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Can I Be Taught To Change Chords?

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Active Member
Joined: 16 years ago
Posts: 15

Hey John, I think the biggest obstacle to learning guitar for most people is dedication, so if you've been playing for 8 months, you are already way ahead of most of the world. If you keep on keepin' on, you'll get there.

My advice for chord change speed is to spend five minutes a day making a game out of it. Come up with a list of three to five chord changes to work on, say, all the changes in a particular (simple) song you'd like to learn. Likely candidates are G-D7, D-A7, G-C, D7-C.

Pick the first chord change on the list, let's do G-D7, set a timer for one minute, and see how many changes you can do in the minute. Don't stress about it or rush, but make sure you're getting the chords cleanly before switching back. So play G, then switch your fingers to D7 and play it, then back. Count the number of changes you get in before the minute is up and write it down. Then take a break or move onto the next chord change on the list. Don't spend more than five minutes or so on it in a practice session.

Then come back the next day and try it again with all the same changes. If you're practicing regularly, you'll start to see an improvement very quickly, and the finger strength and control you've developed will filter into your other practice or playing.

Now, this isn't my idea, I got it from Justin Sandercoe:

I'm sure it doesn't work for everyone, and it can be a little boring, but I've found it works incredibly well for me, and it's a fun challenge, bearable since it only lasts a minute. When I do it daily, I make daily progress, and I'm finding chords much faster in songs I'm learning. I usually set a goal for some number of changes in a minute, and once I reach that I switch out that change from the list with a new one for the next day.

Good luck!

Estimable Member
Joined: 17 years ago
Posts: 168

There are some great tips here, but let me just add another "Yes you can!".

I was similarly frustrated when I started - I have large fingers, not terribly good coordination, and a condition (essential tremor) that makes my hands shake, especially when I concentrate on precise movements.

Now it's a year and a half later and I can do open chord changes fast enough for most songs. Currently I'm frustrated with "Green Eyes" by Coldplay, but that's because it has a barre Bm in it that is hard to do as quickly as the open chords.

It did take me a long time to get the changes fast enough for most songs. But I've made major progress.

"Keep practicing" seems to fly in the face of Einstein's definition of insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

True, but if you're doing the same thing over and over you're not practicing very well. You should be doing intense exercises with chord changes - either count how many changes you can do in a minute, or get a metronome going and change every quarter note, speeding up when you can. Just trying to play songs isn't enough at this point, you need to really focus on the chord changes.

Estimable Member
Joined: 17 years ago
Posts: 174

I wish I could post the reference for this but...

You CAN over practice. Doing the move 7 times perfectly, no matter how slowly, and then stopping is far far better than doing the move 70 times because after about 7 times your performance gets worse and you start burning that bad performance into muscle memory. Do it right, do it a few times, then let your body and brain have some time to absorb what you just did.

I've found the pattern to be true. I'll spend maybe 5 minutes doing a difficult finger move about 5 to 7 times in the evening. Next evening I do it about the same number of times. On the 3rd evening it's about 80% easy and instinctive. On the 10th evening I'm about 95%. From there the next 10 years might see a few % better :-)

And by the way, I have 35th percentile (that's LOW!) finger dexterity. Measured & certified. So if I can get my fingers to play guitar, pretty much anyone can.

(indeterminate, er, intermediate fingerstyle acoustic)

Active Member
Joined: 16 years ago
Posts: 8

I have to chime in and back up what some others are saying. Keep it extremely simple. I've been where you've been. For some reason I always thought chords were extremely tough. All those fingers moving in different directions quickly and pressing down at the right pressure. It clicked for me eventually as it will you. My best recommendation is to go through the Horse With No Name lesson. That was one of the first things I did when trying to learn chords. The Em chord is like an anchor for a lot of songs in my experience. I love seeing it there, because I know I can always get back to it fast. I think that's important for confidence in moving forward and tackling changing to the other basic chords. Hope this helps.


Reputable Member
Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 225

Some great replies here (as usual) so at the risk of confusing you some more, heres my thoughts....

Get a strumming pattern you are happy with (D, DU, UDU seemed to click with me), then practice 'easier' changes first. For example, Em to E (just add a finger). Or Am to E (just move all fingers up a string).

I found a strumming lesson site, that's quoted a lot on here, really helpful when I started. Okay, I still find it helpful...:

The Wonderwall lesson and strumming lessons are really good. Wonderwall has some 'anchor' chords (ones where you leave some fingers in place for most changes) which is helpful.

Finally, I've been playing for 4 years and I am only just beginning to feel like I am getting it. I mean, like I am getting better an putting my feel into some songs rather than it just being mechanical. It took me over a year to be able to move from an open chord to a barred F, and the best part of a year on top of that to move a bar chord up or down the neck.

So don't worry, you sound just like me (and many others), so keep the faith that with practice you'll get better, and eventually you'll get better.

Reputable Member
Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 452

Hi John. Don't feel alone. All of us here had to be "taught to play chords". Sometimes, watching others play, it seem so simple that we wonder if something is wrong with us when we can't do it easily. It does take practice and repetition. I found that getting together with a friend who plays made it easier and also fun. There's something about peer pressure that brings out the best in us (at least for me). Good luck with it and be sure to let us know when it clicks.

Active Member
Joined: 15 years ago
Posts: 5

I don't know if this will help (and if you heard me play you would want to ignore anything I say :roll: ) but when I was going through the exact same feeling I worked out that my problem was in trying to focus on the whole thing all at once.

What helped me was to focus on one finger - usually the index - and make that finger "lead". In other words, if I focussed on getting that finger to the right place, the rest of the fingers just followed. I don't mean that the fingers go one at a time or anything like that, just that my mental focus was in getting my chosen "lead" finger to where it should be next. Within not too long it stopped being a problem.


New Member
Joined: 15 years ago
Posts: 1

You can try the one minute chord change exercise. You concentrate on how many chord changes you can
make say G to D in on minute. Do this with all open cowboy chords each day and your speed will improve.

Famed Member
Joined: 17 years ago
Posts: 2717

You can try the one minute chord change exercise. You concentrate on how many chord changes you can
make say G to D in on minute. Do this with all open cowboy chords each day and your speed will improve.
Cowboy chords = :?:

It's the rock that gives the stream its music . . . and the stream that gives the rock its roll.

Joined: 16 years ago
Posts: 4472

Cowboy chords = :?:

Also commonly called "open position" chords.

Hope this helps.


New Member
Joined: 15 years ago
Posts: 1

great advice and encouragement! i'm also a struggling beginner and there are lots of useful suggestions here.

Illustrious Member
Joined: 21 years ago
Posts: 5840

You could try what I used to help me with chord changes

I started with nothing - and I've still got most of it left.
Did you know that the word "gullible" is not in any dictionary?
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Active Member
Joined: 15 years ago
Posts: 7

Try alternating between two chords and seeing how fast you can swap between the two. Also try different strumming patterns that have a break between the chord changes. It'll get you used to moving your hand plus finally give you that satisfaction of playing a song correctly without having to hear those slow chord changes.

Easy songs to practice with are

Brain stew by Green Day
Swing Swing by the All American Rejects
Everythings gonna be alright by Bob Marley

Forget music school! Learn guitar on video!

New Member
Joined: 15 years ago
Posts: 1

If you are having trouble with beginning chords, I recommend this:
Start with the F, a relatively easy starter chord. Slide it up two frets
to the next dot. That is a G. Slide it up again to the next dot.
That is an A. Now you can play about fifty songs, including
All along the watchtower, Hey Joe, and Cortez the Killer (Neil Young).
Next move to the C chord, which is really an F moved up a string toward
your face. Now you know 4 chords.Try lifting fingers off and on
the neck (hammers) for different sounds and effects. Every time you lift a finger
you get a new chord.

Work on the D chord soon - harder, but you will need it.
Have fun, make up some songs. You know much more than you think.


Famed Member
Joined: 20 years ago
Posts: 4338

I was going to suggest exactly what Alan Green suggested. Start on Horse With No Name"", two simple chords, easy to change back and forth. It also gets you used to strumming either up or down as required in the notation. Build up your confidence a bit with that one, then try a three chord simple song, like "Three Marlenas", three simple chords at a slower pace.

And, I have to join in with the chorus and say that "Practice, practice, practice" is the only way you're going to progress with your playing. This is true of changing chords, learning pull offs and bends, shuffling, making those reaches that make you think you need fingers 10 inches long, but that after practicing for days and weeks and even months in some cases, one day you make that reach, everything chimes out loud and clear and on key and you feel like you're walking on air and want to run out into the street and yell at the top of your lungs, "I DID IT!!!!".

EDIT: I'm also PMing my tablature for the Rolling Stones "Dead Flowers". Another really simple 3 chord tune that can be played at a slower pace and still sound good until you gradually build up your speed.

..· ´¨¨)) -:¦:-
¸.·´ .·´¨¨))
((¸¸.·´ .·´
-:¦:- ((¸¸.·´ -:¦:- Elecktrablue -:¦:-

"Don't wanna ride no shootin' star. Just wanna play on the rhythm guitar." Emmylou Harris, "Rhythm Guitar" from "The Ballad of Sally Rose"

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