Changing Chords

Many people begin to play the guitar by learning a few chord changes to their favorite song. There are many things to be aware of while doing this. There are things to know and do that can make it easier, and guarantee you will have success.

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Many people begin to play the guitar by learning a few chord changes to their favorite song. In fact, I learned this way. There are many things to be aware of while doing this. There are things to know and do that can make it easier, and guarantee you will have success. There are also many things that can go wrong, and guarantee trouble. You should first understand that often the term "simple chords" is very misleading. Most "simple chords" for guitar require quite complex movements of the fingers, in order for them to get into the final "form" of the chord. In the following essay, I am going to analyze one of the most common chord changes, and one of the most misunderstood in terms of it's actual difficulty. I am referring to the chords G and C. Let's look at this chord change from the viewpoint of the ideas outlined in " The Principles of Correct Practice For Guitar". And I am also going to use a real life example of a student of mine named Kathy. You will see many things in her story that will be true for you also, and the principles will apply to all chord changes, not just G and C. Kathy's Situation When K thy c me for lessons with me, she h d lre dy been trying to le rn the guit r for bout 2 ye rs, with few different te chers, nd with no success. She could struggle her w y into few chords, but w tching her try to ch nge them f st enough to do song w s n exercise in gony, for me nd for her. Her c se is good ex mple of how b d things c n get when there is no underst nding of the mech nics of pl ying nd pr cticing, right from the beginning. First of all, I needed to make her aware of how tensed up her left shoulder was as soon as she began to raise her left hand to the neck. This made her whole arm tense, right down to the fingers. As she tried to get in to the first chord, the fingers tensed up even more, and started leaning and pressing against one another, instead of having the proper space between them. This tension of the fingers immediately began to cause a reaction in the rest of the arm, tensing up the large muscles of the arm and shoulder. All of this created a great feeling of discomfort, that Kathy had assumed is "just the way it feels to do a G chord." How To Avoid "Lockup" This is a situation that happens all the time to beginners, and even to advanced players to varying degrees. I call this buildup of tension as she arm is raised and the fingers about to move lockup. That is, the fingers, hand and arm "lockup" with tension, and usually the unfortunate player continues to try to get them in position by working through the tension, trying to make the fingers perform while they are "locked up". The thing to do is stop, go back into the position you were coming from, and begin to move very slowly, examining the fingers closely as soon as they release the first chord, and focus on staying relaxed from the shoulder down to the fingers, and staying that way as the fingers move to their new positions. Now, you have to look at the whole situation the hand is in. For Kathy, her thumb was wrapped around the neck in such a way that there was no space between her hand and the guitar, so her fingers had a difficult time, not being free and relaxed, or having the room to move. By the time she got in to the G chord, she was holding on to it for dear life! Not exactly in a position to easily change to the C chord, which is even harder. Then, as she began to pry her fingers off the G chord and go for the C, she did what many people do, she led with the strong finger, the first finger, that is, and smashed it down on it's note, on the second string, first fret. Now, she was holding on to that for dear life, with the whole arm, from finger tip to shoulder, knotted up with tension. Next came the attempt to get fingers 2 and 3 into position, which was very difficult for her to do, and me to watch, as those poor, stressed out fingers did their best to do her will. By the time she got them in to position, somewhat, they weren't standing straight enough to allow the adjacent strings to ring clearly, one of the difficulties of the C chord. So the net result of all this effort was the inability to change chords smoothly, and the inability to get the notes of the C chord out clearly once she got there. My Solution for Kathy Here are the steps I used to undo the knots of tension that Kathy had unknowingly created and allowed, that were preventing her from performing actions on the guitar which anyone should be able to do, if they approach them properly. 1. I explained the concepts of muscle memory, and how disastrous muscle tension is, and how difficult it can be to become aware of it. 2. I explained the practice tools outlined in my book, Posing, and No Tempo Practice, used for becoming aware of , and eliminating excessive muscle tension. 3. I explained how to bring the left hand to the neck, with the fingers in a relaxed curl as she approached the strings. 4. I had her begin practice of Left Hand Exercise #1, using Posing, No Tempo Practice, and the Basic Practice Approach. 5. As a few weeks went by, she developed the ability to have relaxed fingers come to the neck and strings, and also to have them stretch out from one another in a relaxed way, while the arm and shoulder stayed relatively relaxed. 6. Then we applied this way of moving to the chord changes, G to C. She learned how to keep everything relaxed, and how to keep a good space between the hand and the guitar as the hand turned, as it must in going from a G to a C. 7. I had her place the 2nd finger down lightly on the 4th string, for the C chord first, not the first finger. As she placed the 3rd finger next, she kept the hand out, and the 1st finger poised over the 2nd string, first fret. 8. Finally, she placed the first finger down, still keeping it curled, and going down on the tip, but with the fingertip leaning slightly toward the headstock, and the hand still out, so that there was enough space between the hand and the guitar at the index finger that you could stick your finger in between the hand and guitar. 9. I had her stop and Pose at random times, when the tension would build, so she could learn to be relaxed in these positions. 10. After repeated No Tempo Practice of this, we began to work up speed using the Basic Practice Approach. And she started to be able to do it faster and faster. Now, I am happy to say, she is playing many songs well, using these and other chords. I really believe that without this approach, she would never have unlocked the tensions that were preventing her from being able to do these chord changes. This approach will work for anybody, and any chords. Try it, with these chords, or any other changes that give you trouble, or that you would like to improve. All of the above can be seen as an illustration of the first two Principles of Correct Practice, stated in my last essay, "The Secret of Speed". I will now add the 3rd Principle of Correct Practice: Principle of Correct Practice #3: "The fingers are energized by Attention, and moved by Intention." I will elaborate on this later, but you should read and re-read the previous essays in light of these 3 Principles stated so far, and your understanding of them will increase, and so will recognition of their relevance to your own playing situation. And so will their usefulness. That is, by thinking about these things, when you practice, your practice will be more powerful, resulting in faster progress. For more information, and to get answers to your questions, visit my site. Copyright 2005 Jamie Andreas. All rights reserved. GuitarPrinciples.com.

44 comments sorted by best / new / date

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    jwscholl
    Maybe you people ought to provide some constructive critism to help other guitarist.
    fragydig529
    superdupergirl wrote: Y'know, I like the letter "a". I feel it's an important part of the alphabet. Otherwise, nice lesson.
    Lmao, thats the greatest
    buffatron
    its re lly not h rd to re d some p r gr phs without ~a's~ ur all such bitches...im sure its quite easy to see that there are no a's so theres no need wasting time sooking about it...
    Culley
    I saw this lesson over at Guitar Noise. I did not find it very helpful. I've only been playing guitar, an acoustic, for a little over a month, so I'm no expert. Whenever the author got to a point that might be helpful, she referred to her book. This was frustrating. I don't want to spend any more money on lessons! I already take lessons in person, have bought books, DVDs, gone to the library and checked out books and DVDs... Sorry, but this lesson was long, had a nice story, but the author could have saved some time by saying, "Just buy my book."
    the_captn_flint
    Culley wrote: I saw this lesson over at Guitar Noise. I did not find it very helpful. I've only been playing guitar, an acoustic, for a little over a month, so I'm no expert. Whenever the author got to a point that might be helpful, she referred to her book. This was frustrating. I don't want to spend any more money on lessons! I already take lessons in person, have bought books, DVDs, gone to the library and checked out books and DVDs... Sorry, but this lesson was long, had a nice story, but the author could have saved some time by saying, "Just buy my book."
    linkinwayne
    Nah, if you read it properly, she just didn't have her 'A' string. That's why she couldnt play properly. Either that or all her tutors couldn't say the letter 'a'. Wow, that would hurt. "Ok, K thy, pl y th t minor chord I told you bout"
    jrnjd
    I thought it was interesting. I never really thought about my shoulder being tense. I have experianced "lockup" before and it is difficult to recover from. I will try your advice.
    Lord Kalvin
    superdupergirl wrote: Y'know, I like the letter "a". I feel it's an important part of the alphabet. Otherwise, nice lesson.
    lmao...I was like "wh t the ****?!"
    headblade
    pretty good, helped alot but y is there letters missing in the 2nd paragraph lmao!
    svend
    **** you for not puting a in there, the confused the **** out of me
    tom1thomas1
    wow i just watched my fingers go from G to C looks kinda cool it flows in a big arching loop
    thunderbird2007
    As a 50yrold bass played who's trying 6 string for the first time, this lesson was excellent info. My left hand doesn't hurt as much now.
    K0RTNiE*
    Interesting lesson i'm sure...but my tiredness prevented me from reading the whole thing O_o Dare i point out the little grammer mistake throughout a certain paragraph...
    superdupergirl
    Y'know, I like the letter "a". I feel it's an important part of the alphabet. Otherwise, nice lesson.
    rking10k
    It is my opinion that the writer left out the "A" on purpose. The third finger of the left hand types the "A" on the keyboard, it is also the finger you use on the guitar and on the "A", 5th string to form the "C" cord. Tension will cause an error on the keyboard as well as on the guitar.
    ellisSG
    Ug Stranger, if ya wana talk shit go to a chat room or summit cus the peeps who read this stuff r hard working, dedicated guitarists. once again nice lesson Jamey. This lesson was less clear bt it was a harder subject to explain.
    Acoustic4Life
    changing chords are easy. but, you forgot to mention bar chords. those are the chords that people have the most trouble with.
    gocaps
    way to long, and its only the A in all the words he's missing
    ssurfer59
    I would say this is a good lesson. So many players forget about how simple things can get a new player frustrated in the beginning. Yes, there is such a thing as "lock up," it is tension in the hand and fingers, pretty much... Even if you are relaxed, new players have a tendancy to grip to guitar way too tight to stop a cheaper guitar from "buzzing." I would suggest looking at your grip for this problem along with doing practices. (It is evident what happens when you relax your hand and press, with one finger, in on your palm right below your knuckles)
    hmm...Clouds
    maybe this Kathy girl couldn't say the letter "a"? or maybe it was just a misprint? god give the dude a break...i found it easy enough to read...
    allenm
    u do realise that u missed every 'a' in one whole paragraph. check ur stuff before u post it ey.
    thagovna10
    A little proof-reading wouldn't hurt, but otherwise the article was helpful and informative.
    SirShredAlot
    I don't really know about tension, but the bit about trying to get away from leading with your strong finger first is pretty good. You eventually want all the fingers to land on the fretboard in unison, a good way to get to this place is to concentrate on the weaker fingers by placing them first. Then once they "learn" what they are supposed to do you start placing the fingers in unison.
    A1D3N-T4B
    ok ok ok!!! y do poeple keep stating the quite OBVIOUS!!! fact there are no "A"s in the paragraph....very clever we can see that...SO WOT if you have a little bit of brain it wont even effect your reading of it. as for the actual lesson. i personaly dont have that problem with the g and c chord. i dont get this so called "lock-up". but i know one thing...i find those friggin chords where you have to lay your finger right across a fret i.e 123111. they are such a bitch to do
    ProtectTheSheep
    barre chords, a1d3n... lol You guys are a bunch of morons!! lol Isn't it quite obvious that there are no A's? OMG THERE ARE NO A'S YOU SAY?... Anyway, stop complaining. The human brain, complex as it is, can read any word if one letter is missing as long as the first and last letters are in place and it is in an actual sentence, it can do it rather easily, too. So stop your yackin'. I found the change from G to C to be so hard, too. But then again I just started in like the last week, so... damn you Pink Floyd and your changes from G to C!! lol