Watch the Interpreting Chord Charts online guitar lesson by Robbie Calvo from Guitar Interactives


Please note that in the video I reference the Ami chord in my first example as an Ami11 it is in fact an Ami9...

Chord charts come in a variety of formats. Lead sheets where the chords are delineated, numbers charts where the scale degree is indicated as an actual number and the campfire charts where a chord is indicated above a lyric.

The first 2 charts are used professionally in studio’s and stage around the world. Numbers charts more predominantely in Nashville.

Reading a chord chart is much more involved than you first imagine because most of the time we are required to interpret the symbols musically. They are a framework or roadmap for a song arrangement.

Interpreting a lead sheet requires a good knowledge of chord options and the techniques required to create great guitar parts in a variety of musical genres. Having the ability to interpret rhythmically, harmonically and even melodically takes some experience. It doesn’t stop there either, you’ll also need to be creative and know how to best reoresent the song technically and sonically. Getting the right sounds for the application is key to interpretation too.

I’ve recorded a couple of examples of interpreting the same chart in different styles so you can hear what I mean. These are very simple examples but it’s a great place to start getting your feet wet.

Numbers charts are used in Nashville studios and live performances. The reason for using a numbers system is that often times a singer will want the song in a different key. Using numbers to represent scale degrees allows the song to be transposed into any key instantly providing the players have the chops to understand what chords occur in each position in every key!

I’ve provided a Nashville numbers chart of our basic arrangement so you can see how it works.

The Campfire charts, as I like to call them, That are chords written over lyrics are loose references for popular songs and often the chords are incorrect. These charts also give little indication of where actual changes occur or where musical interludes are required.

They are helpful for a quick reference but you should always check that the chords are correct and make notes on these charts to indicate where musical sections start and end.