Chords are the harmonic building blocks of music. They act as the support system for the melodies and moods of our favorite artists. Without chords, the music that we cherish would not exist. Chords. Make. Songs.
Changing chords is one the first challenges a new guitarist will face. Not only must you pretzel your hands into odd shapes, but you also must switch between them in time. This proves to be a difficult task for beginners. But don’t fret (heh)! There are a few easy methods to make changing chords easier.
A quick note – it is important to first understand the concept of a chord progression. A chord progression is simply a succession of chords. They can be as simple as America’s “A Horse With No Name” which is made up of only two chords. Or they can be as complicated as a song like Ray Charles’, “Georgia On My Mind,” which is made up of 20+ chords.
Whether you are trying to tackle a simple or a complicated song, the following methods will always prove helpful.
The “Chord Pair” Method
The “Chord Pair” method is my go-to. And this is as simple as it sounds. Imagine you are learning a song that has a chord progression of G / Am / C / D.
Switching from G to Am might be a challenge. They don’t have a finger position or a note in common. If you run into this issue, isolate these two chords. Strum each chord one time while transitioning back and forth. I suggest a metronome. Start slow and speed up as your fingers become familiar with the changes. The end goal here is not to “remember” which finger goes where, but to instinctively know. When a guitarist does not spend time fixing the “blips” between chords, their playing will sound like streaming with a bad internet connection. Bleh. Your fingers learn at a different pace than your brain, give them time.
The “Anchor Point” Method
The “Anchor Point” method dovetails nicely with the chord pair method. Imagine we are still using the chord progression of G / Am / C / D.
Transitioning from Am to C can seem just as difficult as switching from G to Am IF you don’t use your anchor points. Because the truth is, switching from Am to C is a much easier move. They share notes and finger positions. This is where we can use anchor points.
Use the chord pair method, (isolate the two chords), and see which fingers must move and which fingers stay anchored. In this example, your 1st finger (pointer), and 2nd finger (middle) are your anchors. They do not have to be lifted! The only moving part is your 3rd finger (ring). It moves from the 2nd fret on the G string to the 3rd fret on the A string.
Practice going between the two chords while keeping your two anchor points…well…anchored.
The “Leading Finger” Method
The “Leading Finger” method is another way of easing the chord changing process and is to be used with the chord pair method. Let’s stick with the chord progression of G / Am / C / D.
When it comes time to switch from C to D, we are in another position where these chords have no anchor point between them. This is a perfect time to “nominate” a leading finger. And truthfully, we are creating a “surrogate anchor point.” I would select my 1st finger (pointer) as the leader because it is the first FRETTED note of the D chord.
Coming from a C chord, my first finger is on the 1st fret of the B string. It needs to be on the 2nd fret of my G string to begin the D chord. THAT is where I’m going first.
Picking one finger to lead the way from chord to chord simplifies the process. Instead of thinking about each finger and where it needs to go, this method helps create one movement you must remember. If you can use the leading finger method and visualize the chord shape, your fingers will begin to fall in place naturally.
The “Chord Pair” method is the star here. If you are having trouble changing chords, break it down into chord pairs. Then use the “Anchor Point” and “Leading Finger” methods to find movements that make the transitions easier.
The ultimate goal is to develop muscle memory. You know that moment when driving a car when you realize that you’ve zoned out for a couple minutes? And somehow, you have managed to stay between the lines, stay at a steady speed and stay on course to your destination? That is the goal – an instinctive, almost unconscious ability to transition between chords. The methods described will help get you there.