You get guitar chords online in a variety of patterns -
(i) The writing over the lyrics kind,
(ii) The writing under the lyrics kind, and
(iii) The writing within the lyrics kind.
All kinds are quite self explanatory. But the information is deficient as there is no time signature. So,
The prerequisites to playing chords from online sources is that:
(i) You must have heard the song very well. Well enough that - (ii) you are aware of the pace of the song, i.e. the speed at which the song is sung. If you do not know it, you will not be able to "play along." A similar concept deals with being able to figure out the chords - its called ear training.
Finally, how to read it then?
If indeed, you have heard the song well, you can play along with the typical online "chords with lyrics" format. The basic formats that you will encounter have been mentioned above. They look like this (example - based on Blowing in the wind by Bob Dylan):
(i) The writing over the lyrics kind:
D G D Dsus4 D G A4 A How many roads must a man walk down, before you call him a man?
(ii) The writing under the lyrics kind:
How many roads must a man walk down, before you call him a man? D G D Dsus4 D G A4 A
(iii) The writing within the lyrics kind:
(D)How many (G)roads must a (D)man walk (Dsus4)down, Be(D)fore you (G)call him a (A4)man? (A)
They all mean the same.
The position of the chord is show with respect to the lyrics. So, just play the lyrics at the position (at the exact point of the word or syllable). And let the chord continue till you strike the next.
If the chord is shown somewhere in between two words or just before a word, play it exactly like that - "in between two words or just before a word" respectively.
The chord must be struck at this exact time. So you must start and finish changing the chord in the time in between the striking of the previous chord and, obviously, before striking the new one that you are changing to.
In the above example:
Play all the chords as you start saying each word. Play the D major chord on the word "before" as you finish pronouncing "be-" and start pronouncing "-fore." Play the last A major, shown outside the line just after the last word is sung (before the next line).
Sometimes there may occur, parts where just some chords have been written side by side without any lyrics accompanying. These are the interludes or connecting pieces of music between two parts of a song. Play these as you hear the song. It will correspond to the said music part. Change the chord as you hear them change in the song. E.g.:
A B E A....Or,
|A |B |E |A |....
These only show a sequence and not the timings, unless they are shown like
| A| B|...These mean that the chord is to be played for one full division of the meter. For example, a song in 4/4 where we find
|A |B |E |A |....will be played such that each chord lasts 1/4th of the time of an average line of that song. Read the post on time signatures for further details.
The "slash chords" - P/Q type and numerical notations of altered guitar chords:
Again, some chords may be written as C/E or Dsus4/A, or a more generic "P/Q" -
These are notations of the root note (bass note) that is to be played for that chord.
The "P" here is the actual chord in question and the "Q" is the root note of that chord. For example:
C/E means a C major chord whose bass note is E. When this is played in root position, the chord will be played as 032010 (i.e. as ECEGCe written from the 6th to 1st string), where all strings are played. Note that the bass note being played here is "E" instead of the "C," for a "normal" C-chord.
Dsus4/A will, likewise, be played (in the root position) as x00032 (i.e. as xADGDF# written from the 6th to 1st string; x means that that string is not played). Note that the bass note being played here is "A" but a "normal" D-chord has "D" as a bass note (root note).
C/G means a C major chord whose bass note is G. When this is played in root position, the chord will be played as 232010 (i.e. as ECEGCe written from the 6th to 1st string), where all strings are played. Note that the bass note being played here is "G" instead of the "C," for a "normal" C-chord.
Again, many of these chords can be played as shorter versions (using a lesser number of strings). For example, C/G may be played as xxx010 (xxxGCE), and A/E can be played as xx2220. Please note, that all examples use the common root position just for the sake of simplicity; C/E, for example, can also be x(10)(10)988.
The N.C. or N. Ch. chords / parts in a song:
N.C. or N. Ch. or n.c. or n/c, etc mean "no chord." These are not chords, just places in the song where chords are not played. Some songs start with the chord a little into the verse. Here N.Ch. is usually not written - it is understood that the player will start playing from where the first chord is in the song.
It must be noted that the song continues and generally other parts of the orchestration or the vocals continue during these parts.
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