Without fail, beginner students ask me about ways to make their chord changes smoother and faster. Rather than give them the stock answer “practice,” I offer ten practical tips to speeding up those transitions.
1. Keep Common Tones Down.
Think before you make a chord change. Review your progressions and look at what notes are common between chords and what fingers pivot around them. For example, when moving from C Major to A Minor, only the third finger moves. When going from E Major to A Minor, the whole chord moves as a unit, one string group higher in pitch.
2. Use the Least Amount of Movement for the Greatest Output.
Your fingers actually have to move very little between chords. Even when there are no common tones between chords, your fingertips move away from the fingerboard ever so slightly. Be sure not to exaggerate any movement.
3. Monitor Your Technique.
Police yourself now and then to make sure that you are using the proper technique. Keep your palm relaxed and away from the neck. If you are grabbing the neck, you are creating tension and it makes it very difficult for your fingers to move freely. Remember to keep your thumb stable behind the neck – it’s your home base. Keep your left hand nails short so you can play on your fingertips. This not only makes the chords sound clearer, but it will make the transitions smoother. A guitar strap will also help to keep the instrument in a stable position. If you are not holding on for dear life, your fingers will move more easily.
4. Build Your Muscle Memory.
When we learn a sport, we practice the same baseball swing or volleyball serve over and over until we find the “sweet spot” for getting the desired results. Learning the guitar is no different. Your fingers remember where to go by practicing the identical movement repeatedly. Try moving between chords with no right hand strum and creating no sound. Just practice the movement focusing on the position, not the technique.
5. Head and Hand are Connected.
When you play the guitar, your hand is simply following what your brain tells it to do. To clarify where your fingers are supposed to be, you can try closing your eyes and visualizing the chord. You can also challenge yourself to write out the chord box without looking at your hand. Finally, saying out loud where the placement of each finger belongs helps to solidify the finger position.
6. Check That Instrument.
Not all guitars are created equal. The “action” refers to the distance between the strings and the fingerboard. If the action is too high, it can be difficult to press down the strings. This can also muddy the sound and make changing between chords more difficult. It may be worth a trip to your local music store to make sure that your action is set correctly. Thinner strings also make your guitar easier to play.
7. Try Two Types of Practice Sessions.
Divide your practice time between two types of sessions. First, play for accuracy and stop when you hear a mistake. Go back and repeat those transitions that are slow over and over. For the next session, pretend that you are performing and force yourself to keep the right hand patterns going, even if the chord isn’t down yet. You’d be surprised how much faster your fingers can move when they have to. If you hear a mistake keep the right hand moving and make your corrections while keeping time. Playing along with a recording is also a good way to force yourself to stay in time.
8. Fingering Matters.
Often, simply changing the fingering of a chord can make the changes quicker. If you are using printed music, check the tab or chord boxes first. If a fingering isn’t given, experiment with different combinations. Using the wrong fingering can sometimes make it impossible to make the chord changes in time.
When you are not using your eyes, your hearing becomes more acute. When your brain knows where you are going and you don’t have to look ahead in the music, your ears can take over. To memorize a piece, try practicing in sections. We are always taught to go back to the beginning when practicing. However, you need to have a solid understanding of sections, patterns, and progressions that occur in the music.
10. Don’t Think So Much.
This may sound funny, but after following all these steps, it’s time to let your fingers take over. The best thing you can do is just enjoy the music and the process. After a while, the less you focus on building speed, the more you will let the music flow.
Learn from Susan Mazer at TrueFire >>