How to practice chord changes

Over the years, many of my students have asked me how to make changing chords easier. So now I will teach you what I've taught them. This article is aimed at the beginner, but experienced guitarists may also not thought about some the things included here.

There are a few different things to look for in making chord changes that will make your changes quicker. First thing to point out is that most guitarists,especially beginning guitarists, use way too much pressure when they play. The idea is to play where you're so relaxed you could be asleep. Watch out for strain in the muscles in your shoulders or face. If these muscles are tense, then it will be impossible to be relaxed while playing. The way you sit and hold the guitar can greatly effect your playing and I cover this in great detail here . The reason I mention this first, is because the tighter your muscles are, the slower they move. So if you've not thought about the pressure you use, you should give it a shot.

Second thing to look at is the fingers that you use in making the chord. Take the G and Cadd9 chord for example. In both of these chords you play the first and second strings at the 3rd fret. So you should keep these fingers in place while you change the other two fingers. One thing you can practice is just moving the index and middle fingers back and forth between the two chords, with out even playing the chord. You are focusing on muscle memory here, and not the sound. Once you feel your fingers are moving back and forth between the two strings comfortably, then start to actually play the chord so you can make sure your changes sound decent.

Any fingers that have to move when changing chords should be lifted up off the strings at the same time. Many students will lift one finger up at a time and, change one finger at a time. But this is a big no no! This wastes so much time, it would be almost impossible to get the chords changed in time. You should lift all fingers up at the same time, and put them down at the same time. Let's pretend we are going to practice the change from a G chord to a D chord. To do this chord change, you can keep the ring finger anchored at the 2nd string,3rd fret. Instead of actually completing the change, simply lift up the other fingers a quarter inch and then set them back on the G chord. Repeat this over and over until this action becomes easy. Like before, there is no need to actually play the chord because you are just trying to work on the muscles.

Another important part of changing chords is how you take your fingers off the fretboard. Most players think of it like they are "lifting" their fingers up. But what you actually want to do is first "relax" your fingers. From here you very gently remove your fingers from the fretboard. Doing it this way does many different things for you. First, if you lift your fingers up from the fretboard, this makes your fingers mover much further from the neck than you need. That wastes time. Also by relaxing your hand each time you move them, you can play longer without getting tired. You can also stretch your fingers further and move your fingers quicker when they're relaxed.

Also, when starting to play chords I would pluck each note in the chord individually as opposed to strumming them. That way you can hear if each note is sounding good or if you need to fix the chord in some way. You may not hear all the little mistakes if you play all the notes at once.

If you are having a hard time with a specific chord change, another thing you can try is leaving out some of the fingers you use. For example, my students often find G to D pretty hard at first. Instead of having them practice the entire chord change, I have them do the chord change without the pinky at first. Once they can move their fingers back and forth comforatbly, even with their eyes closed, then I'll have them add the pinky back into the change. So if a finger is giving you trouble, you can try just moving that finger back and forth, or you can try the chord change without that finger at all. By leaving out the hardest finger, you can make sure the rest of the chord change is working before adding the most difficult part back in.

Often I will have my students play a chord and count to four, by the time they hit four they have to be on the next chord. I have them repeat this until it is easy, then change them counting to three, then to two and finally to one. Sometimes, simply having a time frame to complete a certain move in, helps you learn it.

When you have a challenge with a certain move, try to find ways to break it down into the smallest little parts. By practicing those little parts instead of the entire move as a whole, you can get really super focused practice. I already mentioned this before, but don't feel like you have to actually play the chord every time. Give these ideas a try and see if it helps in your practice!

Here are a few books you might find interesting. The first is the Guitar Chord Bible - a nice chord dictionary with hundreds of chords to help you find the chords you are looking for. Next are a couple books called the Chord Factory and Chord Chemistry, and they help you learn how chords are made and show you how to make your own chords. Finally is a book called Chord Progressions for Guitar- an excellent book on different chord progressions in different styles and includes a CD with backing tracks to play along with.

Hope that helps and enjoy playing!