Exercise for Changing Chords on the Guitar

Very often I see people coming to my guitar lessons who has already learned a few chords and can play them pretty well, but having hard time switching between them.

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Exercise for Changing Chords on the Guitar
Very often I see people coming to my guitar lessons who has already learned a few chords and can play them pretty well but having a hard time switching between them. Almost no one of them has trained specifically this element in their guitar playing or did it wrong. The result is sloppy playing.

The solution is actually pretty simple. You just need to train your hands to do two simple things:

1. Start transition a little before it actually happens

It feels unusual, but it’s pretty easy when you get used to it. You just need to take your fingers off the previous chord 1-2 strokes before the chord change. “But then I will play open strings? Isn’t it the wrong notes? It’s not logical” Yes! :) But it’s better to play 1-2 strokes of open strings and play the next chord in time and the right way than the opposite. I will show you below how to do that.

Actually, I’ve seen students coming to lessons who have been playing for 4 years and didn’t know about it. They were triyng to change chords EXACTLY in the moment when it needs to be changed. And of course it’s was too late because the fingers should be on the new chord already, but they have only left the previous chord and just flying in the air. When you play like this you always will have some kind of delay in changing chords. Or instead of playing a new chord you play muted strings.

2. Put your fingers on the new chord together and in sync with the right hand (picking hand)

The second one is pretty tricky. Especially if you learning open chords that use 3-4 fingers without any preparation. I would recommend these simplified versions of open chords, so that you could fully concentrate on the transition. Like this chords when you are use only two fingers for each chord:

So first step is to make sure that every chord sounds right - play each string of the chord separately at a time. If you have troubles with this like muting some strings, obviously you are not ready to change chords. Practice each one of them separately. Maybe your fingers just don’t have enough calluses so so of course, everything would sound bad. Take a couple of weeks playing some simple melodies to prepare your fingers for chords.

Ok, when each chord sounds right try this.

Exercise for chord transition:

Here is the video demonstration of this exercise:

YouTube preview picture

The last two strokes in the first measure will help you to achieve our goals.

The last two strokes could be all open strings I just put it like this in the tablature so you could easily notice it.

Ideally, when you play some song this transition should be something like this:

If the speed is high, then you, of course, need more time.

Surprisingly, but many students who come to my lessons and have already had some experience playing guitar don’t know this stuff and they try to make the transition between the chords without this last open strings stroke. Well, it’s possible to do that at low speeds, but your hands will be out of sync, that makes it harder to perform constantly well. And of course, on the high speeds, it’s going to be a mess.


You can train this kind of transition between any pairs of chords presented above:

Em to Am

Am to Em

Em to C

C to Em

G to C

Also, you could do it with different fingers. Start playing these chords with index and middle finger. Then use your middle and ring fingers.

Do this 20-30 minutes per day when you practice chords. Do this until it becomes automatic.


Pavel Bocharov, is a guitar teacher with huge experience teaching guitar in Moscow. If you have lack of progress in basic stuff and want to have fan learning it you definitely want to check out his guitar school in Moscow.

4 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Hmmm, in the excellent Learn & Master Guitar series, Steve Krenz specifically advised NOT to play open strings during chord changes. Muted shucks sound fine. Honestly it's about being able to change chords fast enough not to rely on even that, which just needs practice that gradually increases in speed, and familiarity with each chord. I'll have to disagree on it being okay for newbies to play open strings though, it usually just changes the type of sloppiness instead of eliminating sloppiness.
    I made my point in the article what it the reason to do that. If you analyze some acoustic guitar players you will see that the higher the speed the less time to make transition and it's normal to play 1-2 strokes on open strings. Most beginners will put their fingers on the new chord one by one no matter how many times you say them to put it simultaneously and fast. See it all the time at my lessons