How to read short notated guitar chords

Perhaps you have seen chords referred to by something like this X32010? This is only the letter X and different numbers and could be hard to comprehend. Or maybe you have seen tabs with numbers you don’t understand. In neither case is this something especially complicated and you will soon grasp it by keep reading this text that explains both subjects.

When you see something like 320003 or XX0323, you are looking at notations that sometimes are used to describe how to play chords. The examples are G major and D major chords.

You may also have seen a tab looking something like this:

Tab notation of A chord

It's kind of the same thing. If you take out the numbers from the tab and put them in horizontal order, you get 02220. This way to write lacks information though, since it's just five numbers, but as we know the guitar has six strings. To transcribe the tab into notation it should be X02220. An empty line in a tab is the same as X in short notation, and also often in a diagram, which indicates that a string is not to be played.

You may have figured out what X02220 stands for by now? The answer is the A major chord:

A chord diagram and numbers

So, to explain in detail … The six figures (the letter X or numbers) are numbers of frets for the six strings. The first number is the lowest (thickest) string and then the orders following the strings to the highest (the thinnest).

Therefore, the example X02220 should be read as:
X – the 6th string shouldn’t be played.
0 – the 5th string should be played open.
2 – the 4th string should be played on the second fret.
2 – the 3rd string should be played on the second fret.
1 – the 2nd string should be played on the second fret.
0 – the 1st string should be played open.

We could change one number, to X02210 and we would instead have the short notation for the A minor chord in open position.

So why use short notation and make people? Because it can save a lot of time and also paper space on tabs when diagrams above the tab lines can be left out. Especially if you play much and stumble upon new chord, it's very handy to write them down fast by a few numbers instead for making a diagram. In addition, this knowledge helps you if you want to write your own tabs.

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