4 Tips to Switch Guitar Chords Faster

The most common question I get from beginning guitarists is how to move between chords quicker so there's no missed beats. While the only magic bullet is still practice, these 4 easy steps will help you bounce between chords with little effort.

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The most common question I get from beginning guitarists is how to move between chords quicker so there's no missed beats. While the only magic bullet is still practice, these 4 easy steps will help you bounce between chords with little effort.

When you watch your favorite guitarist play, it always looks like their fingers are barely moving, right? That's because they ARE barely moving. Efficiency of movement is the important idea here.

When you eliminate extra movement, you're able to cover more space faster. And even in a moderate tempo piece of music, shaving nanoseconds off your movements can make a huge difference in how fluently you play. Don't freak out. This is about scientific measurements and testing to eliminate those nanoseconds. Good guitar playing is about thinking less, not more. If you just follow my steps you'll have more economical hand movements in all your playing.

1. Keep Your Fingers as Close to the Strings as You Can

The time it takes to move your fingers and extra half inch may seem negligible, but those are the types of small changes we're making here. Your fingers should never be more than a half inch or so from the strings.

Play a simple song or exercise and watch how far your fingers are coming off the fretboard. Practice reeling them back in when they get too far. And of course, they should be over the fretboard and not out to the side or underneath the neck.

2. Build Your Chords From the Bottom String Up

When you build chords your fingers don't all hit the string at the same time. Unfortunately, many beginning guitarists get into a bad habit of starting their fingering on the higher strings. For example, on a C major chord: First finger, then second, then third. The problem is that your pick hits the bottom strings first.

If you start with the lower string fingers first your pick can hit those while your other fingers get into place on the top strings. You'll avoid lumpy "slop chords" plus it actually gives your upper string fingers more time to get in place than they would have otherwise.

3. Lead With the Finger That Has the Farthest to Move

When moving from chord to chord, pay attention to which finger has the longest distance to cover and move that one first. If you stay relaxed and don't fight the natural muscle structure of your, some of the other fingers will follow naturally.

Example: D7 to C major. Your third finger has to move the farthest, from the 1st to 5th string. If you stay relaxed and move that finger first, your second finger will follow along behind it to its place on the fourth string.

4. THE TIPPY TOP TIP - This Is the One That Makes All These Other Tips Work

Keep your right hand moving. Your right hand should move like a pendulum - down up down up. If your right hand stops while you change chords, that send a subconscious message to your left hand that it's allowed to move slower.

Instead you want to beat your brain at its own game by setting up a dissonance, or problem, for your brain to solve. Your brain wants your hands to move at the same time. If one hand stops, so does the other. But if you force your right hand to keep moving, your left hand will automatically speed up.

Suggestions for Implementing #4:
  • Use a metronome. Keeping your tempo steady is always important and a metronome will keep you from slipping here. Start with a slow tempo and gradually work faster.
  • Hit the downbeat with your right hand even if your left isn't totally in place yet. You'll mangle the first beat a few times, but it will quickly get better. Plus you'll be learning how to fix mistakes on the fly.
  • Count carefully. If the chord is getting four beats, that's all there is. Don't play extra beats once you've cleaned it up. You can't do it in a song, so you can't do it here.
Start by practicing these steps with just two chords, back and forth. Four strums for each chord. When you're comfortable with that, do two strums each. Don't try to do a whole song at once. It's much easier to break things down into small easily mastered chunks.

I've personally taught hundreds of beginning guitar players to smooth out their chords with these four easy steps and they'll work for you too.

To learn more about beginner guitar chords visit Guitar Notes For Beginners HQ.

15 comments sorted by best / new / date

    greenless
    i forced myself to learn chord changes thoughlessly and quickly by playing an umplugged elctrice while watching TV. all of these tips are natural if you just stop thinking about it
    lamochattee1
    Thank you...never heard "from the bottom string up" before...I have some re-learning to do...
    MrBlob
    diefordethklok wrote: lamochattee1 wrote: Thank you...never heard "from the bottom string up" before...I have some re-learning to do... Seriously? That's natural... MrBlob wrote: What my guitar teacher tought me is that I had to be able to shape the chords just above the strings and then put them down with all fingers simultaniously. Perhaps some tip to add? Your teacher is a ****ing 'tard. That would never be practical ever. Self-taught guitarists are better. Stop listening to him.
    Yeah shaping a chord instantly instead of building it up sure isn't practical. Are you retarded or something?
    MrBlob
    What my guitar teacher tought me is that I had to be able to shape the chords just above the strings and then put them down with all fingers simultaniously. Perhaps some tip to add?
    diefordethklok
    lamochattee1 wrote: Thank you...never heard "from the bottom string up" before...I have some re-learning to do...
    Seriously? That's natural...
    MrBlob wrote: What my guitar teacher tought me is that I had to be able to shape the chords just above the strings and then put them down with all fingers simultaniously. Perhaps some tip to add?
    Your teacher is a ****ing 'tard. That would never be practical ever. Self-taught guitarists are better. Stop listening to him.
    Attercop
    Yeah shaping a chord instantly instead of building it up sure isn't practical. Are you retarded or something?
    Whatever you do, it's not going to be instant. As was said, it's all about efficiency of movement, and in this case, even if it is by fractions of a second, the low to high method makes more sense (unless you're changing on an upstroke or something, but that's on you).
    shreddymcshred
    i form my chords with independent finger movement. (what you call instantly) when you get good enough, you can do it. My fingers do not form chords bottom up or top bottom. This is one of the skills that separates beginning and intermediate guitarists.
    beginnerguitarn
    Hit some nerves on this one. Cool it with the "retarded" talk. I wouldn't necessarily agree with MrBlob's teacher, but there's more than one way to skin a cat. @Shreddymcshred - As I mentioned, other people may have other systems. I've found that once the bottom to top idea is internalized and practiced the fingers do move independently and the chord tones "appear" to all happen at the same time because the difference between them is just fractions of a second. It is, of course, a technique for beginning guitarists. Though I've cleaned up the playing of even intermediate players by adjusting small things like this. One thing I'd like you all to keep in mind is that everyone has different strengths to their playing and everyone learns at a different pace. For some people, chords magically appear under their fingers with little effort. For others they can be a long struggle. My effort here is to help the people that are struggling. Thanks for reading.
    beginnerguitarn
    By the way... I just noticed a typo in the article, but I don't know how to fix it. In the 3rd paragraph it should say, "This is NOT about scientific measurements and testing to eliminate those nanaseconds."
    DarkHorse9825
    Thank you for you tips. I have been having problems with smooth chord changes for a while. Your tips are making it easier, although I am still a little choppy.
    kashveyron
    What about when you have to play a chord in an arpeggio (broken down)? That's usually trickier.
    gref.klayn
    Great tips, really. While I was trying out those tips, my sound got better immediatly. It put a smile on my face. Only a bit confused about the second tip, because the mixture of terms: low, bottom, high, upper. Anyhow how I understood it, it helped.