How to Improve Your Chord Changes

How to Improve Your Chord Changes

When first learning to play the guitar the slowness and hesitation on chord changes is something that my students often find frustrating. To help overcome this challenge, I have a few tips – but at the heart of it is a “double practice” idea that I think will be an effective learning strategy for many beginning guitarists.

There are arguably three main things that mark you out as a beginning guitarist:-

  1. Hesitant chord changes
  2. Poor strumming skills
  3. Lack of repertoire

The good news is that effective practicing using songs will help you eliminate these issues, as long as you are building on firm foundations. This means you have to learn your chord shapes well – see here for more information on that: Learning Chord Shapes  The second is that you learn your strumming patterns well. I will write about this at a later date.

When you first start to learn songs – thus fulfilling point 3! – then it soon becomes apparent that it is at the point of changing chords when there is a break in the rhythm and a pause in the song. I sometimes find my students playing the full rhythm pattern for the bar then stopping to change chord before playing the rhythm pattern for the next bar.

To address this I suggest two types of practice for songs

  1. Perfect practice
  2. Rhythm practice

Perfect Practice

This is probably the type of practice you are already doing – that is making sure you voice each chord correctly, with the correct fingering and that all the required strings are audible and not muted – also that strings that should not be sounded are not.

Also practice the chord changes separately – I always suggest practicing the change each way e.g. G to Am and then back to G. This seems to help students learn the shapes and the changes more quickly. See my post about practicing chord changes in isolation here: Faster Chord Changes

The problem with this type of approach is that it exaggerates the time taken for chord changes as you check everything is OK. For the changes you know well or find easy (Am to E for instance) then this may not be an issue. However this means that some changes may be in time while others are not.

Rhythm Practice

In Rhythm Practice you keep playing the strum pattern no matter what happens with your fretting hand – The reason for doing this is that if we stop our strumming pattern at any point then this seems to signal to our fretboard hand that it is OK to take a break! So consequently with this type of practice the chords themselves may not always be held down perfectly, but the rhythm and timing should be seamless. Practice slowly at first and then gradually build up the speed until you could play along with the recording.

Find some tips to improve your strumming here: Strumming Tips

I think the reason why this dual approach can be effective is because in general we are not great multitaskers and so can only concentrate on one hand at a time. Our Perfect Practice will get the chord shapes and changes into our muscle memory – just as Rhythm Practice will do for our strumming hand. As this process of assimilation happens it then becomes easier to combine and coordinate the two hands.


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