Mike Philippov is a guitarist in progressive rock and neoclassical styles and an expert in guitar technique and guitar practice training.
Posted Jul 24, 2012 08:09 PM
A lot of guitarists struggle with smoothly changing between chords when playing music on guitar. If you also have this problem, then you can relate to how it feels when you cannot reliably and consistently perform your favorite songs due to problems in playing some section of the music.
The good news is that even though this problem is very widespread among guitarists, the solution to it is quite simple. By applying a few simple guitar practice techniques you can make the process of playing music on guitar become a lot more enjoyable as you move ahead towards more advanced levels of guitar playing. In this article I will demonstrate to you one of the techniques that will greatly help you with consistently playing any chord progression that you previously found challenging.
Below I will describe in detail the specific points you need to follow when you practice changing between difficult chords on guitar:
Step 1: Break It Down
The first thing you must do in order to start effectively practicing a difficult part of the music is to break it down into the smallest section possible, focusing all your attention only on the element that is giving you trouble. This way you won't be distracted (and will not waste time) practicing the parts that you can already play well. For example, when practicing a song that you want to learn to play consistently well, get specific about which parts of the music contain the most mistakes and isolate only those sections to practice. Getting clarity on exactly WHAT is causing your playing to break down will help you to feel more reassured that the problem is within your control to overcome.
Step 2: Play And Release
Once you have narrowed down the problem area of the music to a sequence of chord changes, spend a few minutes mastering the fingering of each of the chords in isolation. Forget about the actual transitioning motion for now and only focus on placing your fingers down into the correct playing position for 'each' individual chord. Your challenge is to make the motion with fingers coordinated and moving together and to keep the rest of your arm relaxed as you do this. After your fingers land on the correct notes, release (relax) them off of the strings and immediately repeat the process, continuing for 1-2 minutes. Then do the same exact exercise with the second chord of the pair that is giving you trouble. Again, don't pay any attention to the transition motion between the two chords yet (that will come next) and focus on refining the way your fingers come on and off of each chord.
If you want to see a video showing you exactly how to practice this step of the process, study this free guitar lesson video on guitar chord changes.
Step 3: Focus Specifically On The Shifting Motion From One Chord To The Next
The next step, after developing the coordination needed to play the chords individually, is to focus ONLY on the moment of transitioning your hand from one chord to the other. In order to practice this, first play chord number 1, then relax the hand gradually away from the strings and proceed to slowly transform it into the shape of the chord you are moving to. If the chord change you are practicing involves chords played in different parts of the guitar neck, move your entire arm while forming the shape of the target chord as your hand moves to the correct fret. As you make this transition, keep your mind focused on the points listed below:
1. Do NOT allow your fingers to fly up too far from the guitar neck. The lower the fingers are to the strings, the faster you will arrive to the target chord.
2. Look for common notes between the two chords. This means that if there is one or more notes to be fretted with the same finger(s) between the 2 chords, don't let those fingers come up at all from the guitar in order to eliminate the extra motions that your fingers do not have to perform.
3. Keep your eyes focused on the fretting hand the entire time you are playing. This will allow you to control the motion from start to finish, ensuring that the fingers land exactly where they need to be for the new chord.
4. Take your time to work through the motion and avoid rushing to arrive to the next chord without paying attention to how your hands move in the process. Too many guitar players simply make a rushed attempt to land their fingers onto the next chord without taking the time to really train the nuances described above. This leads to inconsistent playing and frustration when it comes time to perform the music you have been practicing. After you have completed the chord change 1 time, repeat the entire process to return to the first chord in the progression and continue this practice session for an interval of 2-3 minutes.
You should strive to reach the level of making the transition with all of your fingers arriving at their target chord "simultaneously" and without making any micro adjustments after fretting the notes. Any adjustments made after the fingers land on the strings mean that you haven't yet mastered the transition between the chords.
To see a detailed video lesson on how to practice this part of the motion, study this free video about learning guitar chord changes.
Step 4: Put The Pieces Together
When you can successfully do the 3rd step described above, the final stage is to work on introducing the chord change into the big picture of the music you are practicing. The easiest way to do this without having to play the entire song all the way through is to simply "extend" the isolated 2 chord section you have been practicing in the earlier steps. For example, start by playing the part of the music that begins 1-3 seconds before the problematic chord change and then end it 1-3 seconds after the second chord of the challenging chord progression. Doing this will help you to easily get used to practicing the difficult chord change in the context of the actual piece of music instead of always practicing it in sterile isolation.
When you follow the system of the practice steps listed in this article on a regular basis you will find it much easier to play the chord changes that you might have considered unplayable before and have a lot more fun performing music on your instrument.
About the author: Mike Philippov is a recording artist, guitar teacher and author. His articles on practicing guitar are read worldwide. Visit http://PracticeGuitarNow.com to find more free resources and lessons on improving your guitar playing.