#1
Understand, beginners have questions experience players dont.

So, I am provided with the lyrics and above the words at various spots there is a cord letter. What now? Strum 4 times? 8? 20? These things are obviously made by people for whom what to do is self evident. Sorry to start off with a bitchy tone but I am learning to hate cords.

Any help on how to use this common place form of "instruction" would be appreciated
#2
Welcome to the forum.

That style of notation assumes that you know how the song goes and just need advice on the correct chords. You need to listen to the song to discover how the chords and words fit together. Also, be aware that on the internet, the chords aren't always correctly lined up with the words, so you have to use a little initiative in determining where the chord changes should come.
#5
In a good song, the words and music go together. The rhytum of the words should match the guitar. 
#6
Harmony playing can be as simple as strum a chord once and let it ring until you need to strum again, or can be as complicated as you'd imagine. 

You can strum the chords, which means play more than 1 string at a time, with a pick, or with one or more fingers. This is all technique related, and a pop player plays different than a flamenco player, for example.

You can pluck the strings with your fingers, also. Since we only have 5 fingers (or the most of us), we can only pluck the max of 5 strings.

Depending on the song/style, there are strumming or plucking patterns. There are a lot of pop/rock songs you can play with the same pattern, a very famous one.

But you have to hear it, or see a rhythm diagram for it.  You have to make the chords fit the bar. Let's suppose I give you an X chord, and tell you to strum like this "Down Down Up Up Down Up". Without time signature and knowing how long each strum takes, it would be very hard to do it only reading. 

However, it is not so hard to get the easier ones with your ears. And once you get them, you'll be able to really quickly figure them out when you hear a song that uses one.

Still, if you are having a really hard time, try to take a look at this easy patterns:

http://guitardomination.net/strum-patterns-to-make-you-strum-like-a-pro/ (by the way, the example I gave you with the X chord is the first strumming pattern in the lesson, and used for A LOT of very popular songs.

Also, bear in mind that a lot of songs or rhythms don't use easy patterns or don't use a pattern at all.

Hope it helps!

Best!
#7
Quote by nospam20012001
Understand, beginners have questions experience players dont.

So, I am provided with the lyrics and above the words at various spots there is a cord letter. What now? Strum 4 times? 8? 20? These things are obviously made by people for whom what to do is self evident. Sorry to start off with a bitchy tone but I am learning to hate cords.

Any help on how to use this common place form of "instruction" would be appreciated

This is a perfect example for you to learn the most important lesson in music - learn by ear!  Listen to the recorded song and imitate it and play along to it- try to recreate what you are hearing -if you hear 8 strums, play 8 strums. Chord charts are cheat sheets - they simply tell you when the chord changes, you need to know the song to fill in the gaps. 
#8
Use your ears to listen where the chords changes and count beats
It could be pretty challenging in the beginning
Try some videos on youtube when you visually can see lyrics and chords change like karaoke
If it's still hard try to learn 20-30 songs with some good teacher, then it become more natural to you
#9
What you describe sounds like a lead sheet, which is a "simplified" kind of music score. It has the treble clef with a key signature, time signature, and measures of melody notes, with lyrics below and chord names (and sometimes chord diagrams) above.

The notes indicate pitch and duration with respect to the key signature and time signature, so the pianist can read and play the melody line. Using the chord names, the pianist can form chords in drop-two voicing which put the melody note on top with a gap between it and the chord... this sets the melody apart and mechanically frees up two top fingers for playing the melody over the chords (what we in guitar world would call chord melody style).

The guitarist can do the same thing if he reads music and knows the drop voicing methods. If you don't read music then all you really have to work with are the chords, and you need a way of knowing what to do and when to change them... typically, you know the song from hearing it, and know the pace, style, and feel of the song, and with help from the words you know when the chords change, and from recalling having heard the song what strums, riffs, and rhythms go with the song.

In common practice, lead sheets are almost always in song book form where it is expected that the player has heard and knows the songs, and just needs a little guidance on the chords with help from the words. If you are being provided this but don't know the song, you need to inform the provider - they may be assuming you know the song and will pick it out easily.
Quote by reverb66
I'm pretty sure the Bible requires that you play through a tube amp in Texas.