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How To Practice Guitar Chord Changes

Mike PhilippovOne of the most frustrating guitar technique problems faced by intermediate guitar players is inability to change between chords cleanly and consistently. As someone who also once had this problem, I can testify to how disempowering it felt to practice for many hours only to walk away still not feeling confident that I could play all the chord changes in the song I was practicing.

Many guitar players share this problem, however the good news is that there exist a variety of effective approaches for learning to reliably change between difficult chords. In this article I will share one of such methods with you to help you overcome this issue in your guitar playing. After you apply and consistently practice this method you will develop the ability to seamlessly change between any pair of chords at will and without hesitation.

Here are the 4 points you need to follow when practicing any difficult chord change on guitar:

Step 1: Get Specific
To successfully overcome any difficult aspect of the music you are learning, you need to get very specific about which pair of chords is causing your playing to fall apart. Doing this will make you very focused and will help you to spend your time more wisely by practicing only the sections of the song that you really NEED to improve. Even if you are trying to play a piece of music where it seems that every set of chords is difficult to play, narrow it down to working on a single chord change at a time. This will help you to minimize frustration and will build confidence from breaking down the problem into bite-sized components.

Step 2: Touch And Relax
After you have identified the two chords that you are going to practice, it is time to spend several moments learning EXACTLY where to put the fingers for playing each chord individually. Do not spend any time practicing the actual transition from one chord to the next (that will come next) and make sure that you are completely confident in your ability to fret the shape of each chord on its own. Your challenge is to place the fingers into the shape of the first chord in a coordinated fashion and with all fingers arriving on their notes at the same time. If you have to place the fingers on the strings one at a time, then you do not truly “know” how to play the chord. As soon as your fingers do land on the correct frets, remove them from the strings (by relaxing your hand) and fret the chord again. Repeat this motion for a period of 2-3 minutes, with the goal of being able to do this step many times in a row until you can do it perfectly. Then repeat this step again with the next chord in the chord progression you are practicing. Doing this will make the next step of the practicing process much easier.

To see a demonstration (on video) showing you how to perform this practicing step, see this free video guitar lesson about playing guitar chord changes.

Step 3: Focus Specifically On The Shifting Motion From One Chord To The Next
The next step, after developing the coordination needed to play the chords individually, is to focus ONLY on the moment of transitioning your hand from one chord to the other. In order to practice this, first play chord number 1, then relax the hand gradually away from the strings and proceed to slowly transform it into the shape of the chord you are moving to. If the chord change you are practicing involves chords played in different parts of the guitar neck, move your entire arm while forming the shape of the target chord as your hand moves to the correct fret. As you make this transition, keep your mind focused on the points listed below:

  1. Do NOT allow your fingers to fly up too far from the guitar neck. The lower the fingers are to the strings, the faster you will arrive to the target chord.
  2. Look for common notes between the two chords. This means that if there is one or more notes to be fretted with the same finger(s) between the 2 chords, don’t let those fingers come up at all from the guitar in order to eliminate the extra motions that your fingers do not have to perform.
  3. Keep your eyes focused on the fretting hand the entire time you are playing. This will allow you to control the motion from start to finish, ensuring that the fingers land exactly where they need to be for the new chord.
  4. Take your time to work through the motion and avoid rushing to arrive to the next chord without paying attention to how your hands move in the process. Too many guitar players simply make a rushed attempt to land their fingers onto the next chord without taking the time to really train the nuances described above. This leads to inconsistent playing and frustration when it comes time to perform the music you have been practicing. After you have completed the chord change 1 time, repeat the entire process to return to the first chord in the progression and continue this practice session for an interval of 2-3 minutes.

You should strive to reach the level of making the transition with all of your fingers arriving at their target chord “simultaneously” and without making any micro adjustments after fretting the notes. Any adjustments made after the fingers land on the strings mean that you haven’t yet mastered the transition between the chords.
To watch in exact detail how to practice this movement, check out this (free) video about learning to play guitar chord changes.

Step 4: Put The Pieces Together
When you can successfully do the 3rd step described above, the final stage is to work on introducing the chord change into the big picture of the music you are practicing. The easiest way to do this without having to play the entire song all the way through is to simply “extend” the isolated 2 chord section you have been practicing in the earlier steps. For example, start by playing the part of the music that begins 1-3 seconds before the problematic chord change and then end it 1-3 seconds after the second chord of the challenging chord progression. Doing this will help you to easily get used to practicing the difficult chord change in the context of the actual piece of music instead of always practicing it in sterile isolation.

As you follow the practice steps outlined here you will see your problems with chord changes starting to disappear, enabling you to get much more enjoyment out of playing music on guitar.

About The Author:
Mike Philippov is a guitar teacher and professional musician. His lessons and writings about the process of practicing guitar are read by guitar players around the world. Go to to find a collection of free guitar learning materials that will help you to become a more advanced musician and guitar player.

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