Every single person who has ever learned to play the guitar has had to deal with the annoying fact that once you’ve learned to make chord shapes… you now need to move them!
The chords don’t sound as clean.
Your rhythm is clunky and out of time.
All the while, you’re thinking: “Ugh, I just want to play this song!”
Here are some techniques that will help you to make the transition from out of time, buzzing chords to a smooth chord progression.
1) Look for fingers that don’t need to move
Many guitarists, especially at the beginning, get great chords when they get the time to place them and make sure they are perfect before strumming them.
You know how it is: you set up your chord, start strumming away, and it sounds great. You leap to the next chord and — BAM!
All your fingers are on the wrong string!
Especially with open chords, there are often common notes where you don’t need to move your fingers to move them. This is going to help you to move faster between chords and not introduce mistakes into your chords as you move.
Let’s look at a C and Em chord:
Can you see that the 2nd finger doesn’t need to leave the string? By keeping this finger down while moving between C and Em (and Em to C) you are eliminating potential mistakes and also speeding up your chord changes.
Now take a look at G to D:
You can leave your 3rd finger down between both chords. This gives you an anchor point as well as speeding up your changes.
2) Make your fingers like claws
To make your chords sound great, you need to use the tips of your fingers.
A common problem when trying to do this is your finger collapses at the knuckle. This means that your finger is flat. By using the pad of your finger to push down the string, you would need to push down much harder to get a good note. You’ll likely clip other strings too.
Keep the bend in your finger so that you are always pushing down with the tips of your fingers. Focus on the knuckle closest to your nail. This shouldn’t collapse. Make your fingers like claws. Try it out and feel the difference in pressure you can put down.
3) Push your wrist forward more
If you’re struggling to make your fingers like claws when playing your chords, it’s often because your wrist isn’t pushed forward enough.
Keep an eye on this. As your arm gets tired, your wrist will move backwards. When this happens, you’ll find the chords become harder to play.
4) Make sure your thumb doesn’t wander off
For some unknown reason, you will put your thumb in the correct place only for it to decide it wants to be somewhere totally different moments later.
Place your thumb roughly in the middle of the neck, slightly closer to your right hand than your first finger. So if your first finger is on the 1st fret, your thumb should be somewhere around the 1st and 2nd fret. You can deviate from this slightly if its more comfortable but this will help you push your wrist forward while keeping your hand stable enough to push down hard on the strings.
At this point, what usually happens is when you try and change chord a few times your thumb will complete shift from this position on the guitar neck. A common destination is towards the headstock (tuning heads). For some reason the thumb just likes to hang out down there. You won’t mean to move it, but your thumb has a different plan.
Put a chord down and place your thumb in the correct position behind the guitar neck. Notice how you can push your wrist forward and make your fingers like claws? Now, move your thumb towards the headstock. Do you notice how your wrist moves and your fingers collapse? Move your thumb around to different positions and see the effect it has on your chord.
You have so many things to remember when trying to move chords. Try and focus on one or two things at a time. Don’t expect to get all this right away.
If you’ve been playing for a while, your hand will become tired. This is when your thumb tries to compensate by moving more. At this point, give yourself a break and come back to playing later. You wouldn’t go to the gym and consistently keep picking up a weight that is too heavy, you’d have a break in between before trying again. Even though you won’t get stuck under a barbell playing guitar, your muscles still need a rest.
5) Keep strumming no matter what!
Alright! So you’ve got your fingers like claws. Your wrist is pushed forward, and your thumb is listening to you more often than not. It’s time to turn your focus to your strumming hand.
Before we go into this, remember you are practising. This isn’t going to sound great from the beginning. Accept your playing will sound bad sometimes. It’ll make your progress much quicker.
Choose two chords that you want to move. Start with a simple strumming pattern (try 8 down strums on each chord).
You have to keep strumming no matter how bad your chord sounds! Yeah, I know! We all want to make our guitar sound great all of the time. The trouble is by stopping to fix your chords you’re not learning to speed up. You have permission to hit wrong notes and to hit open strings in between.
Your goal is to move the chord as fast as you can, keeping your strumming in time.
If you find the chords are just too hard at the speed that you are strumming, play at a slower tempo until you can move the chords.
Learning to move chords can be one of the most frustrating stages of playing the guitar. Once you’ve got this down though, you’ll be well on your way to playing all the songs you love. Keep going, it’s worth it!