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Smooth Chord Changes


You've learned a few chords... but you're struggling with how to make smooth chord changes so you can play a song.

It's a difficulty that affects nearly all beginners.

What you may not realize is that it's also a problem faced by many advanced guitarists. So, don't take it personally, and don't see it as a problem that can't be overcome. Nearly every single guitarist that you admire struggled with, or still occasionally struggles with, smooth chord changes.

A common chord change for beginners is C-major to G-major. It's common to many, many songs. Unfortunately, it means that you have to completely remove your hand from the fretboard, find the new position, and press down properly, before you can strum the new chord. On top of this (if your instructor is like mine) you're not supposed to look at your hands!

It's not easy to do all that, blind. But, it will eventually seem like it is.


How do you overcome the problem of moving your fingers rapidly and accurately, without looking, to achieve smooth chord changes? Try one or more of the following tips. One should work for you. If you know of others, let me know. I may add it to the list.


Correct Form Is Critical

The most important things to remember are: Don't worry about speed (yet)... and, proper technique and positioning are the most important factors for smooth chord changes.

Start by moving your hand to the correct fret positions. It's OK to look the first few times.

Strum the chord several times. Get a good sense of how it sounds when it's played correctly. Take the time to pluck each string individually to see if some strings are buzzing, or sound dead. If they do, check your finger positions and try again.

Check these: Are only your fingertips pressing down on the strings? Are your fingers as close to the fret-wire as possible? Is your wrist mostly straight? Is your thumb on the back of the neck, opposite your middle finger?

Next, move your fingers to the new chord. Strum that a few times, getting a good sense for how it sounds, checking for dead or buzzing strings.

Take the time to play the chords properly before you move on or you will struggle to achieve smooth chord changes.

Keys: Proper technique... take it slow!


Repeat, Repeat, Repeat... S-L-O-W-L-Y

You can form the chords properly... your technique is good... you know how the chord should sound... it's time to start switching from one chord to the other.

Strum the first chord, maintaining your form, and achieving clean sound.

Move your hand to the next chord, maintaining your form, and achieving clean sound.

Go only as fast as you can to achieve clean sound. No faster. Form is more important than speed!

As you slowly move back and forth between the chords, your brain will begin to remember the hundreds of muscle positions and movements required. You want your brain to remember the correct movements. (That's why technique is more important than speed at this point.) If you are somewhat experienced, you may only need to switch between the chords a few dozen times. Beginners may have to switch between the chords several hundred times over several days. Eventually you will notice that you are making smooth chord changes, even though you're doing it slowly. But it's getting faster than when you started.

You're making progress! You're well on your way to smooth chord changes!

Don't overdo it. If you hand, fingers, or arm begins to ache (and it will!)... stop and rest. Avoid injury by listening to your body.

Keys: Repetition... proper technique... take it slow!


Make Small Movements

One way to increase your ability to make smooth chord changes is to make small movements before you make the big ones.

Let's assume for a moment that you are struggling to play a C-major and then move to a G-major.

Rather than jump from the C-major to the G-major, try jumping from the C-major to the C-major a few times.

What? Jump from a chord to itself?


Strum the C-major. Release your pressure on the fretboard. Now press down and strum the C-major again. You just "jumped" from C-major to C-major. It's the smallest movement you can make from one chord to another. Once you can make this chord change smoothly, try moving to the G-major.

Make the same small jumps on the second chord (release it, then play it).

You've mastered this tip when you can play-release-play one chord, move to the next one and play-release-play that one.

Keys: Repetition... proper technique... small movements... take it slow!


Strum, strum, strum, strum, JUMP

You are forming the chords properly... you can make the smallest of movements... you can make the jump to a completely different chord.

Next it's time to strum the first chord several times, making small adjustment, before jumping to the new chord.

The chord change may not be completely smooth... that's why it's important to strum the new chord several times. As you strum, make any small corrections needed to ensure proper technique and a clean sound. Then, and only then, switch to the next chord and strum that several times.

As you improve you will be able to increase your speed slightly, and you will need to make fewer corrections after you jump!


SIDEBAR: Even the most proficient guitarists make corrections as they go. Listen carefully to any guitarist in concert. You will hear minor chord changes... you'll see fingers slide slightly into new positions... These adjustments take place all the time, you just don't tend to notice them unless you're looking for them. The same is true when you play. Most people won't notice when you make a slight correction to a chord, so don't worry when you do make a mistake. Adjust and move on.


Keys: Repetition... proper technique... small movements... small corrections... take it slow... don't give up!


Look for Pivot Fingers

You are forming the chords properly... you can jump to a completely different chord... you are making small corrections on the fly... and your speed is slowly increasing.

See if you can increase your efficiency by looking for pivot fingers.

A pivot finger is one that doesn't have to move as you switch from one chord to another. It gives you a starting point... a reference to achieve smooth chord changes.

For example, suppose you need to move from an A7-major to a C-major? Most chord charts tell you to play these chords as follows:


Smooth Guitar Chord Changes from A7 to C
Smooth Guitar Chord Changes from A7 to C


Note that the '2' finger is in the same position for both chords. This finger can function as a 'pivot' point as you move from the A7 to the C, and back. Rather than lift all of your fingers, keep your middle finger (#2) pressed down on the 2ndd fret of the D-string and rotate your hand around it.

Using pivot fingers helps you make smooth chord changes by allowing you to move your hand as little as possible. Look for them. Anytime two chords share a note, see if you can use a finger as a pivot point. You may need to change the recommended chord form, using different fingers than recommended to make a pivot point work. That's fine. Experiment.

Keys: Repetition... proper technique... small corrections... take it slow... look for pivot fingers!




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