One of the most difficult things for guitar beginners to master is the transition between different chords – especially when playing to a metronome or track.
Getting smooth, fast and fluid chord changes on the guitar is an essential skill.
So below are some tips on how to improve and speed up guitar chord changes.
But first up – if you want some great exercises and techniques on chord changes, check out our buyer’s guide to online guitar lessons.
They are the best way to get better quickly on the guitar.
Tips on How to Improve Your Chord Changes on Guitar
If you’re brand new to guitar, the first thing you need to realize is that proper technique when playing is paramount.
It’s easy to fall into bad habits when you’re first learning the instrument.
So pay attention to your overall technique – fingering, strumming, picking, posture and everything else.
If you’re unfamiliar with all that, you can read our beginner’s guide on how to play guitar first.
First, Reduce Tension in Your Hands
It doesn’t matter what instrument you’re trying to play (even your voice), tension is not good for you.
If you’re all tense and stiff, it will make everything that much harder. So it’s important to relax yourself when you’re practicing guitar.
Shake out your hands, stretch your fingers/wrists, loosen your neck and face muscles and just relax yourself overall as much as possible before starting.
If you notice tension start to build up in your hands as you play, stop and shake it out. Once you’ve reduced the tension in your hands, fingers and wrists, start again.
Also watch out for tension in your elbows.
Take it Slow at First
I know we’re ultimately trying to increase our speed of guitar chord changes, but that doesn’t come from focusing on speed first.
Better chord changes on guitar is more about the smoothness with which you’re changing chords, not how “fast” you’re moving.
So it makes more sense to actually take things slow at first.
It’s About Repetition
The reason you want to go slow and smooth at first is because improving is really all about repetition.
Repetition will build your muscle memory, which in turn makes you faster and faster.
So practice changing between two chords slowly over and over again. Focus on making the movement smooth and precise. Make sure each chord you play rings out cleanly.
Try to do 100 repetitions – moving from one chord to another – before moving on to another chord change.
Over time, you’ll be smooth AND fast.
Focus on Your Fingers
When we say “focus on your fingers” we don’t necessarily mean how hard you’re fretting the guitar. We’re more interested in the movement of your fingers from chord to chord.
Of course, fretting is important and you want to make sure you’re able to hold the strings down with enough force to produce a clean tone.
But there’s more to it than the chord itself.
Stay Close to the Fretboard
When you’re switching from chord to chord on the fretboard, don’t move your fingers away from it too much.
Try to keep the tips of your fingers as close to the strings as possible to minimize the time it takes to move from chord to chord.
Move Your Fingers Together
Another thing to keep an eye on is how you’re fretting each chord with your fingers. Again, this isn’t about force or strength, but movement.
You want to press down on each string at the same time with each finger. If it’s about speed, then having your fingers move at different times will increase the time it takes to play the chord.
One final thing to keep in mind about your fingers is the pressure you’re using to fret the chord.
Indeed, we want to fret properly so we get a good tone from each string. But we don’t want to use SO MUCH pressure that we’re straining our hands and fingers.
So when fretting, get into the mindset of using the optimal amount of pressure – literally the minimum amount of pressure needed to produce a clean sound. No more, no less.
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Reducing that pressure and strain will naturally allow you to make smoother chord transitions.
When you’re playing a chord progression you almost want to try and “think ahead” of what’s to come, rather than thinking about what you’re doing right now.
What messes some beginners up the most is that fumbling of what’s coming up because they’re focused on making what they’re doing in the moment correct.
You have to find a way to anticipate the next chord and be ready for it when it’s time to switch.
As soon as you fret down on the chord you’re playing, let your hand strum it automatically while you switch your thinking of the transition and fretting of the next chord
Plan Out Your Fingering
Related to thinking ahead is the idea of planning out the most efficient or easiest chord fingering for each chord.
Sometimes, a chord change is difficult and requires a lot of movement. But you can play that same chord a different way on the fretboard.
This may require inverting a chord here and there, but not necessarily. Try different ways of playing the chords in your progression to find the optimal fingering for each one (to minimize movement and strain during chord changes).
Pivot Fingers – Find Common Strings/Frets
It can be helpful (but not always possible) to find common strings and frets among chords you’re changing between.
If you’re switching between two different chords that share one or more strings, the hand movement (and the thinking that goes into the movement) is lessened.
You can sometimes keep fingers stationary when switching to another chord if it shares a string.
This is why it’s often good to “think ahead” and plan your movement as the current chord is being played.
There’s a tendency for us to want to move our limbs in sync with each other – especially when playing an instrument.
But oftentimes, we have to do different things with our limbs. For example, your strumming hand needs to strum, while your fret hand needs to fret.
The problem happens when we stumble at a chord change, our strumming hand naturally stops as well.
This causes us to mess up our rhythm.
But if you focus on keeping your strumming hand automatic (i.e. it keeps strumming on rhythm no matter what) then you’r fret hand will naturally want to pick up the pace and get the chord fretted.
So make your strumming hand the consistent hand and let your fret hand follow.
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The transition between chords on a guitar can be a difficult thing to do first.
But the important thing to remember is it’s not about speed. It’s about smoothness.
Being able to change chords faster will come as a result of you being able to move around the fretboard smoothly.
Once you’ve got the smoothness down, it’s just a matter of repetitions. Put in those reps. This is essential. Each chord change you need to do should be practice a minimum of 100 times – slow and smooth.
Do that and follow the rest of the tips in this guide – relax, keep strumming, focus on your fingers, etc – and you’ll notice huge improvements in your ability to change chords on a guitar.
If you really want to become a better guitar player fast, I highly recommend you check out Guitar Tricks (14 Day Free Trial) – they’ve got a TON of in-depth video lessons on everything you could possibly want to learn.
Thanks for reading this guide on how to improve and speed up guitar chord changes. I hope you found it helpful.