Fret Diagrams

Fret Diagrams


Learn how to read a fret diagram, a succinct way of showing where to fret the strings on a six-string guitar in standard tuning.

If you are uninterested in guitar, you can skip this section and the next, and continue learning about jazz theory in the section Diatonic Modes & Chords.

Reading Fret Diagrams

Fret or fretboard diagrams (also fingerboard) in Harmonious show how to play a chord on a six-string guitar in standard tuning (E2 A2 D3 G3 B3 E4).

A few examples of how to play a C major chord on guitar.
Left: Open C Major. Right: C Major played with an E-shaped barre chord at the eighth fret.

The six vertical lines from left to right represent the six strings, usually tuned from low (big strings) to high (small strings) E, A, D, G, B, E in that order.

The horizontal lines represent the metal frets on the fretboard of your guitar.

On the left diagram:

  • The thick black line at the top represents the nut on the guitar, where the neck and head of the guitar meet, and where the end of a string is fixed so the rest of the string can vibrate freely.
  • Open strings are represented by empty circles, (think of the letter “O”), above the nut. Simply strike the string with your playing hand (usually the right hand) and let it ring without touching any part of the string with your fretting (usually left) hand.
  • An “X” above the nut represents a string that is not played and should be muted (or simply just not played). Strings can be muted with the left or right hand, or both, depending on your technique and style of music.
  • Fret numbers start at one, below the nut, and increase one by one as you move down the diagram (toward the body of the guitar) between each fret (horizontal line).

A few examples of how to play an A major chord on guitar.
Left: Open A Major. Right: A Major played with an E-shaped barre chord at the fifth fret.

On all diagrams:

  • Solid black circles represent where to place your fingers (on which fret number, on which string). Typically you will place your finger on the string in between the frets, depending on where your other fingers need to be—or slightly toward the inside of the fret where the string will now be touching.

On the right diagram:

  • The “5” or “8” (or any number usually above four) on the right represents the eighth fret, instead of the first fret or nut. Fret numbers start at this number, and increase as you move down the diagram (toward the body of the guitar). Typically the open strings will not be involved (all strings will be fretted, muted, or barred—see the next item).
  • The dark curved line represents a barre, where a finger (usually the first) is placed almost on its side and all strings are depressed at that particular fret with that single finger. The other notes on higher frets will be played with the middle, ring, or pinky fingers (or rarely perhaps the thumb on the low E string, but not usually while barring).
  • Since you place your fingers between the frets, the number refers to the inside fret (toward the body of the guitar, toward the bottom of the diagram), so counting from the nut as zero, look for the fifth (or eighth) metal fret and place your finger just outside that fret (above, toward the head of the guitar).

The next section will discuss how Harmonious refers to the different ways in which the same chord is played in different registers with different fretting-hand shapes.