In the chord charts on this site, the chords are lined up approximately over the word where they arrive in the song.
G C G D Hey, where did we go, days when the rain came? G C G D Down in the hollow, playing a new game
Each chord lasts one measure (four beats) unless it’s followed by a number in parentheses. “E(2)” would be an E chord that lasts two measures (eight beats).
A D E(2) "We'll meet again someday on the avenue," G D A Tangled up in blue.
For waltzes, the measure lasts only three beats, and I’ll make a note at the top of the chart. Most songs have four beats to the measure, though.
Also worth noting: some songs change chords every two beats. Jack Johnson’s “Waiting Wishing” and James Taylor’s “Carolina in My Mind” fall into that category. Two beats is half-measure, so look out for a (1/2) after those chords.
Occasionally, there are other combinations, too. You might see a chord with a (3/4) followed by a second chord with a (1/4) after it. That would mean the first chord lasts three beats, while the second chord lasts only one beat.
Here’s a great shorthand notation for chord fingerings that was invented, as far as I know, by Rob Hampton of HeartwoodGuitar.com:
G 320003 D xx0232 C x32010 Em 022000
From left to right, the numbers tell you what frets to play from your lowest bass string to your highest treble string. So “G 320003” means “third fret on the low E string, second fret on the A string, open D string, open G string, open B string, and third fret on the high E string.” An “x” means to skip that string.
If you don’t have a lot of strum patterns in your repertoire yet, try just strumming each chord once and singing the words. The rhythm of the words will keep the beat moving, and you can start to get a feel for the song.
If you’re quick at switching chords, try four quarter notes, or eight 8th notes. Either of those patterns is four beats long, so they’re good for one measure each. I’ll write “D” to indicate a downward strum and “u” for upward strums:
D D D D 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +
D D D D D D D D 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +
D u D u D u D u 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +
Hopefully that gets you started! Ready to try some of my free chord charts?