Guitar Guide: How to Change Chords Smoothly

(Guest post from Marc-Andre Seguin from JazzGuitarLessons.net)

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One of the first things we learn when we first pick up a guitar is how to play our first couple of chords. This can be an extremely rewarding thing as you can learn some of your favorite songs within the first few days – depending, of course, on what kind of music you listen to regularly. It is not enough on its own to learn the chords, though, and you have got to be able to switch between them smoothly. This brings us to our very first hurdle: switching back and forth between said chords. At first, this can seem close to impossible, but with a few tweaks and considerations, you should be able to remedy this problem in a fairly short amount of time. Among these, we will be discussing posture, technique and positioning. We will also use a few chords that are fairly different in shape to give you a good challenge. As with anything, always take things slowly and make sure things are sounding as they should. Also, be sure to not strain too much. If you are sensing any pain, stop and take a break. You can always come back to it.

Reading Chord Diagrams

Before moving on, I will discuss how to read chord charts since we will be using these later on in the lesson. This is not very difficult to grasp, so do not worry! Basically, all you have to do is imagine that the fretboard is upright facing you. The horizontal lines are frets and the vertical ones are the 6 strings. The little black circles are frets to be played. An “X” above the string means the string is not played, and a “0” means the string is played open. Lastly, an arc or line across several strings means that you are to “barre” across several strings with one finger, usually your index finger. Here is an example with everything we just described.

Simple enough, right? Let’s move on!

Posture

So, do you remember how they used to tell you to sit up straight in school? Well, I am going to ask you to do the same thing here! Posture is very important for guitar playing. Bad posture can cause bad habits, bum notes, and can even cause a bit of pain. When you slouch, your arm takes all kinds of weird positions and causes you to have to struggle unnecessarily to reach shapes that would be easy to reach if you were just sitting up. Therefore, in order to really get the most out of your playing and, in particularly, clearly defined notes, make sure you sit up. Slouching, as it is in school, is a normal tendency, but when you can correct this, you will be glad you did!

Technique

With regard to technique, there are some more micro-adjustments you can make to be sure that you can switch between chords with relative ease. One that I always like to tell my students, is that they should hold the neck of the guitar as if they were holding a tennis ball. Imagine the shape your hand takes when holding a ball. This means that you would be using your fingertips to fret notes, not palming the back of the neck, and not bending your fingertip joint – also known as the distal phalangeal joint.

When you bend that fingertip joint, it causes unnecessary strain on your hands, it can lead to the unwanted muting of other strings, and it takes a fraction of a second longer to lift that finger off the fretboard.

Chord to Chord

Now, let’s discuss changing between chords to put some of this stuff to use. First, we will start with some easier switches, then we will progress to more difficult ones. The main principle here is to change the least amount of fingers possible. This means that if you have got a ring finger on the 3rd fret of the 2nd string and you would keep it there for the next chord, don’t lift it when making the switch. Repetition is key here and making sure you get a clean sound out of every note in each chord is more important than doing things quickly. Do not rush. Take your time and make sure your technique and sound are good.

First, let’s try Em to Am. This is a fairly easy transition as the shapes are very similar. The shapes are as follows:

    

In this example, while you would not really leave your fingers on any one fret when making the change, the 2nd and 3rd fingers simply jump up a string and all you do is add the index finger on the 1st fret of the 2nd string for the Am chord. As you are practicing this, it is important to keep these things in mind.

Next, let’s try another very common switch: C to G.

 

 

 

Unfortunately, here is an example where no finger actually stays on the same note during the transition. However, both shapes are fairly easy to grab so it should not present much of an issue. Simply being aware of the transition will eventually yield the desired result.

Lastly, let’s move onto something a little bit more complicated: G to D major. This one tends to trip up my students quite a bit.

G chordD chord

Notice how in this example the 3rd – or ring – finger stays on that 3rd fret of the 2nd string while the other fingers make the necessary adjustments. This D major chord alone tends to cause some trouble for beginner students, so making this transition can often be a source of trouble.

I hope you found this lesson useful and I hope you are able to play some of your favorite songs now! Slow and steady. Always be sure to take your time and do things correctly. Happy playing!

About the Author

Marc-Andre Seguin is the webmaster, “brains behind” and teacher on JazzGuitarLessons.net, the #1 online resource for learning how to play jazz guitar. He draws from his experience both as a professional jazz guitarist and professional jazz teacher to help thousands of people from all around the world learn the craft of jazz guitar.

 

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