How do I play that chord? Part 2: Look it up.
This post was rewritten 2019-12-20. The original version was published in 2010. Things change. You can still look up chords online but most of you will probably go first to your smartphone for an app. The rewrite reflects the changing options available to guitar players.
Often I know the fingering for a guitar chord but have forgotten the common name for the chord. Naming chords can be confusing because many chords have more than one name. There are multiple naming conventions. Which should I use? Which is ‘most’ correct? Or are they all acceptable?
The other situation is when I come across the name for a chord that I don’t immediately recognize. Often, after I look up the chord, I discover it is a chord I know well and use often but the name I encountered isn’t one I immediately associate with a specific fingering.
The good news is both finding the names of a known chord and finding all the finger diagrams for a known chord name are easier than ever with apps on your phone or on the web.
My new favorite website for both problems is Oolimo.com. The site developer also has iOS and Android phone apps with the same functionality as the website. The chords I test for an app to determine if it will satisfy my needs are Gmaj7, C7#9, Cm7b5, and C7b9. I’m looking for specific jazz fingerings for these chords. If you’re a beginner or not into jazz chords, you have more options.
The first image above is for the Chord Finder function where you select the name of the chord and the app shows you the fingering diagram and alternate names. The Chord Analyzer (second image) lets you enter a fingering diagram instead of selecting the name first. Alternate names are given on the right. The app passes my test for Gmaj7, C7#9, Cm7b5, and C7b9.
Another quick way to find the fingering diagrams for a chord name is to google it. You can do this on your computer or on a phone. You can even use Google assistant if you have it installed. But the downside of this method is you can end up with a lot of images to filter through before you find the one you want.
I’m not going to review all the apps available on phones, nor all the websites you could visit to find how to play chords. But I will mention one other app I recently installed on iOS. I was looking for something I could recommend to my grandchildren’s parents for tuning and finding chords for the ukuleles I will eventually give the grandkids. I’ve got chromatic clip-on tuners and chromatic tuner apps on my phone. But I wanted something easy to use for my children and children-in-law to use. I found the Fender app for iOS (which is also available on Android). Some of the functions require purchasing the app but the basic functions are free.
The Fender app allows you to use instrument-specific tuners where you don’t have to know the note names each string of a uke because the app tells you. Unfortunately, the Fender app does not have ukulele chords. But the guitar chord finder isn’t too bad. It correctly had diagrams for C7b9, C7#9, and Cm7b5. Gmaj7 is shown as a six-string bar chord which you would have to know could be played skipping the 5th and first strings.