Guitar Lesson: Making Sense of Common Guitar Chord Symbols

Translating guitar chord symbols onto the guitar fretboard can often be frustrating and confusing.

Today we will demystify some of the most common ways that guitar chords are symbolized, so you’ll probably want to bookmark this page for future reference.

Our main focus will be on the most common guitar chords called triads.

A triad is simply a chord that contains three different notes.  These notes can be doubled, or even tripled in the chord to produce four, five, or six string chord voicings.

Chord Symbolization Rule #1

The first thing you need to understand about interpreting chord symbols is the fact that chord symbols are not standardized.  This means that you could pick up different books and sheet music and see the same chord  symbolized quite differently.  In some cases, you will find the same chord symbolized two different ways in the very same song!  In other cases, you may find inconsistencies in how chords are symbolized within the same songbook, or magazine.

The good news is that as you start to understand how chords are symbolized and begin to understand the theory behind chords, you will be able to look at a chord symbol and determine exactly what the composer, arranger, or transcriber meant.

Chord Symbolization

When chords are symbolized, the following abbreviations are frequently used:

maj → for major

min → for minor

dim → for diminished

aug → for augmented

sus 4 → for suspended 4

sus 2 → for suspended 2


Often, the major chord will have no indication following its letter-name.  For example, the chords C maj, F maj and G maj, may be written as C, F, G.


Minor chords are often abbreviated as: “m”, “mi”, min, or a minus sign “—” is used.


The diminished triad is sometimes symbolized as “dim”, “min b5”, or as “dim (triad)”.  Often the degree sign ” ° ” is used.  Bear in mind that “dim” is sometimes used to represent a diminished 7th chord.  The diminished 7th chord is also sometimes symbolized with just a degree sign ” ° “.


The augmented chord, which is usually abbreviated as “aug”, is sometimes symbolized with a plus sign “+”.  For example, G+ and Ab+, would both be augmented triads.  You should note that the plus sign is used to represent the major chord in some texts that cover classical music theory.


The suspended 2 and suspended 4 chords are usually just symbolized as “sus 2″, and “sus 4″ respectively.  Sometimes though, you will just see a chord symbolized as “sus” without a 2 or 4 following it.  This usually refers to the sus 4 chord.

Power Chords

One other chord symbol that you will frequently encounter as a guitar player is the symbol for a power chordPower chords are not triads.  They consist of just two different notes and are sometimes called diads or dyads.

Power chords are most commonly written as the letter-name of the chord followed by the number 5.  So a C5 is a ” C power chord”.  You will also see the power chord written with the letter-name of the chord followed by “no 3rd”, “(no 3rd)”, “(no third)”, “omit 3″, or “(omit 3)”.

Chord Symbolization Rule #2

As you can see from the discussion above, capitalization is not used consistently.  Some musicians will capitalize the “M” in major, others will not.  Some use an upper case “M” for minor chord symbolization, others do not.

Below you will see a summary of the most common ways that the basic triads  and power chords are symbolized.


Common Symbols

Major C, C ma, C Maj, C maj, C major, C Major, C+
Minor C mi, C min, C minor, C-, C m
Diminished C dim, C°, C (dim), C min b5, C° (no 7), C° (omit 7) C min b5
Augmented C+, C aug, C aug 5, C #5, C +5
Suspended 2 C sus 2
Suspended 4 C sus 4, C sus
Power Chord C5, C no 3rd, C (no 3rd), C (no third), C omit 3, or C (omit 3)

To learn more about guitar chords, and learn guitar chords fast check out Guitar Essentials: Chord Master Expanded Edition.


Guitar Lesson: Making Sense of Common Guitar Chord Symbols — 1 Comment

  1. Pingback: What's the Difference Between Dominant 7th and Major 7th Chords? | Guitar Accelerator Blog: Play Guitar - Over 100 Free Electric and Acoustic Guitar Lessons and Tutorials

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>