Many beginner guitar players tend to find changing from one guitar chord to another pretty hard.
Playing beginners tunes one note at a time is pretty easy, forming chord shapes and memorizing them is not that hard either, (though this depends on what the chord is), but when it comes to change guitar chords: How do good guitar players manage to do that so fast, without even looking at their hands?
Well, since we’re changing from a number of notes to another at the same time, changing guitar chords is no doubt harder than playing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” or whatever easy tune you have been learning on guitar.
However, learning how to change chords is much easier if learned the right way, than the way most beginner students approach it.
In this lesson I will show you what to do, as well as what not to do, while practicing your first chord changes on the guitar.
If you follow each point, you will find that changing chords, though it does require effort (like everything else when learning the guitar) is much easier than you think and after some time, you’ll be able to change chords fluently and with complete ease.
1. Learn the individual chords well
One reason why you may find changing from C major to G major hard is that you don’t know one or both of the chords well enough.
By learning the chord well, I mean that you don’t have to build it up one note at a time, but that your fingers have developed enough muscle memory (more on this later) to see each of the chords as one block and all the fingers required to form it go to the right place at the same time.
Here’s a little exercise that will help you develop this ability:
Form a C major (or any other) chord the way you know how for now.
Pick each string one by one to make sure every note sounds right.
Now, release your fingers from pressing the note, but let them keep touching the string.
Keep pressing and releasing the notes for some time so that your brain starts remembering the shape of C major as one block, an entity in itself, not something you have to build up one finger at a time.
The better you know a chord, the easier it will be to change from another chord into it.
2. Change the chords in slow motion
One common mistake many beginner players do when changing from a guitar chord to another is that they expect to do it fast (or at least, not as slow as they should) and correctly.
The problem with this is that in most cases you won’t be doing it correctly. A finger may be pressing the wrong note, or a note is muffled and can’t be heard.
And this is where muscle memory comes in.
When changing from C major to G major, your fingers (or rather, the part of your brain giving the message to your fingers) start to remember that movement.
If you’re doing it wrong 7 times out of 10, you’re not developing the muscle memory correctly, which is your main goal at this point.
Practice each chord change as slow as necessary to make the chord you changed to sound perfect. Sometimes with your fingers literally moving in slow motion to achieve this, especially in the beginning.
3. Repeat, repeat, repeat
Once you can play the change perfectly, repeat doing it for a long number of times, without increasing the speed.
After some time, you’ll be amazed at how easy it has become to make that change, and performing the chord change fast will also become easy.
4. Don’t use any strumming pattern with your right hand
Some students, when they get the chord change more or less right, will start playing some strumming pattern with the right hand.
And while learning strumming patterns is an important aspect of learning the guitar, this is not the right time for it.
Our brain cannot concentrate on many things at once and if while building the necessary muscle memory on the left hand, you’re distracting it by strumming with the right hand, learning to change chords on guitar will only take you much longer.
Note: This works the other way too. Don’t do many (or any) chord changes while you’re learning how to strum. Focus on the strumming itself and practice the two things together only when you’re fluent in both of these aspects of guitar playing.
5. Look at your left hand
While practicing chord changes, it’s important that your eyes are focused on your left hand, not looking at the carpet.
There are two reasons for this:
- It will help you play the change better since if, say, a finger is landing on the wrong string, your eyes can see it and you’ll correct it in time.
- Muscle memory again. If you’re visualising the chord change, apart from feeling it with your fingers, your brain will take less time to remember it.
Keep in mind that the final goal will be changing chords without having to look at your left hand – but you do have to look until you reach it!
Conclusion: Where to go from here?
Changing chords is a crucial part of learning how to play the guitar and makes it possible for you to learn your first songs.
The good news is that most songs are made of the same beginner guitar chords you are learning.
Thus, not only will learning songs start becoming much easier once you are fluent in changing chords, but you’re also practicing those chord changes over and over in those songs, gaining more and more muscle memory.
I would take it a step further though.
If you know a few chords and can change from one to another with ease, I will also start writing my first songs, which is not hard if you follow this step by step method.
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