The Best Way To Learn Difficult Chord Changes

Since you started to read this article, you probably, like many guitarists, are frustrated with your inability to change chords on guitar smoothly, reliably and in time. It can be very disheartening to practice for weeks and months only to continue struggling with this issue in your guitar playing. The most challenging part about this particular skill is learning to be "consistent" in your ability to switch between chords, instead of playing on an unreliable "hit-or-miss" basis.

Although this guitar playing challenge may appear to be insurmountable, there are many things you can do to greatly improve your ability to change chords while playing. In this article I will share with you one of the most effective methods for practicing this skill that you can apply right away to making your guitar playing better.

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 have trouble and want to see exactly how to do this, see this free guitar lesson video about playing chords on guitar.

Step 3: Isolate The Transition
After you develop the fluency and the coordination needed to play each of the chords accurately (in isolation), it is time to shift your focus to the actual moment of transition (change) between the chords. To master this element of playing, begin by playing the first chord, then relax your hand (as you did in Step 2 above) and slowly move to the next chord, forming its shape with your fingers in midair. If the chord progression you are working on requires you to shift to a different part of the guitar for the second chord, keep your shoulder relaxed as you move your entire arm to reach its target position for the new chord. While doing this, stay focused on the following:

1. Keep your fingers close to the neck of the guitar during the moment of transition. The closer the fingers are to the guitar as you shift between the chords, the faster (and more easily) you will be able to play the target chord.

2. Consider any instances where it's possible to use the same finger to play the same note in both of the chords. This is sometimes possible to do if both chords are to be played in the same area of the guitar. In such cases, don't let those common fingers come up at all from the guitar when performing the chord change.

3. Fix your eyes onto the hand doing the chord change while practicing. This will make it possible to observe any problems that come up and fix them in real time.

4. Go slowly and take your time to complete the transition process between the chords. Don't allow yourself to become impatient and rush to the second chord in the progression in order to finish this step. The speed must be slow enough for you to have enough time to observe everything that is happening. The more you focus on this element of the process, the faster your hands will learn to do the chord change correctly and consistently (time after time). Spend about 3-4 minutes working through this step of practicing the chord change.

As mentioned above in Step 2, you must complete the chord change by fretting each of the chords with the fingers moving "together" in a coordinated fashion. If you have to adjust the position of the fingers after transitioning to the second chord, it is a sign that you have more work to do in this area of your guitar playing.
To see how to practice this element of the chord change, watch this free tutorial (on video) about playing chords on guitar.

Step 4: Complete The Puzzle
After completing the previous step of the practicing process, it is time to insert the chord change into an actual musical context you want to play it in (such as a song you are learning). To do this, simply lengthen the original 2 chord section you have been practicing in the earlier steps by about 2 seconds. Begin by playing the part of the music that occurs 2 seconds prior to the isolated chord change and then continue playing through about 2 seconds of the music that comes after the chord change. This will help to prepare you for actually playing the song all the way through and test how well you have practiced the previous steps of the process described in this article.

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.

Mike Philippov is a professional guitar player, recording artist and guitar/music teacher. His guitar practice columns about learning to play guitar are read by guitarists worldwide.

His instructional music web site contains advice for guitar players on overcoming the most common problems faced when learning to play guitar.

Mike Philippov