Chord Switching

Ok, so you’re learning how to play guitar and you’re working on your basic guitar chords (maybe you even have a guitar chord chart on your wall), but like most people approaching playing chords, you’re having a hard time switching chords quickly. Not only that, but you’re probably also finding that getting your chord finger placement, ie. putting all of your fingers in place at the same time, is difficult…

Getting good at putting your fingers down at the same time, and switching chords quickly: these are actually two of the main road blocks I see in the way of students new to guitar time and time again; so learning how to tackle these two challenges in an efficient manner is exactly the focus of this post!

The truth is, both of these skills will get better over time with continued practice. But the good news is there are things we can do so it doesn’t take forever! Because, let’s be honest, it could be a real deterrent if six months or a year from now you’re still struggling with putting your fingers in place and switching your chords efficiently. So I’m going to give you two drills for quickening this process!

Chord Finger Placement

When it comes to chord finger placement, putting your fingers all down at the same time is a high level of coordination that most people approaching guitar simply do not have. So how do we train this fine level of coordination?

Take any chord you are working on; let’s say C Major for this example. Right now you are likely putting one finger down at a time. If you continue to work on fingering this chord, the gap between putting each finger down will gradually get smaller and smaller and eventually you will have the coordination and the familiarity with the chord shape that those gaps will dissapear and you will be able to put all your fingers in place at once. This is the natural progression. So how do we quicken this process?

Here’s the drill: go ahead and put your fingers down on your C Major chord, making sure they are all in the proper place. Now for step 1 of this drill simply depress the chord (don’t lift your fingers off of the strings, just stop pressing down while leaving the fingers in the proper place for your chord). Press your fingers back down, then depress, then press them back down, then depress, etc. So you’re not lifting off the strings yet (you will be touching the strings the entire time); just pressing down to hold the chord and de-pressing while leaving the fingers in place. Be sure to press all three fingers down at the same time each time. Continue doing this for a minute or two until you have a feel for it.

Next, for step 2 of this drill, continue to do the same thing, but now lift your fingers off the strings just a little bit. In other words, don’t take your fingers so far away from the strings that you lose the chord shape and have to refind it. You should be able to put your fingers down on the chord without readjusting your fingers to the proper chord shape (in other words, your fingers are holding the chord shape the entire time as they lift off and go back down onto the strings). Then you lift them back off, put them back down, etc. while still holding your fingers in the proper shape for the chord. If you continue to do this for a couple minutes you will get it; and as you get used to it you can start to move your fingers farther and farther away from the strings before putting them back down.

This is how to quicken the process for getting your chord finger placement down so that you can put all the fingers for a given chord down at the same time. For this drill you don’t need to strum the chord, you are just focusing on your fretting hand.

Plus, more good news, this skill is transferable! You don’t need to spend a lot of time doing it for each new chord you learn. Just do it for the basic chords you are first working on; and as your coordination improves (which is what this drill is accomplishing) you will find that with any new chords you learn you will be able to get used to fingering them much quicker.

Now, if you’re asking “what is a chord change?”, it is simply when you switch from one chord to another; which, when playing music, we need to be able to do quickly. Let’s see how to grow into this skill in a speedy and efficient manner!

How to Change Chords Faster

Ok, now let’s look at how to do a chord switch with your basic guitar chords. We’re talking about your basic major chords and minor chords, but this can apply to any chords you are working on switching between, including chord variations, advanced chord progressions, and even bass chords.

The problem you are facing is likely tied to the first one, of not being able to put all the fingers down at once, only this time you are also having to move in between chords. So you get your fingers in place on your C chord, you do your strum pattern, then it takes a moment before you actually get your fingers in place for your G chord. Unfortunately when you’re playing music the drummer won’t wait for you to switch your chord before continuing the beat, so you have to get good at doing this to timing. So the drill we are going to do is similar to the first one and will quicken the process of being able to switch chords efficiently and to time!

Here’s the drill: Put your fingers in place for your first chord (in this example we’ll use C Major and G Major). So you’re holding a C Major chord. For step one of this drill don’t worry about strumming yet; right now we are just focused on the fretting hand. Now switch to your G major chord, then back to C, then back to G, etc. So in this first stage of the drill you are just working on switching the chord without strumming (we are isolating the switch and getting good at it). Of course, make sure to put your fingers in the right place each time.

Step two of this drill is: as you are switching in the same manner, add one strum for each chord. This reintegrates the strumming hand in a simple way where you can still stay focused on the fretting hand (think about this from the perspective of building your coordination). Do this until it feels natural.

Step three of this drill is to simply add a full strumming pattern to each of your chords. Now you have put it all back together with the fretting and strumming hand and are playing your music!

A Peak Behind the Curtain

There’s a principal of training here that I use with my students: when you are experiencing a problem sometimes it is handy to isolate whatever the problem is and focus on getting good at it. So, for example, say you are playing a four chord progression of Am to C to G to Em. You can switch between all of the chords to timing except C to G. Well then, isolate the problem, and just work on switching between C and G until you can do it to timing. Then, once you’re coordinated with it, you can integrate it back into your four chord progression. So in this example we just fixed the problem of having a gap between your C and G chord (which you can use the above drill for). Now you can play the entire four chord progression without any little breaks (or gaps) in the music and everyone’s happy!

Summary

When I’m teaching students new to guitar I marry up proper basics with building the coordination needed for playing guitar. As a side note, if you get a guitar instructor and their approach is to just teach you chords and parts of songs right off the bat, RUN!  The problem with that approach is that it is like taking a child that wants to learn how to swim and just throwing them in the deep end of the pool. It’s like saying, “eh, you’ll get it.” It’s lazy and uncaring, and for most people, it simply does not work. You need to put learning block one into place, and work on building a good foundation from which to grow. This takes not only learning proper basics, but of developing the coordination needed to perform them.

Coordination and Proper Basics: these are two pillars of learning guitar that I use for beginners that we train in such a way that you naturally ascend to being able to connect with and play music!

And for beginners it is important to have these two pillars properly in place. Otherwise it is easy to develop bad habits; and these bad habits will put walls in the way of your development and funnel you into only being able to do certain things. Whereas your growth potential as a guitarist should be limitless, and it will be if you develop the proper foundation!

Thanks for reading, I hope this helps! If you need a guiding hand on your path of learning guitar and someone with a guru’s eye on you to make sure you’re well rounded in your training and learning proper basics, coordination, and growing into music in a real living way, feel free to get in touch with me for one-on-one virtual lessons!

Rock on!
Coren Smith
DivineGuitarLessons@gmail.com