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My No.1 Obstacle: CHORDS!

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Trusted Member
Joined: 20 years ago
Posts: 56
Topic starter  

I've made good progress in over a year but there's one weakness I still have. With the exception of a few simple chords (eg. G, Em, D) most chords, when I play them, it takes everything I've got to not mute the adjacent string with my fingers. I try putting the thumb to the back of the neck, I try bringing my fingers straight down on the fretboard. LOL I feel like I'm doing a major contortion act. It is the number one single thing that makes me want to give up when I hear strings muting while playing chords, esp. new ones.

Example; "Babe I'm gonna Leave You" by Led Zep. I've been playing that sucker for a year every other day, still have difficulty with those chords.

Everything else is progressing good, scales, soloing, all except chords. Any suggestions for a guy that sucks at chords?

(sorry for the whine but dammit I hate chords :x )

"The whole purpose in life is to not be bored"

Noble Member
Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 1681

i dont have trouble getting the chords, but i have trouble changing them! Everybody says itll get easier over time, but it doesnt! the only chords i cant easily and fastly change is power chords(and that doesnt count). You probably have too small a neck for your hands. I dont know what to do about that exept get a new guitar with a wider neck, but that may be out of the question. One of the experts will solve it. 8)

Stairway to Freebird!

Trusted Member
Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 43

yeah I understand your pain. I was actually about to post the same thing...

I fumbled around the neck for about 2 years but never learned anything. Around June I started learning for real, because I have a renewed ambition to form a progressive metal band someday....

I picked up this thing called Metal Method. I figured it'd be a good compromise half way to a teacher since my work schedule wouldn't really allow me to get a true teacher. It's helped alot with everything.

I mean I can play alot of Metallica's older stuff, I can play lots of fast licks, leads and riffs. I'm already getting down tapping, and shredding.

Since I picked up this Metal Method thing 3 months ago I've seen MAJOR improvement in so many areas finally.....

Except that ONE thing. Changing full chords. I'm fine with 5th's and power chords. But with actual full just ain't happenin.....

"Into ruin, I am sinking, hostage of this nameless feeling!" - MetallicA

Estimable Member
Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 86

It could be something as simple as postiuer or even your setup. I sometimes have problems changing cords but I find if I dont over concentrate on it.. It just kind of happens, nice smooth changes. Muscle memory I think.
Get to a guitar shop and noodle around on a few of the guitars, try different necks.. Check out some tips on postiuer, should be plenty of info available online. Or even try to play standing, if your not already.
Also, visit a teacher, most in my area charge by the half hour and chords will be the first thing they are going to want teach you anyway. Maybe a quick 1/2 hour lesson might get things going for you. He or she might even be able to identify whatever is holding you back. It shouldnt cost you more than 20 or 30 bux and 45 minutes of your time.

Active Member
Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 12

Oh god,my chords never ever sound right.

Sara owns joo!!!!

Reputable Member
Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 373

You must have an acoustic guitar if your chords are constantly muted or buzzing.

First, very light strings will help. I love the Elixers. Unfortunately the problem is the fingertips and takes a long time to make them dense enough to not get the shape of the wire in them that prevents us from being able to put enough pressure on the strings to make a clean sounding note/tone. Daily and consistent practice is the only cure. It will hurt. Determination will get you through it and will lead to a big smile. :D

Switching...switching took me a long time to get proficient at it. I can play a couple dozen chords and single strum my 'daily alphabet' A's through G's through all of them BUT I cannot yet quickly switch between all of them in any order. To be able to switch fast, I decided to choose a 3 or 4 chord Em, C, D, G and do a single strum for each chord slowly to make sure all your tones are clean sounding. Do this every day many times. VERY soon you will be able to do it without even looking and can then start strumming patterns along with practicing the chords. If your fingertips get the wire-line in them, take 10 minute breaks (cold water helps) and keep going back for more. It won't take long for the speed to come. Muscle memory from practice will do it for you. When you get good at it, start going from D to A, then back to D and on to G, adding another chord and changing strumming patterns as you go.

I started this new routine when I got frustrated trying to play Heart of Gold. My playing has improved so much in only 2 weeks.

A practice amp at a low setting also helps when you start strumming these chords quickly because it will amplify little noises that may be hard to notice in your switching otherwise and you will be able to make the corrections in your timing to make the sounds cleaner.

Also, A couple days ago I came across this little program that has taught me to be able to know notes/tones (so far in the first 3 frets) on sight in only 3 days of 10 minute sessions. It has worked well for me. I no longer have to start with the open string and count down to the place I want to know the note/tone. Anything that makes progress for us is a great tool...

Hope this helps. :D

Chord switching is obviously important and we can't play songs without this ability, so daily practice without giving up and bouncing around trying too many things is important.

If it was easy it wouldn't be worth doing.

Illustrious Member
Joined: 20 years ago
Posts: 5582

All I can guess is that your technique might not be correct.

First of all, you don't ALWAYS have to keep your thumb behind the neck. There are many instances where your thumb will protrude or stick-up above the neck. Sometimes your thumb will even point back at you.

One thing that might help is to make sure your palm is off the neck. You do not hold a guitar neck like a baseball bat. There should be space between the neck and the palm of your hand. Then, just curl your fingers over. Think of your hand as a spider.

Here is a picture of a Classical guitarist playing. I am not saying you should always hold your guitar exactly like this, but I just want you to see that this player's palm is clearly away from the neck and the fingers are curled over.

Classical Guitarist

It also helps to keep the headstock up about level with your ear. You see many Rock guitarists with their guitar low-slung below their waist. This really looks cool, but makes it much more difficult to fret well. Would you rather look good or play well?

If you know something better than Rock and Roll, I'd like to hear it - Jerry Lee Lewis

Estimable Member
Joined: 20 years ago
Posts: 192

Chord switching is obviously important and we can't play songs without this ability, so daily practice without giving up and bouncing around trying too many things is important.

Therein lies the rub. I once read somewhere that for many people it takes about a year of consistant practice to master the major open position chords to such a degree that they can be used smothly and at will.

My advice would be :

- Daily practice (or as close to daily as you care to make it).

- No more that 20 minutes at a time on chords and changes per session. Any more than this will likely not be more effective unless you break it up into more than one session per day.

- Start very slowly. This is a difficult thing at first. Many equate speed with skill, but starting off changing very slowly will help you develop a good feel for where you fingers are supposed to be. Speed will come eventually, it's not a race.

- Plan your practice. Picking chords at random as you go can lead to confusion. If in the key of "A", for example, plan some simple progressions and changes before you begin, (ie. A to D to E back to A, D to A to E and back to D, E to D to E to A). Some of these won't sound very musical, but you will need to have the ability to change to each chord from each chord.

- Stick with the major chords first. Minors, 7ths, etc. are built from the majors. Learn the majors first, add the rest afterwards.

- Once you have three chords in a given key that you an use pretty well learn a simple song you like. With three chords you can literally play thousands. Look here :

Choice there is limited, but you may find something you like.

- When adding chords in a new key work from those you know. For example if you know A,E and D (the majors in the key of A) you may next want to tackle the Key of D, which has the majors D, G and A. Build on your foundations.

- As soon as you can, stop looking at your fretting hand. Get used to not looking at what you're doing.

- Don't forget your right hand (if your a righty). Learning chords can be daunting, but in the long run you'll find most of the music is in your strumming (or picking) hand. As a separate part of your practice hold on of the chords you know and run through some simle strumming patterns with it (ie. U= up stroke, D= down stroke, DUDUDUDU, DDUDUDU,DDUUDU,DDUDDU) At first don't try to mix anything complicated in terms of strums with your changes. You'll tie yourself up in knots. Once you have a strum down cold integrate it into you chord change practice.

- When changing chords in a progression or song, don't worry about holding the chord for the last upstroke before a change. This'll give you time to make the change cleanly. You can either miss the strings altogether (but keep your hand moving) or just catch the bottom 2-3 strings. The latter method will preserve the rythm of the song better in many cases.

- Remember everyone started somewhere, I know of no one who has picked up a guitar for he first time and been able to play well (sure it may have been done, but I don't know them).

- Have patience with yourself.

- Have fun. It's called playing the guitar, not working the guitar.

- Have patience with yourself.

- Your fingers will likely get sore (especially those starting on an acoustic). This is normal. If it hurts a lot stop for a while and come back later. You'll not do yourself anygood by torturing yourself.

- Try not to compare yourself with others. Everybody is unique.

- Have patience with youself (am I getting my point across here).

- If you get the time, or your fingers are too sore to play, read some basic music theory (ie. something on chord construction, notes/chords in each key, scales, where notes are on the fretboard), have a look at reading standard notation or spend some time visualizing the chord changes you are working on.

Anyway that's my $0.02.

Take care and Happy New Year. (Oh, and have patience with yourself). :wink:

BTW for the new folks welcome to the best board of it's type on the net.

"You want WHAT on the *&%#ing ceiling?" - Michelangelo, 1566

Trusted Member
Joined: 20 years ago
Posts: 56
Topic starter  

I have a Yamaha Acoustic electric and it does have a smaller neck than a typical dreadnaught, however I also take Flamenco guitar lessons on my classical guitar, so the neck isn't an excuse.

All my open chords are fine. It's the D7/F#, Cadd9, basically any chord that requires the pinky that's tough. Here's one I'm learning as part of a Solea in Flamenco: 002404 <played on a classical guitar.

I've had a teacher for the last year but he's not pointed anything out regarding posture. Mind you I think I need James Andreas about now! I always try to keep the thumb behind the neck and with space inbetween the palm & neck (no baseball grip!) and plus my Flamenco teacher would go nuts. I have 2 teachers currently. The flamenco teacher is a better instructor so I'll have to pick his brain about improving my chords. One thing I do know is I have a habit of lowering that neck too much, I have to remind myself to keep the headstock up high.

The ring and pinkie finger are nowhere near as strong or coordinated as the index and middle, so I actually got a nike gel exerciser. It's excellent for the hand, except, I'm really bad at using it everyday.

Playing slowly is good advice, it's something I've recently started doing. Hard as hell to get used to. It's almost harder to play slower!

"The whole purpose in life is to not be bored"