I can sight-read melodies in standard notation on the guitar. Slowly, but I can do it.

I can also sight-read chords in standard notation on the keyboard. Pretty quickly, in fact.

How do I learn to sight-read chords in standard notation on the guitar in the same voicing as notated?

  • 1
    How did you learn to sight-read chords on the keyboard? I expect it would be a very similar process of patient practice. Oct 20, 2015 at 20:48
  • 1
    Sounds like you have the knowledge, you just need practice. You know know where the notes are on the fretboard and on the score. The classical study guides mainly say, take your time. Familiarity comes with practice.
    – hpaulj
    Oct 20, 2015 at 20:52
  • As with the other comments, knowing where your application of knowledge is breaking down will help. For example if you read a chord on a staff as a Cmaj7, is it that you don't know that Cmaj7 is a C,E,G and B? or is it that you don't know where those notes are on the neck? or maybe you just aren't sure which combination of CEGB to grab on the neck? I had/have similar issues and might be able to offer my personal insight!
    – Steve
    Oct 20, 2015 at 21:18
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    A keyboard is easy for sight reading as each note has only one position on the keyboard which is arranged in a one dimensional manner. A guitar is more difficult as each note can have five different positions and the notes are arranged in a two dimensional grid. Moreover, some chord voicings are unplayable in some positions. Single note lines can be sight read by finding the "sweet spot" on the guitar.
    – empty
    Oct 21, 2015 at 1:24
  • 1
    Check out the A Modern Method for Guitar series from Berklee press. It is focused on sight reading (no tabs) and contain a lot of exercises. Just got my complete volume, so I haven't worked a lot with it, but it looks promising. Oct 21, 2015 at 21:22

4 Answers 4


I think that memorizing fingerings is very important in playing guitar.

However, for strictly sight-reading music in standard notation, memorizing fingerings can only get you so far.

Obviously if you recognize an open E major voicing written in sheet music, you will know exactly how to play that without looking at every individual note. However, in the real world notated music will typically deviate from standard open chords. Otherwise the composer would give you a chord figure.

Since you have stated that you can read chords fairly quickly on piano, I can assume that you understand the pitches, and simply the frets of the guitar are what give you issues.

I wish there was a secret technique that makes you immediately better at sight-reading, but there really isn't. Similar to just about every aspect of music, practice makes perfect. The more music you are exposed to, the more familiar the shapes will look to you. Then you will have an easier time finding how to voice the chords on the fly.

I can offer a few tips that help me when I read music for guitar:

  • Prioritize rhythm over pitch accuracy
  • Memorize the pitches of a few frets on each string (eventually you should have the pitches of all frets memorized)
  • Look ahead for notes/phrases that you can correct yourself on if you ever get lost
  • Be confident! Nothing helps sight-reading more than confidence in yourself

Playing chords on a guitar is different that playing chords on piano because of the way the notes are laid out on the fret board. Every chord can be played in multiple ways (called voicings) in multiple positions. But most beginning guitar students start by learning the simple open position or first position chords. Also, on guitar you can't just move a shape higher up the keyboard to go from say a Cmaj chord to an Fmaj chord. The fingerings on guitar between those two chords in open or first position are completely different (same applies to most open position chords on guitar).

I learned to "sight read" chords by learning to play songs that were of interest to me. I started with mostly three or four chord songs. To learn to play the songs, I had to learn to play the chords in the voicing most appropriate for the particular song (or the suggested voicing on the sheet music). As a beginning guitarist, I started out learning the easiest to play open position chords.

So if the song I wanted to learn had a G, G7, C and D chord in it, I memorized the fingering for those four chords. Now I could sight read any music that contained those same chords. Later maybe I came across a song that had those chords but also an Em chord. So I learned how to finger a basic Em chord and it stuck in my memory as I continued to play the new song.

It's just a building process of memorizing the fingerings for the various chords, a few at a time, and them applying that knowledge by playing songs using the chords. Kind of like using a new vocabulary word in a sentence helps you remember the word.

So I recommend just learning to play some songs you like - in keys that contain chords that are easy for you to play on guitar, and play those songs often enough to memorize all the fingerings for the chords used in that song. Later you can add variations of those chords and memorize them - one at a time.

Many guitar lead sheets or sheet music publications show the chord diagrams on the sheet music itself so it's easy to refer back to as you learn the song. If you are learning a new song from music that does not have chord charts, you could print the chords you need and have them handy for reference as you learn the chords.

You might want to download a chord chart such as the one on this site (click the link and then download the free e-book called "ultimate guitar chords e-book")

Guitar Chords E-Book

Then if you are learning a new song and it contains a chord you have not learned yet, you can look up the various fingerings for that particular chord and find the one that sounds best that you can actually play without too much difficulty.

If you mean sight read chords by the notes on the staff with no chord letters above the staff, some of the same principals apply. If you know the chords by sight for keyboard, it's just a matter of memorizing the chord fingerings for guitar. Based on your keyboard chord knowledge, you should be able to recognize a G major chord from the notes on the staff. So you just need to memorize the fingering on guitar for the G major chord (whichever voicing you choose). As part of the learning (memorization) process, you might just write the chord names above the chords and copy and paste the chord diagrams you will need into a document and print it out as a cheat sheet until you memorize all the chords used in a particular song you want to learn to play on guitar. Start with a simple three chord song and then build from there.

Hope this helps. Good luck!


You are on the right track to sight reading chords as you can already sight read melodies and sight-read chords on the piano. I think you need to really familiarize yourself with the layout of the fretboard.


It might seem as I know only one piece: the prelude in C by J.S. Bach. I pretend that also in your case this would best benefit to solve your problem:

compare the piano sheet music with the guitar tab:


and write the chords as it's usual to show the chord pattern for guitars. but instead of the fingering or the frets transcribe there the names of the tones respecting the strings and frets.

this is the way I teach beginners in guitar playing in the aim to understand what they play and learn sight reading by writing.

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