# Describe a chord shape?

Is there a standard or compact way to describe a chord shape, using text?

For example, the D/C chord is:

• 6th string: muted
• 5th string: 3rd finger on 3rd fret (C)
• 4th string: open (D)
• 3rd string: 1st finger on 2nd fret (A)
• 2nd string: 4th finger on 3rd fret (D)
• 1st string: 2nd finger on 2nd fret (F#)

That's wordy, however.

I'm hoping for a compact alternative to a chord diagram, like this one:

because I want to annotate a score, e.g. when the score asks for a D/B chord I want a reminder of how to finger that.

Something like`X-3-0-1-4-2` is a fairly suitable answer (for the D/C example above), but could it be better or is there a more standard way? Because this tells you the finger-number-sequence, but not the corresponding fret numbers or note names.

• The fingering itself is not too important. With some chords, there's only one sensible way to finger, with others, there's options which depend on the player. String/fret is way more useful. Most of us will go automatically to a given name, and have, sometimes, several different voicings. Consider open D - 12 different fingerings, I think... But, often, the actual shape/voicing will be left to the discretion of the player, in fairness. Unless you need a particular one, which could be portrayed by the dots on the staff.
– Tim
Jul 31, 2018 at 11:53
• @Tim I'm a learner/novice, and changing the fingering from D/C to D/B is non-trivial: so it was important to me! That said, would you (or is it standard to) annotate the fret-numbers then instead of the finger-numbers -- e.g. `X-3-0-2-3-2` for the D/C chord? Jul 31, 2018 at 11:59
• Similarly, explaining fingering is something that elementary teachers seem to spend time doing. Jul 31, 2018 at 12:06
• That way of expressing it is clear and concise. Unequivocal. After enough times, you'll figure out fingering for each, and also automatically go to the correct places to play the chord. Remember, a lot of us need to see a chord symbol and play it in time, while sightreading live. I don't think many players would do that successfully even with x-3-0-2-3-2, so it's an aid for learning rather than anything else, and will be disregarded later, one hopes!
– Tim
Jul 31, 2018 at 12:07
• Fingering is something I don't explain often. That's part and parcel of the student's homework: the mechanical part. To decide which fingering suits which chord best. And often there'll be at least two useful options to learn.
– Tim
Jul 31, 2018 at 12:10

The way I've always notated in the text this:

• 6th string: muted
• 5th string: 3rd finger on 3rd fret (C)
• 4th string: open (D)
• 3rd string: 1st finger on 2nd fret (A)
• 2nd string: 4th finger on 3rd fret (D)
• 1st string: 2nd finger on 2nd fret (F#)

is this:

`x30232`

where 0 (zero) is open, x is muted and the numbers correspond to the fret number, not the finger number.

• Should be x30232 Aug 12, 2018 at 21:50

There's an example here:

That's pretty compact, and obvious how to read it -- for example, the C chord:

` 32 1`
`x32010`

A naive attempt to write the above produced this result:

`````` 32 1
x32010
``````

... which introduced me to the fact that this site supports [meta-tag:jtab] -- for example this ...

`%X/X.3/3.2/2.0/0.1/1.0/0[C]`

... renders like this ...

``````%X/X.3/3.2/2.0/0.1/1.0/0[C]
``````

... (so the "jtab" syntax is another semi-standard syntax, machine-readable for what that's worth).

I can back "pro"-s answer. It's a bit unusual to write it like this, but it works.

I must note though, that TABs contain more info: bending, slide hammer on, vibrato (you can even put the rhythm there, though I have never seen a tab like that).

So, depending on your goal, the good old TAB system is the way if you want to put down in a lot more detail a guitar piece.

For example, bellow you can see hammer-on, slide, and a 1/4 bend (it's an often heard blues lick):

• Thanks. To be clear I I think that tablature (the good old TAB system) shows the notes (i.e. string plus fret) but not the fingering. Can you reference (add a hyperlink to) a nice example of a TAB to illustrate what you're saying? Jul 31, 2018 at 19:24
• I cannot really. You have to see, hear solos, for exact timing and knowledge how to bend, hammer-on, pull-off. Bellow you can see hammer-on, slide, and a 1/4 bend. It's an often heard blues lick. drive.google.com/drive/folders/… Aug 10, 2018 at 15:23

What they usually do in music scoring is that they display chord shapes (like a neck diagram) with their notation at the begining of the score. This acts like a convention. Then they write the notation when needed in the core of the music.

• I think you're saying they usually write e.g. `D/C` inside the core, and have chord diagrams to illustrate the various chord names before the start of (or otherwise outside) the score. Jul 31, 2018 at 11:52
• Yes, absolutely. This is usually how it's done. Jul 31, 2018 at 12:08
• It depends who the publishers are. Some often do, others never.
– Tim
Jul 31, 2018 at 12:11
• What I meant is: it seems to be the most adapted solution to your problem. You also have to keep in mind that people are going to read you. So you have to produce something they already know, or they might not understand what you meant! Jul 31, 2018 at 12:27
• The problem with neck diagrams is that they tend to be generic chord shapes. For good voice leading, you may need inversions and positions up and down the neck. Aug 10, 2018 at 16:41