Almost all newcomers to guitar end up asking the same question “How do I improve my chord changes?”
Sadly, there’s only one way – practice, but there are exercises that will help you. This is an exercise that came to me whilst I was trying to master a particular chord change. I still use it regularly, both to work on a new chord and as a general chord changing exercise.
Firstly, it is important to realize that this is not meant to be musical – you’re learning how to change from one chord to another, not invent chord progressions. You can strum one chord as often as you like (it doesn’t matter if you strum it five times or five hundred – it’s not important) and you can use whatever strum pattern you prefer. One word of advice, though, don’t make it complicated, you have other things to think about.
The key to making this work is being able to imprint an image of the next chord change, in your mind, before you actually carry it out. Let’s call the chord that you’re trying to master, the “target” chord.
Start off by fingering the target chord and begin strumming. You can strum at any speed and use any pattern that is comfortable for you. To start with, I’d strongly recommend a simple down-strum at about 60 beats-per-minute. Continue to strum, whilst, at the same time, creating an image in your mind of an “A” chord – see where each finger is placed on the fretboard. Concentrate on that image and “see”, in your mind’s eye, the movement of your fingers, from the target chord to the “A” chord – and, all the time, continuing to strum the target chord. Once you have that little “film” firmly imprinted into your mind, make the change on the fretboard, to the A chord – don’t stop strumming and don’t worry if you fluff the change (if the images are strong enough, you probably won’t, though).
I find that, if I burst the bubble and look at the fretboard, it doesn’t work. As long as the image is there, in my mind, I can make the change, without actually having to watch myself physically do it.
Now that you’re strumming an A chord, it’s time to think of going back to the target chord. So, create the image of your fingers on the fretboard, in the shape of the target chord – really burn the image into your mind. See yourself, mentally, changing from the A to the target chord – the stronger the image, the better the chance that you’ll get it right. When you’re ready, make the change.
At about this point, you begin to start appreciating a slow, simple strum pattern (I did say you’d have other things to think about, didn’t I?)!
OK, we’re back at the target chord, now it’s time to go somewhere else – this time, we’ll go to a “B” chord. An open B is not the easiest chord to fret, so I usually use a B7. Go through the same routine as before – image thoroughly burnt into your mind, mentally see the fingers moving from the target to the B(7). When you’re really confident, that you’ve got it fixed in your mind, do it on the fretboard, for real. After that, we’ll use the same routine to go back, from the B(7), to the target chord.
Go throught the same procedure with the C, D, E, F and G chords.
No matter what the target chord, that you’re wanting to get to grips with is, the sequence is the same:
- Target to A and back
- Target to B(7) and back
- Target to C and back
- Target to D and back
- Target to E and back
- Target to F and back
- Target to G and back
- Target to A and back and so on…
Obviously, there’s no point in including the target itself in the sequence. If, for example, the target is D, then going from D to the target (D) and back to D is not going to do anything for you.
If you want to use other chords, such as sevenths and minor chords, that’s fine. You could change it to:
“Target, A7, target, B7, target, C7, target, D7, target, E7, target, F7, target, G7, target, etc….. ”
“Target, Am, target, Bm, target, Cm, target, Dm, target, Em, target, Fm, target, Gm, target, etc……”.
You can (and should) also use barre chords (if you’ve progressed to playing them) as part of your routine. Ultimately you’ll want to include every chord you know into your routine. And to continually add the new ones in as you master them.
Just to recap, the key to this routine is the strength of the image that you create, in your mind. The stronger the image, the better the chord change. You can even use this in learning/playing songs. Once you have the technique of creating the chord images, you’ll find a general improvement in your chord changes. There will come a time, though, when the image and the chord change are both simultaneous and automatic. At this point, you really only need to do the exercise to refresh your muscle memory.
Maybe this can help you as much as it has helped me – this was how I tackled with my demons, the C and the F chords.