For beginner, intermediate, and advanced guitarists even, a difficult chord change in a song you are can put your progress at a stand still. A lot of guitar players never develop a strategy about how to overcome challenging chord changes quickly and effectively. The generic and harder way (which does work eventually) is to play the song at full tempo up until the chord change where there is a long pause of silence while fingers fumble for the second chord! This is really the equivalent of running into a brick wall over and over at top speed until it makes a hole big enough that you can get through. Why not take a wrecking ball to that same wall and just walk on through? In this article, I will illustrate for you a great 3-step process to work out chord changes with minimal time and effort. Eventually you will be able to cut out sections of this method as you will have it memorized and you find which steps are necessary for you and those that are not.

1. Memorize The Two Concerning Chords
If your head knows what needs to be done then only your hands need to worry about their job. If you memorize both chord shapes and can play the chords individually you have already done the majority of the work. Play each chord note by note (pick each string in the chord one by one) to make sure each note is sounding clearly, and that each open string is doing what it should be (ringing or not ringing dependant on the chord).

The second part of this step is important but rather quick and easy. The next thing you'll want to do is examine both the chords you have memorized closely and look for similarities.
- Are there some fingers that don't have to move very far during the change?
- Are there fingers that don't have to move at all?
- Are the chords the same shapes even? (I.e. Am and E)

Once you have memorized and compared the two chords for similarities you can move on.

2. Finger by Finger Chording

This step can be especially helpful when the chord change in question seems like an incredibly daunting task. What we will attempt to do is make the second chord in the change easier then build it back up to it's original difficulty (which hopefully won't seem so hard!). We'll use G major changing to D major as an example. I'll show you the full chords first incase you don't know what they look like.

G Major         D Major
|---3---|        |---2---|
|---0---|        |---3---|
|---0---|        |---2---|
|---0---|        |---0---|
|---x---|        |---x---|
|---3---|        |---x---|

- Start with the first chord ( G major )
- Pick a very slow tempo to work with
- Play one down stroke on G major
- Change to the second chord ( D major ), but only land one finger. Play one down stroke

*** The one finger you choose is important. You should pick a finger that is close to its destination already or feels very stable and would help the second chord fall into place. ***

   G Major     1 finger of D Major
|---3---|Changed to... |---0---|
|---0---|              |---3---|
|---0---|              |---0---|
|---0---|              |---0---|
|---x---|              |---x---|
|---3---|              |---x---|

- Once you feel good about changing to that one finger, pick the finger you feel is the next most important to the structure of the second chord and try changing to two fingers. Repeat the same rhythm I prescribed above.
G Major                     2 fingers of D Major
|---3---| Changed to...        |---0---|
|---0---|                      |---3---|
|---0---|                      |---2---|
|---0---|                      |---0---|
|---x---|                      |---x---|
|---3---|                      |---x---|

- Are you comfortable with two? Try the full chord now. (Since there is only three fingers in D Major we wont go to four fingers, but you would in some chords)

   G Major             D Major (Full)
|---3---| Changed to... |---2---|
|---0---|               |---3---|
|---0---|               |---2---|
|---0---|               |---0---|
|---x---|               |---x---|
|---3---|               |---x---|

This step really helps you get moving slowly back and forth between the chords in the change and lets your hand feel what is the natural way to attack the problem. After this only one more step...

3. Starting Slow and Building

Now that are hands are being a bit more co-operative we need to wean them to accept the rhythm along with the already annoying chord change. Adding in the rhythm is actually one of the easier parts. We are going to pick a slow tempo and gradually increase the speed and complexity of the rhythm being strummed. Do not attempt the actual song rhythm or tempo yet.

So starting slow, we'll use G major changing to D major again. First we will play one down stroke per bar for each chord.

G                D
v                v
1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +  1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +

*** Right now we can cheat. Just after you hit the G major you can start changing to the D. Make sure you keep the tempo nice and even though***

When you're ready, try two.

G                D
v       v        v       v
1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +  1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +

When you can play the last example with your chords perfectly, you can do four down strokes

G                D
v   v   v   v    v   v   v   v
1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +  1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +

From this point it gets a little harder to guide you. This is because everyone is working towards a different rhythm to play in the song. What you should do is gradually change the rhythm until it is the exact rhythm you want to use, and then slowly increase your tempo till you reach the desired speed. If you took your time and follow the steps closely, you will now have confronted and conquered the chord change.


As you can see, the method I have presented is not very laborious nor does it require massive amounts of time to practice. The information is not new or original, just simple organized and pulled together into one article. You simply logically break down chords and build them up again at a pace where you will be ready to play them once you reach the song tempo and rhythm. Hopefully (what I have found), you will find this method is easily transferred into other fields in guitar playing and maybe into learning other skills outside of music. Best of luck and practice hard.
Last edited by Maj_Tom at Feb 6, 2007,
Nice. I like this article. Good job.

And about the examples, just put code tags around them, or change their font to Courier New and they will display properly.
Thanks alot for the feedback and helping me get the examples working Horvat
awesome article man, this has helped me a lot already, the one finger at a time rule really does help, Ive never seen it written like this before so THANK YOU!
I am going to try it tomorrow but sounds very good.
Ben Pazolli
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