It's important to be able to change guitar chords smoothly and quickly if you want to sound any good at playing guitar. Trouble is, fast switching between chords whilst strumming and picking is mega tricky for beginner players.
Be honest. Are all your chord changes 100% buzz free, mute free, and lightening fast?
Hmm. I suspected so...but don't worry.
You're not alone.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a total beginner guitar player or you've been playing for 15 years. Your chord changes will likely need a little magic dust sprinkled on them.
And don't kid yourself nobody can hear those dodgy notes either.
Playing clean chord changes is the difference between you sounding "ok" or "smokin' hot" on guitar.
So what's the magic formula to help you chord changes sound better? Well stay with me, because you're about to discover the best ways to get clean, fast and easy chord changes.
It's true. By following the 10 steps coming up you're guaranteed to get your chord changes finally sounding mint.
Warning: When mixed with lots of practice, using the 10 tricks you're about to learn will result in perfect, enviable chord changes.
It's simple. The less you move your fingers, the faster you change between chords.
The truth is, the weaker your fingers are the further from the strings they'll move when you change chords. Chance is, you may not have noticed just how high they're lifting off.
Try this: Change between 2 open chords such as G major and E major. If your fingers lift more than 2cm from the strings, you need to work on keeping them closer.
Sure, this will take some getting used to. It's all about building up muscle memory and strength though. What feels tricky today, will feel like a breeze after regular practice.
Whoa there. It's not a race you know. This has to be the one tip I give to people I teach to play the guitar the most often.
Play your chord changes slowly. Despite what some people think, you can only play fast if you learn to play slow. Playing chord changes slowly and perfectly requires skill and finger control. So when you play slowly it builds up your muscle memory, finger strength and control.
Gradually build up the speed when you practice. Result? Your chord changes get lightening fast in less time.
Pro Tip: ALWAYS use a metronome when playing any chord change exercises (See step 6). Tight and consistent timing is the number one skill every guitar player should be working on. Every time you pick your guitar up.
It's all about small steps. It's all about building up that muscle memory. Don’t rush into plonking all your fingers down on a new chord shape all at one.
‘Cut’ the chord up. Try placing your fingers on one string at a time if you're finding a new chord shape particularly tricky. Play alternate picking ascending and descending all the strings. Add on the next finger. Rinse, and repeat.
Example: G major open shape: try getting the notes on the top E and B strings on fret three perfect first. Next, place down your 2nd and 1st fingers on the bottom E and A strings respectively.
At first your fingers wont hit all the strings at the same time on a new chord. In fact, some chords feel so darn hard at first, it's like you've got time to pour yourself a cup of tea between each finger touching base.
You know exactly what I mean don't you? We've all been there.
Give this great trick a bash: Play the low bass string note of the chord first. This is usually where the root note (note that identifies the key centre of a chord) is located.
On the main open chord shapes guitar players first learn the root note is found predominantly on the E, A, or D strings. (See fig 1.0 below that shows the root note on an open C major chord shape is found on the A string.)
This simple technique can help to increase the clarity of your chord changes tenfold over time. Bear this in mind too: thanks to the thicker strings, you'll build up your finger strength best on an acoustic guitar rather than an electric. So if you have an electric guitar and an acoustic, opt for the acoustic everytime with these practice drills.
Some chords have notes played on the same string as each other when changing between them. The E major to D major chord change is a prime example as illustrated in the exercise below. The first finger is the common shared finger between these two chord shapes.
Keep the common shared finger pressed down on the string when you switch between the chords. It's simple once you recognise what the shared string is. Try this method for yourself:
1. Place all of your fingers down on the open E major chord.
2. Strum the E chord once then immediately change to the D major chord and strum that once.
3. Repeat the chord change 4 times:
E-strum-D-strum - E-strum-D-strum - E-strum-D-strum - E-strum-D-strum
4. On the 4th change, look at your 1st finger as you go from the E to D shape.
It's lifting off the G (3rd) string isn't it?
If you answered yes, don't do that. It's wasted, unecesscary movement.
The fix - Slide your 1st finger up and down the 3rd string, don't lift it when you change between the E and D major. Do this in any song with this chord change you learn from today.
You’ll achieve “economy of movement” which will make the chord change quicker, slicker, and cleaner.
Pro Tip: If you're a beginner your fingers will hit the strings one at a time instead of all at once on chords. Don't stress out. The more you practice the 10 steps outlined in this chord change masterclass, the quicker you'll get it right.
Whichever you choose, you've no excuse not to be using one other than laziness I'm afraid to say.
How do you know if your chord changes are getting faster if you're not using a tool to measure your tempo?
Using a metronome not only keeps you in time and helps you monitor your speed gains, when used properly, it ensures you don't increase your speed too soon. This benefit alone will get your chord changes sounding silky smoothe in no time.
When learning a new chord you’ll be putting one finger down at a time. This is fine at first, but soon enough you will find that it slows you down too much.
Your chord changes become quick and effortless once you can get your fingers to hit the strings at the same time. Everytime.
Ok, makes sense, but how do I do this you're probably thinking. Freeze it is the answer.
Whilst playing the exercises coming up super-charge your learning time by recording progress clips on either your smartphone or tablet you use for reading sheet music and the like. Be your own teacher.
1. Place all your fingers down on a chord you’re working on. Choose a new one you haven't got to grips with totally yet. Hold the shape.
2. Very slowly lift your fingers off the strings. As you do, try to freeze your fingers in the shape of the chord. Do not lift more than 1cm off the fretboard at first.
3. Put your fingers back down on the strings. Try to make all of your fingers touch the strings at the same time.
4. Notice how one finger always hits before the rest? You need to keep lifting your fingers off the chord and back on till they start to hit the strings at exactly the same time. Lift your fingers off a little higher as you can feel the muscule memory forming.
FAQ - How long shall I do this for, and how many times?
As long and as many times as you can is the answer. Try this for starters:
If you feel like you can rise to the challenge, rinse and repeat the whole exercise multiple times. That's about 25 mins of practiscing like a guitar ninja.
Congratulations. You are one step closer to chord change domination.
This trick is similar to the Freeze Method covered above, except practised on two chords.
Pick a chord change you're finding tricky. Our aim is to make this pair of chord shapes best of friends and change smoothly with ease between each other.
Practice changing between the pair of chords slowly. Play one down strum only on each shape as you repeat the movement. This is once again all about building up your muscle memory and control.
Now I'm not saying this is the most interesting and enjoyable exercises you'll play with a huge smile on your face. But, like everything in life if something good is worth getting, it requires some hard work and a bit of good old fashioned grafting on your end. You have to be stronger than others and have determination, focus, and dedication.
Pick a slow sensible speed to change. And you know the drill by now my guitar playing friend - use a metronome to monitor your improvement and help you keep in time.
You'll honestly be amazed at how much this one method alone works.
Exercise Bonus Points: The success of this exrecise lies in repitition. But fear not, you've got no worry about being that annoying guitar player who won't shut up in the room. Why? All practice drills don't need to be played loudly. See the following Pro Tip...
Pro Tip: Play the changes only using your fretting hand to start with. No noise needed here. This gives the brain less information to process so muscle memory builds faster. When you feel your fingers start to land on the chords better add in the strumming hand. This is the perfect drill to practice whilst watching tv or listening to music.
Even when your fretting hand is slow and your fingers aren’t landing the chord shape cleanly, you must try to keep your strumming hand moving. Just like car windscreen wipers.
Think of your strumming hand like your own personal metronome. If it pauses, your rhytm is thrown out of sync. The chord changes sound ropey.
Your brain naturally wants both hands to move at the same time, hence why at first it automatically makes the strumming hand pause and wait for the left hand to hit the chord fully.
So trick your brain!
If you force your strumming hand to keep going (even though it will sound messy at first) your left hand will automatically speed up- magic!
Because we're always looking for the best ways to learn how to play guitar, if you're one of the smart ones, you'll know there's not one stand-alone fast and easy way to go about it.
Luckily though, there are a number of proven easier and faster methods you can follow that'll help you learn to play guitar in a super productive and correct way.
When practising the Windscreen Wiper method follow these guidelines:
· It's all about the metronome. Use this tool to keep you in time and help you see a definite progression in your speed. Log your steady tempo increases.
· When not using a metronome still count carefully and play each chord with the same timing gap between them. For example; strum on count 1 of the bar (1-2-3-4), change chord and strum on the next count of 1 (change-2-3-4-change-2-3-4 etc).
To sum it up I'll end with one of the most crucial steps to getting faster, better sounding chord changes on guitar:
It takes hundreds, dare I say thousands, of chord changes to be able to fluently change between chords. It can be very frustrating, as you well know! So it all boils down to practice. And not just any old practice but perfect practice.
Have structure and set mini to large goals everytime you practice and you'll get there.
Once you practice these tried-and-tested methods you have just learned everytime you pick up your guitar, your chord changes will start to sing out like an angel.
Remember, the more you practice, the faster you will master your chord changes.
It's really that simple.
Follow these steps, and you'll surprise yourself at how quickly a chord change goes from feeling impossible to no big deal. This can be achieved only with the properly planned practise.
So what are you waiting for?
Have faith in yourself, and go for it…you CAN do it!