5. Changing Chords

5. Changing Chords

Hopefully by now you’re at the stage where you can strum at least a couple of chords. Now here is the frustrating thing about learning guitar. Or any instrument for that matter! Just when you think you are getting somewhere, along comes the next thing you need to learn. It is normally more difficult too. Changing chords is no exception. You’ve got a bit of confidence up by playing through those first chords however, there is nothing quite like learning to change chords to bring you back down to earth. Indeed, this is the most common time when students drop out. Don’t! Persevere, follow my guide to changing chords and I promise you will get there.

The first thing to get into your head about changing chords is that there really is no secret magic trick. It comes down to a few things that, if you master you will excel at changing chords. Lets look at these aspects in detail.

  1. Know your chords – this sounds obvious but it amazes me when I’m teaching how many students don’t quite grasp this. I’ll ask them how their chord practise has been going. How many chords can they play from memory? Pick 2 of those chords and we will look at how we can change between them. Straight away they get the First Chords sheet out to look up the 2 chords they just said they could play from memory… So when I say ‘Know your chords’ I mean really know them. You should be able to place your fingers quickly and accurately on the strings.
  2. One motion –  Crucial to speedy chord changes is the ability to place your fingers on the fretboard in one motion. Imagine we are playing an E Major chord. We will be using fingers 1, 2 and 3. 1st finger is placed on the 1st fret of the G String, 2nd finger is placed on the 2nd fret of the A String, while the 3rd finger is placed on the 2nd fret of the D string. Now, if you do that exactly as is expressed above, you would make 3 separate motions. What we actually want to do is make one motion so all 3 fingers land on the strings at the same time.
  3. Muscle memory – The more you correctly practise the finger shapes for chords the more your fingers seem to ‘remember’ where to go. This isn’t coincidence. This is your muscle memory kicking in. Teaching has made me analyse my own playing really closely. One of the things I noticed is that when I go to play a chord, my fingers instinctively form the rough shape way before they get anywhere near the guitar. My hand could be in a resting position but as soon as I think Aminor or DMajor, my fingers make that shape. Then they land in one smooth motion on the strings.
  4. Walk don’t run – we have all heard the saying ‘Trying to run before they have learned to walk.” There’s no point starting your chord changing practise with something like CMajor – Dminor – GMajor. All you’re going to learn is that chord changing is really difficult. Start simple. How about we just start with one chord? Make the shape, place your fingers on the strings, play the chord, remove your fingers while trying to keep the shape, place your fingers back on the strings and keep repeating this. Next move on to 2 chords you can play really well. Normally Eminor to AMajor or EMajor to Aminor. Try and transition smoothly between each shape landing all fingers on the strings with one motion.
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