10 Step How To Change Chords Faster, Easier and Smoother Formula (That Works Every Time)
Learn how to change guitar chords easier and quicker while strumming and picking.
It's essential to be able to change between chords smoothly and quickly if you want to sound any good at playing the guitar. The trouble is that fast switching between chords whilst strumming and picking is tricky for beginners.
Be honest. Are all of your chord changes 100% buzz free, mute-free, and super quick?
No? Don't worry, my friend, you're not alone.
It doesn't matter if you're a total beginner guitar player or have been playing for 15 years; your chord changes will likely need a little magic dust sprinkled on them.
And don't kid yourself thinking nobody can hear those dodgy notes.
Playing clean chord changes is the difference between you sounding "ok" or "smokin' hot" on guitar.
So what's the magic formula to help your chord changes sound better? 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'll be 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.
1) Keep it Close: Place your fingers near to the strings
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. 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 impossible today will feel like a breeze after regular practice.
2) Don't Rush: Slow down those changes
Whoa there. It's not a race! Slowing down is the number one tip I give to people I teach to play the guitar.
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, the deal is that playing slowly builds up your muscle memory, finger strength and control.
Gradually build up the speed when you practice your guitar. 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.
3) Build It Up: Play new chord shapes 1 string at a time
Smoothly playing chords on the guitar is all about taking small steps and building muscle memory. Don't rush into plonking all your fingers down on a new chord shape all at once.
'Cut' the chord up. Try placing your fingers on one string at a time if you find a new chord shape difficult. 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 your 2nd and 1st fingers on the bottom E and A strings, respectively.
4) Bottom First: Fret the low bass string before the top strings
At first, your fingers won't hit all the strings simultaneously 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 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. The lowest pitched note is typically the root note. A root note is the note that identifies the key center of a chord.
On the main chord shapes guitar players first learn, the root note is found predominantly on the E, A, or D strings. (See fig 1.0 below, which shows the root note on an open C major chord.)
This simple technique can help to increase the clarity of your chord changes tenfold. Thanks to the thicker strings, you'll build up your finger strength best on an acoustic guitar rather than an electric guitar.
So, if you have an electric guitar and an acoustic guitar, opting for the acoustic when you play these drills is a good idea.
5) Find A Common String: Slide your finger into position on shared strings
Some chords have notes played on the same string 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 commonly shared finger between these two chord shapes.
Keep the 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:
Exercise: Sliding Finger
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.
I bet it is lifting off the G (3rd) string, isn't it?
If you answered yes, you don't want to do that. It's wasted, unnecessary 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 guitarist, your fingers will be slow to form a chord shape. Don't stress out. The more you practice the ten steps outlined in this article, the faster your chord changes will improve.
6) Watch Your Timing: Use a metronome
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 keeps you in time and helps you monitor your speed gains. Moreover, when used properly, a metronome ensures you don't increase your speed too soon. Your chord changes will sound silky smooth in no time.
7) The Freeze Method: Hold the chord shape, lift your fingers on and off.
You'll be putting one finger down at a time when learning a new chord. Doing 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 get your fingers to hit the strings simultaneously.
You're probably thinking; Ok, that makes sense, but how do I do this?
"Freeze it" is the answer.
While playing the following exercises, supercharge your learning time by recording progress clips. You can use your smartphone or tablet you use for reading sheet music, and the like. Be your own teacher.
Exercise: Freeze It
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 simultaneously.
4. Notice how one finger always hits before the rest? It would help if you kept lifting your fingers off the chord and back on until they start to hit the strings at the same time. Lift your fingers off a little higher when you feel the muscle memory forming.
" The goal is to be able to lift your fingers off as far from the fretboard as you can and be able to quickly (& accurately) press your fingers back down."
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:
- Choose 3 chords you know need improving
- Stick one of your favourite albums on
- For the whole of the first song, practise the Freeze Method on chord one
- For the whole of the second song, practise the Freeze Method on chord two
- For the whole of the third song, practise the Freeze Method on chord three
If you feel like you can rise to the challenge, rinse and repeat the whole exercise multiple times. That's about 25 mins of practicing like a guitar ninja.
Congratulations. You are one step closer to chord change domination.
8) Looped pair: Change between two chords over and over
This trick is similar to the Freeze Method covered above, except practised on two chords.
Pick two chords you find tricky to play together. Your aim is to make the chords the best of friends.
Practice changing between the pair of chords slowly. Play one down strum on each shape and repeat the movement. The aim is to build your muscle memory and control.
Now, I'm not saying this is the most exciting and enjoyable exercise you'll play. However, like everything in life, if something good is worth getting, it requires some hard work and a bit of good old-fashioned grafting.
You have to be strong and have determination, focus, and dedication.
Pick a slow sensible tempo. You know the drill by now - use a metronome. Not only will you be working on your timing, but a metronome is a great tool to help you monitor your improvement.
You'll be amazed at how much this one method alone works.
Exercise Bonus Points: The success of this exercise lies in repetition. 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 Pro Tip below.
Pro Tip: Play the changes only using your fretting hand. Doing this gives the brain less information to process, so muscle memory builds faster. Add in the strumming hand when your fingers start to land on the chords with more accuracy. This is the perfect drill to practice whilst watching tv or listening to music.
9) The Windscreen Wiper Method: Always keep your strumming hand moving
Even when your fretting hand is slow, you must keep your strumming hand moving, just like car windscreen wipers.
Think of your strumming hand like your own personal metronome. If it pauses, your rhythm goes out of sync, and the chord changes sound ropey.
" Always make your fretting hand keep up with your strumming hand. Never the other way round."
Your brain naturally wants both hands to move simultaneously, so 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.
How To Make This Work For You
Because we're always looking for the best ways to learn how to play the 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, several proven easier and faster methods you can follow will help you learn to play the 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, count carefully and play each chord with the same timing gap. 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.).
10) Parctice, Practice, Practice!
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 change between chords fluently. 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 big goals every time you practice, and you'll get there.
Once you practice these tried-and-tested methods, you have just learned every time you pick up your guitar, your chord changes will start to sing out like an angel.
Remember, the more you practice, the faster you master your chord changes.
It's that simple.
Follow these steps, and you'll surprise yourself at how quickly a chord change goes from feeling impossible to no big deal.
So what are you waiting for?
Have faith in yourself, and go for it. You CAN do it!