4 Practice Tips for Switching Chords Smoothly and Quickly

One challenge that ALL guitar players at all levels face, is changing between chords quickly and accurately. 

As long as you are continuing to grow as a player and learn new chords and chord progressions (the possibilities are endless), this challenge will present itself over and over again. With that in mind, learn to embrace this challenge, and use the practice tips in this blog to progress with chord switching as efficiently as possible. 

In this post, I’m going to share with you 4 practicing tips that have helped my students and I master any chord switches or new chords, as quickly as possible.

  1. The Brain Game

The Goal: 

When you first attempt a new chord switch, you always have dominant fingers, and weaker fingers, so that the dominant fingers make the switch first, and then the others follow suit, and lag behind. What also happens is that the movements of each finger are not direct. They might come off the fretboard and do a little dance in the air before coming back down. It’s like they have a mind, or “brain” of their own (and they do!) It’s messy. With this exercise, we’re going to train each finger to get to it’s destination as quickly and efficiently as possible. We’re going to strengthen the weaker fingers, so that all fingers know what they are doing and can co-lead.

Directions:

  1. Identify a chord switch that you’re having trouble with. Let’s say it’s open D to open C, as an example. 
  2. Start with playing a D chord. 
  3. Now give all your attention to your first finger (index). Disregard all other fingers for now, and put your entire brain inside that first finger. Give it all your attention. 
  4. Visualize where that first finger need to go when you switch to the C. Now envision the route, and how to get there quickly, with as little movement as possible.
  5. Now switch to the C chord, aiming to get your first finger to its destination first, and then let the other fingers fall into place after and play the chord.
  6. Now from the C chord, do the same visualization on how to get the first finger back to the D chord as quickly and directly as possible.
  7. Now switch and get that first finger down first, and let the other fingers fall into place after, and then play the chord.
  8. Now repeat this exercise with the second finger (middle). 
  9. Now repeat with the third finger (ring). 

You might be wondering, if the goal is to get all of them to switch simultaneously, why do this? Well, this preparation will help to strengthen the muscle memory of each finger so that when it’s time to work together (in the next exercise), each finger will be able to co-lead the movement.

This can be done with ANY two chords. In the case where one chord has more fingers than the other, pay attention even to fingers that are first “floating” and then are used for fretting, to become more aware of their position even when not being used.

2. The Hover Game

The Goal:

The goal of this exercise is to get the entire hand movement from one chord to the other to become so smooth that all fingers move independently, and land at their destination at the same moment. They should act like well choreographed dancers, or fighter jets, or…UFOs! We’ll train them to do this by hovering all the fingers over their fret/string without dropping them down, until all of them are in place.  We want the whole movement to be embedded into the muscle memory of the hand. We don’t want the fingers to rely on the fretboard to get themselves in order. They should be able to make the movement without the aid of the fretboard.

Directions:

  1. Identify a chord switch that you’re having trouble with. Let’s say it’s open D to open C, as an example. 
  2. Start with playing a D chord. 
  3. Now, very slowly, switch to a C chord, but DO NOT PUT ANY FINGERS DOWN! Hover each finger over the string and fret that it will play, a half an inch, or less above the string. 
  4. When all fingers are hovering above, then drop them down and play the chord.
  5. Now repeat this process in the other direction, going from the second chord back to the first.

3. Stick the Landing:

The Goal:

The goal of this exercise is the same as the hover game – to get all the fingers to drop down together at the same moment. You accomplish this by playing the chord, and then lifting your fingers, keeping them in place, then dropping your fingers down again to play the chord again. This allows you to “stick the landing” over and over again in a short amount of time, and seriously speeding up your progress towards mastering that chord!

Directions:

  1. Play a chord, such as D
  2. Lift your fingers at the same time, hover them for a second, then drop them back down and play it again.
  3. Repeat this over an over, for any length of time, like 60 seconds, or 5 minutes!

1 Minute Changes ( from Justin Sandercoe)

The Goal: The goal of this exercise is to track your progress in chord switching, so that you can see if you are improving (which you will – sometimes it’s hard to tell). By creating this fun challenge, you’ll also find yourself improving very quickly!

Directions:

  1. Set a timer for 1 minute.
  2. Play any chord change you are working on as many times as you can ACCURATELY and with GOOD TECHNIQUE in 60 seconds.
  3. Try this once per day, or just keep doing it over and over during the same practice session!
  4. Write down how you did so you can track your progress.

Alright everybody! I hope these 4 exercises give you some solid and fun tactics for tackling new chords and chord progressions! Email me at [email protected] and let me know if any of this helped you!

If you want some live face to face lessons with me, you can either book 1 on 1 lessons on the site, OR join my patreon for as little as $5 a month to be in my weekly small group live face to face lessons! There are usually only a couple of people there and I get to go around and work with people one at a time, or we have a group jam. Hope to see you there! Here’s the link: http://www.patreon.com/powmusic

-Gary

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