The Top 5 Reasons Why Learning To Read A Chord Chart Will Benefit You

As guitarists in the 21st century, we’ve become accustomed to the wealth of resources that we can access with just a click of a button on our computers, tablets and smart phones. It’s great to be able to access the information that we’re seeking so easily, especially when it comes to learning how to play songs on the guitar. When you’re not able to figure out the chords to a song by yourself, there are two written mediums that can be easily found online for free: guitar tablature, and lyric sheets (with the chords written above). While these can work well to get the general idea of a song, if you’ve ever tried to use either of these formats then you have probably figured out that they can be challenging to learn from. Lyric sheets don’t contain the timing, or rhythm, of the song you are trying to learn, leaving you in the lurch to figure it out yourself. There is also the issue of having so many different free versions to choose from. How do you know which version is the most accurate? Tablature and lyric sheets posted online can be posted by anyone, which means the quality can be questionable. (Note: high ratings don’t always translate into accuracy).

So with this in mind, what is the easiest way to learn the chords to a song, while ensuring that you are looking at an accurate representation of the song you’d like to learn? Enter the chord chart.

Chord charts (sometimes referred to as music charts) are a breakdown of how to play a song at a glance, with the most important information included for your reference. The great thing about a chord chart is that it still leaves room for you to interpret it and make it your own, but at the same time provides you with important details such as tempo, chord diagrams, how many beats each chord lasts for, rhythms that you should know for the song, as well as single-note lines and other small details that are important. There is a lot of information you can get from just one simple chord chart.

My preferred way of learning a song (aside from transcribing by ear) is by using a good quality chord chart. The information contained in chord charts are more detailed, and can make it much easier and quicker to learn an entire song properly. The one downside is that it can be hard to find these online for free, but if you are looking to enhance your skills as a musician and learn from the best sources, learning to read a chord chart is definitely an important skill to learn. For the reasons above, most of what I provide to students is in a chord chart format. If you take the time to learn to read these properly, you will be well ahead of those who are just using free online resources.

Click here to see a breakdown of what a chord chart looks like

Here are the top five reasons why learning to read a chord chart is important for your skills as a guitarist. 

1. A Chord Chart Is An Easy Introduction To Reading Music.

Do you have an existing belief that reading music notation is too hard and is something you’d like to avoid? If so, it’s a good idea to revisit why you feel that way, and where that belief stems from. A chord chart is a way to introduce yourself to the world of reading music without having to worry about reading a lot of notes. It contains all essential information about a song, such as how long each chord lasts, the rhythm, and a visual of the song arrangement. Even if music notation isn’t part of your goals, learning to read a chord chart will be a helpful way for you to get your foot in the door and understand more about the world of written music.

2. Chord Charts Are The Professional Standard For Musicians In The Western World.

When it comes to playing music in a professional or semi-professional setting, reading a chord chart is the standard and is an essential skill to have. Even at a lot of informal jam sessions, musicians will use charts so that everyone is on the same page while they are working on a tune. Wanna know an easy way to have everyone organized at a get together or jam session? Bring along some chord charts of a few songs you’d like to work on, and you’ll find it much easier to get everyone on the same wavelength.

3. Knowing How To Read A Chord Chart Will Open Up A Vast World Of Printed Music To You That You Would Otherwise Have No Clue How To Read.

There is so much music available out there right now that it can be tough to know which formats to trust. There are a lot of free lyric sheets and tablature available online, but if you want a reliable source of music that is going to provide you with all the information that you need, the best thing to do is to purchase a good quality chord chart or book that contains the song(s) you’d like to learn. Doing this means that you don’t have to worry about whether or not it will be right — you just simply follow the music. Do you have some old music books stashed away from years ago? If you do, pull them out and you may discover some charts to popular songs that you didn’t even know you had.

4. Chord Charts Can Be Supplemented With Other Forms Of Written Music Out There, Such As Lyric Sheets, Tablature, And Notation.

Even if you already know how to read other forms of music that are available  for free online, learning to read a chord chart is going to supplement that and help you compare and contrast different sources. A good first step is to learn and memorize the chords and rhythm from a chord chart, as well as the arrangement. Once you’ve done that, you can move onto using a lyric sheet with chords to see where the words fit into the song, and try to play along with the song. Often if I have to use free online sources to get the chords to a song, I go through a process where I will compare all available formats (the recording, live videos, lyric sheets with chord, tablature etc.). I would never have gotten as good at this as I am today without the use of chord charts to help me understand how a song is put together. To this day, I still write everything I learn out in chord chart form as I transcribe it.

5. Learning How To Read A Chord Chart Will Improve Your Skills As A Musician.

Learning to read a chord chart will help with your sense of timing, your understanding of an arrangement, and how to get through a song even if you haven’t heard it before. There are many skills at play here that will challenge you and improve your skills as a musician. Tablature can be a complicated way to learn a song full of chords since there is a way too much information to take in at a glance. A lyric sheet has no timing, and does not tell you when to change chords. Would you be able to play a song by using only the lyric sheet if you had never heard the song before? The answer is no. But could you learn a song by using a chord chart if you’d never heard the song at all? Definitely.

With all that being said, an important thing to keep in mind is that learning to properly read a chord chart will make you a more well-rounded player, ready to conquer anything that comes your way. Do you want to only be able to read the music you find online for free, or to be able to learn from whatever format is thrown your way? If you were to ask me, my answer would be ‘whatever helps me grow as a guitarist’, so that’s a good place to start 🙂

About the Author:

Jason Wilford is the founder and owner of Pro Guitar Studio, which offers Guitar Lessons in Oakville (Ontario, Canada).