Having a wide chord vocabulary is an absolutely critical tool for any serious guitar player.
Whether you’re just starting out and need to pick up the CAGED system, or you’re an advanced guitarist looking to spice up your rhythm playing, there’s nothing like expanding your knowledge of chords to improve your playing.
These days it’s so convenient, as there are plenty of chord books on the market aimed at players of all levels. While, once upon a time, knowing all your inversions and triads might have seemed like the domain of highly trained jazz aficionados, any modern player can pick up a book and learn their way around the fretboard.
In this article, I’ll evaluate the best guitar chord books for players at all levels, and what you can expect from each of them.
Best Chord Books for Guitarists - My Top Picks
Table of Contents
- Best Chord Books for Guitarists - My Top Picks
- What to Look for in a Guitar Chord Book
- Why Buy a Guitar Chord Book?
- Final Word
1. The First 100 Chords for Guitar
Many beginners think there are only twelve chords for guitar. Some even think the musical alphabet ends at the letter G. That’s why this book is so helpful: identifying the first one hundred chords for guitar in a way that is accessible and useful for total beginners.
The great thing about this book is that it assumes the reader has zero musical experience. It covers basic chord theory in language that is low on jargon and very easy to understand.
This book doesn’t stop at simple chords, however. It’s important for new guitar players to build good habits for technique and practice.
Helpfully, this book covers some optimal practice routines and goes in detail on different strumming patterns and approaches to strumming to help new guitar players become more confident with their playing.
The idea is simple: this book begins with the most basic chord theory to help you understand how and why guitar chords work. From there, memorizing 100 chords is easy. The more you understand, the less you have to remember.
Conveniently, this book also features audio samples of all the chords listed in the book. That way, you can train your ear to hear if you’re playing your chords the right way.
2. Guitar Chords: Easy To Use, Easy To Carry
The Easy to Use, Easy To Carry book fits neatly into the front pocket of a soft case, or into the neck compartment of a guitar’s hard case.
Because the book is spiral bound, you can easily sit it flat on the page you’re looking at.
The diagrams are huge, and very easy to read. This means you only get one chord diagram per page.
This book is very clearly aimed at players who are new to the instrument. It is not as comprehensive as it could be: it includes no information on how chords are built, and therefore encourages rote learning rather than deep understanding.
Conveniently, the fingers in each chord diagram are numbered. This is very useful for beginners who may not intuitively understand where to place their fingers.
However, some of the diagrams are confusingly numbered, and fingers next to each other don’t always land next to each other on the fretboard.
The layout of the book encourages rote learning, but it’s better for players to find comfortable ways of playing chords for themselves instead of simply copying what works for someone else.
This book is probably best suited to a beginner who feels comfortable with basic chord shapes and wants to learn more.
3. Guitar Chords in Context
Does music theory feel arcane and irrelevant to the music you want to make? Then Guitar Chords in Context might be the right chord book for you.
While learning complex voicings and inversions can be useful, most guitar players just want to play. That’s where this book really shines. The book covers the most common expanded chords and how to use them in a musical context.
It offers a series of “short cuts” aimed at making the chords useful in performance. These aren’t really short cuts: while they’re more convenient ways of understanding the fretboard, they’re classic musical techniques that most advanced players are already using.
However, for an intermediate guitarist looking to improve their chord vocabulary and make their chord extensions feel immediately useful, they’re a very effective tool.
The key to this book is understanding how chords are built and where each interval within a chord could be on the fretboard. In addition to this, it actually explains where certain chords can be used and why.
For example, you’ve probably heard countless songs use a dominant 7th chord. You may even have learned the dominant 7th chord. This book covers where in a song you might use that voicing, and which inversions of the voicing would be most useful in different contexts.
4. Hal Leonard Pocket Chord Guitar Dictionary
The Hal Leonard pocket chord guitar dictionary is tiny and portable enough to fit in your guitar case’s neck compartment, or in one of your pockets.
The alternate fingering positions listed are useful for noting inversions and subtle variations on chord voicings, and the number of chords is pretty comprehensive. I wouldn’t recommend this book to beginners just getting to grips with the instrument, however.
It lacks a comprehensive guide to chord theory and how to play basic chords, and appears aimed at intermediate guitar players with a working understanding of the instrument.
The book is also not spiral bound, so it refuses to lay flat on a table while you’re playing. Normally while I’m reading chords I’m playing guitar as well, and one, if not both, of my hands are occupied. The book needs a spare hand to keep it open, so it’s not easy to read while playing.
However, as a tool for learning various chord shapes, this could be very valuable. It’s not sheet music designed to be read and performed simultaneously: think of it more like a textbook for reading on the go.
It’s got various chord extensions arranged in context with the chords they’re based on or around, which is a great way to introduce players to a wider chord vocabulary.
5. Guitar Chords For Beginners
The Guitar Chords For Beginners book is aimed very squarely at players who are completely new to playing guitar. If you have never even picked up an instrument before and simply want to strum your way through your favorite songs, this may well be the book for you.
Most brand new guitar players struggle with transitioning between chords and maintaining an even strumming pattern. It can take weeks, or months, of practice to get competent at strumming your way through songs.
This book aims to solve that issue by highlighting the common technique issues and basic theory around common chord progressions and strumming patterns. By identifying common issues like timing and fingering technique, it attempts to eliminate early issues and accelerate the learning process.
Those who are already proficient in another instrument and transitioning to the guitar might not find this book useful as it really begins with the basics. That includes elementary music theory and extremely basic technique.
This is a great resource for self-taught players who need to master the fundamentals of guitar, but I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone but an absolute beginner. If you’ve played guitar for longer than a month, there are other chord books better suited to your needs.
6. Guitar Chord Bible
The Guitar Chord Bible is a very comprehensive guide to chords, with over 500 chords in the book.
The layout of the book is very helpful. It is divided into sections by root note, running from C to B. These sections have subsections for the main types of chords, with photos showing the chords and inversions for each.
If you’re wondering how there could possibly be 500 chords on the guitar, this is the book for you. Each section begins with the basic major chord and gets more complicated from there, running through inversions and extensions all the way up to sevenths, ninths, and thirteenths.
Most advanced guitar players know somewhere between 20 and 30 variations on each chord, at minimum, and this book offers a fantastic starting point for getting your chord vocabulary up to those towering numbers.
The book is spiral bound so it lays nice and flat before you while you use it, and has a very useful index for quickly looking up a chord.
More advanced players who are already confident with chord extensions may lament the lack of further chord types, like the add9 and so on. However, this is a relatively minor gripe, as the book includes the necessary chord theory for you to work that out on your own.
What to Look for in a Guitar Chord Book
Because the guitar was originally designed to play chords, there are countless chord variations on the instrument. There are a few ways to read music for guitar, including chord diagrams, tablature, and traditional music notation.
You want to use a chord book that either shows you chords using the notation you understand, or that can teach you to read the notation you aren’t yet confident with. Most guitar players can read tablature (or tabs) very easily. Some chord charts require more practice to get to grips with.
You also want to make sure your chord book is matched to your current level of experience and ability. A beginner who hasn’t yet mastered barre chords won’t find much joy in running through drop 2 and drop 3 inversions. Likewise, an advanced player with an extensive chord vocabulary won’t have much use for an introduction to the CAGED system.
Chord books also need to be easy to use. First and foremost, they are a learning tool, and should be useful while you’re playing your instrument. For the most part, that means spiral binding is the best sort for a chord book.
Think about it: when you’re playing guitar, your hands are occupied. You want a book that can lay flat in front of you so you can read it while you’re playing.
You’ll also want to use a chord book that operates at your level of music theory understanding. If you don’t yet know the major scale, you’ll want to start there. If you’re more advanced, you can make great use of a book that assumes you already understand intervals and the differences between various chord voicings.
Finally, the best chord books help with fingering and technique. Knowing how to play the notes in the chord, and which finger positioning to use, is a vital skill when learning new chord shapes and the ways to apply them.
Why Buy a Guitar Chord Book?
Guitar chord books are useful educational tools for players at all levels. Most music played on the guitar is built around chords, whether you’re strumming through “Wonderwall” or shredding arpeggios. After all, arpeggios are just broken chords.
An extensive chord vocabulary isn’t just useful for rhythm players or jazz students. Consider the slinky, effective funk stylings of Nile Rodgers and the broad diversity of his guitar style. Disco and funk as we know it wouldn’t exist without Rodgers’ extensive chord knowledge.
Likewise, guitarists who just want to rip out a red-hot solo can learn more about note choices and which tones to highlight in their melodies from embracing a wider chord vocabulary. In jazz, blues, and country, building a solo out of the chords behind it is a vital skill.
Chord books are a valuable tool in helping players learn more about their instrument and visualize the fretboard in new and exciting ways.
Getting to grips with guitar chords is a fundamental part of playing the instrument well. You simply cannot advance as a guitar player without at least a basic knowledge of guitar chords.
It’s vital to move beyond the basic open chord voicings, and chord books that are useful, easy to read, and can fit into your guitar case are a great educational tool to help you achieve this goal.
Be sure to choose the right book for your playing level and embrace a whole new world of musical possibility.