Last updated on September 9th, 2023
I recently had a student ask me:
“Is there anything you can recommend to help my hand strength, sometimes my hands cannot make the chord shapes that are required for a nice smooth clean chord, and I know one major problem that I have trouble with and hopefully you can help is chord switching in time, when I switch chords it takes me a while to get it to the right chord shape in time. Thanks.”
Perhaps you are in the beginning stages of learning to play the guitar and have wondered how to get better at switching between chords. The comforting news is that this is a common issue that we all go through as learners, but there are many ways to improve your ability to switch between chords.
To give you a brief overview, the way to get better at switching between chords is:
- Practice pressing and releasing a chord
- Using common notes between chords
- Limit switching between two chords
- Visualize your next chord
- Minimize unnecessary movements
- Practice using a metronome.
Let’s go through each of these tips in more detail.
1. Pressing and releasing a chord
What I mean by this is to press down a chord and then release all your fingers for a moment and repeat this over and over until you can press down the shape very quickly.
Doing this helps you build muscle memory in your fingers so that whenever you need to play a specific chord, your fingers already know how it should feel.
You are also building strength in your fingers as you do this. It may feel like you need to put a lot of pressure to press down a chord, but later on, you barely have to think about this because it becomes natural.
I often equate this to physical exercise with students. If you work out at the gym for the first time, you will feel sore the next day. But as you keep going and stay consistent, you build strength and stamina to do the same exercise with much more ease.
Similarly, you will build up strength in your fingers so that you can comfortably play different chords.
Start with easier chords, and then try the same thing with chords that are more challenging for you. When you start switching between different chords, the time it takes to change will be shorter and shorter as you get better.
You can try this exercise with the first chords you should learn on guitar.
2. Use common notes between chords
This next tip is quite helpful and often overlooked when learning to switch between chords. The idea here is to think about all the common notes between chords so that you don’t have to lift off all your fingers as you switch to the next chord. Doing this cuts down the time it takes to transition between chords.
To give you some examples, look at these chords below and see what notes they share in common.
The C Major and A minor chords share two notes in common which are the 1st and 2nd finger on your fretting hand. So all you need to do to make the transition is to add or remove your 3rd finger on the fretting hand.
Another example is between a G and D Major Chord. They both share the note on the 3rd finger for each chord shape.
Here are two more examples:
The E minor and G Major chords share the 1st finger on both chord shapes.
The F and C Major chord also share the 1st finger on both shapes.
Note that you don’t always have common notes when switching between chords, but it’s something helpful to look out for if they are available for you to use.
3. Limit switching between two chords
As you get started learning different chords, try to limit switching between two chords until that gets easier and easier. Then you can try a different set of two chords and do the same thing.
As you build dexterity and strength in your fingers, you can then expand to switching between 3 chords or more.
By practicing to transition between different chords, you can then apply this skill to learn the chord progression of a song.
Remember to start with easier chords and then move on to ones that are harder for you. At this point, you don’t have to worry much about playing with rhythm until you learn to place your fingers to play each chord properly.
4. Visualize your next chord
By visualizing where you need to switch to, you get a head start of where your fingers need to move. Think about what the next shape looks like so that you can mentally and physically prepare.
Ask yourself where each finger is going to be placed on the next chord you’re playing and see how you can make that movement more efficient.
Over time, you won’t have to think about finger placement as much because you will develop the muscle memory for the chords you’ve learned.
This concept of visualization is particularly useful when you don’t have any common notes between chords. There is no ‘shortcut’ in these cases so you just need to be aware of the upcoming changes.
5. Minimize unnecessary movements
A lot of times we don’t realize that we may be overly lifting off certain fingers which can makes your chord transitions more difficult.
Take a close look at what your fingers are doing when you switch chords and think about how you can make your movements more efficient.
Another problem could be that you may be tightening up your hands which creates strain and making it harder to switch chords with ease.
Press down on a note to see how much pressure you actually need to make it sound clear rather than how much pressure you think it needs and using up more energy than required.
Minimizing any unnecessary movements is related to developing a good technique on your instrument that will benefit you in the long run.
6. Practice with a metronome
You can use a metronome after you have a hang of the chords you’re learning. Google ‘metronome’ to easily access one. If you do this right at the start of learning new chords, it can be frustrating not to be able to switch between them in time.
Using a metronome is a way to verify that you can play chords in time consistently. Make sure to start with a slow tempo and try to switch the chord every 4 beats. As you improve your ability to do this, you can gradually increase the tempo.
After you’ve learned new chords, the next step is to be able to switch between them in time so that you can practically use them in a song.
Once you have this down, think about learning different strumming patterns which focus more on your strumming hand and sense of rhythm. For example, try starting with these easy guitar strumming patterns.
Since switching between chords may be a new skill for you, remember to take breaks while practicing. The last thing you want to do is overstrain your hands to the point where you have long term issues with your joints or muscles. The goal is to have a consistent but healthy pace so that you can keep playing for a long time.
Although switching between chords takes time and repetition, I believe you will start to see the results by keeping these tips in mind.
You may also want to learn how to effectively memorize guitar chords.
All the best,
JG Music Lessons
(Original image by Yogendra Singh on Unsplash)