Details for Guitar Mastery
Learning and Changing Chords
By Josh Clayton
Changing chords while maintaining rhythm is the biggest hurdle on the path of the beginner. It’s normal for students to struggle and it will take persistent practice to make the chord transitions sound good. Let’s focus on how to play cleanly and changing chords in rhythm.
Clean sounding chords
You are working towards being able to consistently play the chords cleanly. Using your fingertips, press the strings hard enough when you fret each note. Make sure your fingers are not touching and muting the string below. Bending all 3 knuckles and don’t have your palm touching the bottom of the neck.
Check how clean the chord is by playing each string one at a time. Listen if all the notes sound clean and clear. Make sure you don’t have fingers muting strings below them. If you have a string that is muted unintentionally, adjust your fingertip placement until you get a clean articulation of the note.
Once you get a chord sounding great, remember what your fret hand feels like. How do the strings feel on your fingertips? What is the exact position of your hand and wrist? Asking yourself these questions will help you to more quickly burn in the muscle memory for correct chord playing. Remember to keep both hands relaxed with while learning your chords.
Learn to switch chords in time
Keep your fingers close to the neck and don’t use excess force to lift your fingers away from the fret board when changing chord shapes. You are simply releasing the muscle tension used to fret the notes.
Make use of anchor notes. Anchor notes are notes that both chords have in common. Since these notes are in both chords, keep those notes fretted during the chord change. Doing this whenever common notes exist will allow you to change chords smoother and faster.
Before you change from one chord to another, you want to visualize the chord shape in your mind and on your fretboard. Start moving towards the new chord at the very last moment. Once arriving at the chord, press all your fingertips down on each note/string at the exact same time.
Go slowly in the beginning, don’t rush it. Use a metronome at 60 bpm and first hover your fingers over the strings on the first click and then fret the first chord on the second click (example, the E chord). Once again, hover on click 3 and fret the chord on click 4. Rotate between these 2 steps on each additional click on the metronome at 60 bpm. After 5 minutes or so, then set the metronome to 70 bpm, then 80 bpm, etc. Then use the same method and rotate between all of the 8 Basic chords and practice 1 chord at a time.
Next, using the metronome, start practising with two chords at a time. Hover your fingers on click 1 and then finger the chord on click 2 and hover the next chord on click 3 and then finger that chord on click 4. Then work with three chords (G – C – D), and later four chords (G – Em – C – D).
Next we need to start working on changing chords while different using Strum Patterns. First start with strum pattern 1 (8th notes) and practice changing chords perfectly in time on the 1st beat of each measure. Once again, go slowly and set your metronome at 60 bpm and start changing to the next chord at the very last moment, after playing the last bolded up stroke. See below. Remember to take advantage of anchor notes when switching chords!
C chord: down-up-down-up-down-up-down-up
Em chord: down-up-down-up-down-up-down-up
Repeat this simple 2 chord progression for 3 - 5 minutes at a time.
You will want to do the same training listed above again with other chord progressions and other strum patterns.
Here we will start with the Am chord in this 2 chord progression. We be using the Strum pattern listed below. Once again, take advantage of the anchor notes!
Am chord: down – down – down-up-down-up
C chord: down – down – down-up-down-up
Practice daily and put in a good effort and you will quickly start to see results in your playing!
As a music teacher and musician, I have a hard time throwing away a practice item. I recommend keeping a separate binder for items you don’t know how to use yet or no longer practice regularly. Also, never throw away a song you wrote! You may want to use parts of it in the future.
There is no right or wrong way to organize your guitar materials, but leaving them in unorganized piles will likely result in unorganized practice. By spending a few minutes getting organized, you are setting the tone for your entire practice session… so why not make it as productive as possible?
About the Author
Josh Clayton is a professional guitar instructor based in the Slidell, Louisiana area. If you or any one you know are interested in guitar lessons in Slidell then be sure to contact Josh through his website.