Guitar: Changing chords quickly and easily
Changing Guitars chords quickly enough to play a tune or play along with a CD can be difficult for beginners. This is a method to make it easier and to teach you good habits for the future.
- Getting Started
- Start Slowly
- By the numbers
- Making the change
- A little light strumming
- Three for the price of two
- A few things to remember
Guitar beginners usually start by learning chords. Learning to play each one separately isn’t so bad but it can get really frustrating when you want to put them together to play a tune and you can’t change them fast enough.
If you keep trying you’ll get there eventually but it may take a while. On the other hand you could try my method and you’ll be changing chords quickly in no time.
This is good advice for everything you do when learning the guitar. It is important that you are training your fingers into good habits. If you rush you make mistakes and you’ll end up taking longer to learn something.
Part of playing slowly is also staying relaxed. Tense muscles are going to make everything much harder and also increase the likelihood of injury and painful RSI. It is important that we place our fingers close to the frets. This makes it easier to press the strings down and more likely to produce a clean note.
By the numbers
The human brain is an amazing and complicated thing but if you try and make it do too much at once then things get messy. When learning new chords on the guitar it is important to start by doing one thing at a time.
You need to decide what order you are going to put your fingers onto the strings. This is the most important thing about learning to change chords quickly. This way we’re making it really easy for the brain to learn a new thing.
Let’s start with a C major chord as an example. Practise fingering the chord one finger at a time. Put down the first finger, then the second and then the third. Then strum the chord to make sure it sounds right. If you try putting all three fingers down at the same time sometimes you’ll get it right and sometimes things will go wrong and it will sound awful. By doing it one finger at a time your brain can focus on getting each finger in exactly the right place instead of getting confused.
Making the change
Next you need another chord to change to. D major is a good choice. You need to keep a steady rhythm when practising. So putting the fingers down for C major rhythmically: 1, 2, 3, strum and then do the same for the D major chord 1, 2, 3, strum. At this point it doesn’t matter how long it takes you to get your fingers in place as long as you keep the rhythm going so do it really slowly if you have to. Count 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4... with 4 being the strum.
Practise going back and forth between C and D. It is important just to practise with pairs of chords at this point. We can work up to more chords later. Choose some other pairs of chords and practise them too. Try Am -> Em, G -> D, E -> A, G -> C
A little light strumming
The next step still involves one strum and counting to four but this time you are going to place your fingers for the chord and then strum. The strum is number one. Keep counting: 2, 3, 4. You then need to place your fingers for the D chord before you get to one again. Remember you have to keep a steady rhythm. Because you only have to strum once, on the count of one, you have plenty of time to get your fingers in place for the next chord.
Once you are comfortable with this you can start strumming on every number. Focus on having your fingers there for 1. If that means you have to start moving them before you have strummed the chord on the count of 4 that’s ok. For now we are just focusing on being there on time. As you get better the change will happen quicker. Again if you need to do it slowly so that you have enough time to move your fingers that is fine. It is better to play it slowly and get it exactly right than play it fast and make mistakes.
Three for the price of two
Once you are comfortable with pairs of chords you can try a group of three chords. Add a G major chord after your D major for example. We now have C -> D -> G. You may have to slow down again to get it right but you should find that you master it quicker because your fingers are getting used to it.
Whatever you do don’t stop your strumming arm. Think of your arm as a metronome or a conductors baton. Count 1, 2, 3, 4 and keep the arm moving steadily up and down. It is really tempting to stop the strumming arm until the fingers are ready with the chord but this will give you a really bad habit that is hard to break. By keeping the strumming arm moving slowly it gives the fingers a time to work to and forces them to be in place by the time you strum number one.
A few things to remember
Don’t rush to speed up. Once your fingers have got used to the movements speed will come naturally. A week of good practise should see you changing chords comfortably. Whenever you learn a new chord take some time to practise it this way nice and slowly before trying to do any fast changes.
Keep on going. If you make a mistake with a chord or your fingers just aren’t there in time don’t stop. Keep that strumming hand going even if it sounds horrible and correct things as you go. It is a great habit to get into to keep on going and it will stand you in good stead when you come to perform. However, if you keep making the same mistakes over and over again then that is an indication that you just need to slow things down a bit.
The actual order that you put your fingers don’t doesn’t really matter. It may often change depending on which chords your are playing before and after. The same goes for fingering. It may be easiest to play E minor with the first and second fingers but if you’re changing to C major you may find it better to use your second and third fingers as this allows you to pivot on your second finger.
Finally, stay relaxed and don’t try to press too hard. It is more important to get your fingers close to the frets than press hard .