula: 1,2,5. There is no 3rd note, so we drop the 3rd note (B) of the G chord and include the 2nd note (A). Thus we need G,A,D.

Let’s look at a typical G chord:

I’ve included the notes being played by each string.  We could open the A5 string to drop the B and gain an A note.  However, when modifying chords we generally do not want to add our ‘new’ note on either of the the lower two strings.  So we will mute the A5 string to drop the ‘B’ and we will move our ‘1’ finger to the G3 string in the second fret.  This will take that G note up a whole step to an A.  Here is how the diagram would look:

There you have it.  A perfect G2 chord!  Following this procedure we can modify many of the chord shapes we already know.  Sometimes, however, we may need to start from a different chord shape.  At times barre chords can help us here.  Other times, we may need to invent a whole new chord from scratch.  Or we could just Google it, but what would be the challenge of that?