How to Easily Change Between Difficult Chords on Guitar

These steps make challenging chord progressions very easy to play.

Ultimate Guitar
How to Easily Change Between Difficult Chords on Guitar

Playing guitar becomes frustrating when you can’t change between chords consistently and accurately. You need an effective practice process that helps you master any chord change easily and fast

These steps make challenging chord progressions very easy to play:

Step 1: Isolate The Challenging Chord Change

Isolate any pair of chords that you struggle with (from any song or piece of music you are learning). Don’t distract yourself with music that comes before and after the chord change for now (you will focus on this later). Your goal in this step is to play each chord with efficient technique and without unnecessary tension.

This video shows how to easily play challenging chords (using barre chords as examples): 

YouTube preview picture

Step 2: Master Each Chord Individually

Practice fretting each chord on its own. Here is how:

  • Put your fingers on the correct frets (make sure the shoulder stays relaxed and your fingers fret the notes right behind the fret).
  • Release the fingers off the strings. Releasing the fingers is done by relaxing pressure from the strings (rather than lifting the fingers up through muscular effort).
  • Put the fingers back on the strings to fret the chord again.

Do this many times in a row while keeping the rest of your arm as relaxed as possible (only your fingers should move). After doing 20 repetitions of this for chord 1, do the same for chord 2.

Reminder: keep your fretting hand shoulder completely relaxed during this step. Look at your shoulders in the mirror when you practice to make sure they are level. Raising one shoulder higher than the other is a sign of bad tension.

Step 3: Practice The Transition Between The Chords

Fret the first chord, then release the fingers slowly from the strings and begin to form the shape of the second chord in mid-air.

Note: do not strum the chord with your picking/strumming hand yet. Do the chord change motions with the fretting hand only.

Focus on:

1. Identifying fingers both chords have in common. Common fingers might be playing play the same fret on the same string in both chords or different frets on the same string. Don't lift those fingers up (if practical) to make your technique more efficient.

2. Keeping the fretting hand shoulder relaxed (especially if you must shift positions on the fretboard).

3. Keeping the fingers as close to the strings as possible. The less you move your fingers, the more efficient your technique becomes.

Play as slowly as it takes to perform the chord change correctly.

After playing the second chord, slowly move back to the first chord (reversing the chord change). Continue practicing the transition from one chord to the next for several minutes.

Tip: Your fingers must fret the notes of each chord simultaneously (NOT one after the other!).

Begin to strum the chords after you feel confident doing the motion with the fretting hand only. This prepares you for the next step.

Step 4: Practice The Chord Change In Context

Practice the chord change in broader context after you can do it in isolation.

Isolate a musical excerpt that begins about 2 seconds before the 1st chord in your chord change and ends about 2 seconds after the 2nd chord. This helps you to continue focusing on the chord change while introducing the rest of the music.

Follow this process with any challenging chord progression to make it easy to play.

About the author:
Mike Philippov is a guitarist in progressive rock and neo-classical styles. His expertise is in guitar technique and guitar practice training.

6 comments sorted by best / new / date

    This is good advice for both new and long time guitarists. I've used a similar method over the years but often need to remind myself to slow down and attack one piece at  time.As for your video on playing barre chords without pain, I have learned something here. Thanks!
    As someone who prefers acoustic guitar myself, barre chords have always been a pain in the arse (and hand) for me to play. Your simple but effective instructions are great. Thanks much.
    1. Practice the chords 2. Practice the chords 3. Practice the chord change 4. Practice the chord change