If you’re studying music, learning guitar is a great place to start. It’s the perfect instrument on which to learn how to play your favorite pieces of music.
As soon as you know the basics of the instrument - guitar tablature, the odd chord, and a bit of the fretboard - you can begin composing and jamming straightaway.
Whilst the building blocks of music theory are the different notes, scales - from the major scale to the variations on the minor scale - and the ability to read music, for beginner guitar the methodology conventionally works a little differently. Particularly if you are playing rock guitar or folk guitar.
Here, the most fundamental thing will be chords - power chords, open chords, barre chords, major chords, and minor chords - and chord progressions, the way that we string different chords together. These will provide the basis of your favorite songs, and are an essential part of the repertoire of all guitar players.
If you want to learn how to play guitar, you need to get to grips with the guitar chord in all its variations. It’s impossible to avoid and it’s important to learn the proper finger positions for the chords so that you can learn how to play a whole series smoothly and quickly.
Once you can do that, you can really say that you’re a guitar player.
A Step by Step Guide to Learning Chords
For most beginners, learning guitar can be a rocky journey - the strings hurt your fingers when you fret them, your right hand seems completely disconnected from your left, and there are tons of chords to learn which all seem impossible. The virtuosic flights of jazz guitar, or the guitar music of Hendrix, seem a long way off.
For anyone who’s trying to learn guitar, we’d recommend starting with the basic chords. By these we mean the 'open chord', the chord shapes that really on notes from strings that you don't fret ('open' strings). In most pop songs you'll see and hear these being played - from the C major to the E major or D major chord. These are opposed to the 'barre chord', which requires all of the strings to be fretted.
You will find that your index finger, middle finger, and ring finger will all hurt a little as you learn these shapes. You are pressing your fingers against metal wires after all.
But, if you keep going, the next step is learning to play them in a series, hitting the right notes, and creating a bit of fluidity… and of course, for your fingers to stop hurting when you play.
You can find tab sets in specialist magazines and on the internet - series of chords to play together and reproduce a piece of music. Many many many songs, you will find, follow the same chord progression - and these usually involve the open position chords. And, honestly, once you have nailed these basic guitar chords, you'll be able to play really a lot of guitar songs. If you don't believe us, check out this video here.
But how do you put two chords together without losing your rhythm? How do you keep adding on chords until you’re actually playing a whole piece of music?
Here are a few tips.
A Few Things All Chords Have in Common.
When you are first starting out and you have to stare at a different chord chart every time you search for different guitar tabs, chords can all look overwhelmingly different. However, they aren't.
Because the secret of effective rhythm guitar is actually efficiency - by which we mean specifically the efficiency of your movements. From a major chord to a minor chord there is usually only the difference of one note - and the best guitar players around know how to make these movements incredibly efficiently.
The secret here is knowing your fret board - and knowing where the notes are in a chord.
Know Your Chords Well, and Know How to Recognize Them.
To really achieve fluidity in your playing and begin putting chords together, you need to start by recognizing the common factors.
- Two consecutive chords might have one or more finger positions in common, so you might be able to get to the next chord without moving all of your fingers. Efficiency here is the name of the game.
- If the shape of two chords is the same, but is up or down by one or two frets, don’t change the shape of your hand. Just pick up and move your whole hand along the frets.
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- If the finger position for the chords is the same, but just on different strings (say the E major chord and the A minor chord), there is no need to change your hand shape. Just practicing moving your fingers together as a group.
- Some notes are the same, but the finger positions change. Here you can have a play and try out new finger positions so that the chords have a few fingers in common. You might find it helpful to pivot around a particular finger (try this with your ring finger when moving from a D major chord to a G major)
- Sometimes there’s nothing in common between the chords, and you just need to learn the movements by heart to make the transition as fluid as possible. Learning to read tabs will help.
Why do this?
If you look closely at the different chords you’re trying to play, you can benefit from the points in common. Finding these points can help to reduce your movements and improve the fluidity of your playing.
By finding the commonalities between easy guitar chords, you'll improve your fluidity in hand with your efficiency.
Work on Your Fingers to Improve Your Playing
If some of your fingers stay the same between chords, try to keep them perfectly still while you’re moving the rest of your hand.
If you’re just picking up and moving your hand along without changing finger positions, make sure you aren’t moving your fingers as you move your hand. Even in the air your fingers should still stay in position.
By practicing these tips your hand will begin to anticipate the movement of your fingers and your playing will improve.
With any new guitar technique, there will be exercises to help you to develop your dexterity. Practising moving your hand in different positions across the guitar neck will help you massively.
Break a Movement Down
If two chords contain open notes, it’s an opportunity to play notes that are already there without actually having to put your fingers down. The open string is really a bit of a gift to guitar players to improve the efficiency of the movement.
Learn how to dissect the positions. Check to see if you can play the note without having to add any extra fingers. Studying the chord diagrams and finding ways to play that are most comfortable for you will help.
You’ll save time, and playing a series of chords together will become second nature.
Changing between Chords.
Putting two chords together is composed of up to six small steps that you can adjust based on your level.
First, learn all of your chords by heart, and then work on changing from one chord to another.
It’s impossible to learn how to change chords and put them together all in one go, even in many a guitar lessons.
In summary, here's how to do it:
- Make the first chord with your left hand.
- Slowly change the position of your fingers to create the second chord - making sure that the chords you are making are the same positions as on the chord charts.
- Look at the positions of your fingers - are they the same? are your fingers crossing? are there any that don’t require moving at all?
- Go back and forth between the second and the first chord, slowly going forwards and backwards. Keep your fingers relaxed and as close to the guitar strings as possible to conserve your movements.
- It’s important to practice the transitions between the chords really slowly in order to gain muscle in your fingers, and to begin to build muscle memory.
- Then, you can begin to increase the speed and volume of your playing.
- Repeat this over and over until it becomes comfortable. The goal is that the movements become second nature and instinctive, and that you stay relaxed.
- The last step is to repeat the whole exercise, but to strum the strings of the guitar with your right hand so that you can hear the chords.
- To check to see if you have the right notes, play each individual string and check its sound.
- This will help you get ready to play arpeggios!
Tips and Tricks for Putting Chords Together
Listen well - if you want to be able to play guitar like Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, or even Ben Harper, the most important thing that you can do is to practice regularly.
What do we mean by that? How often do you need to practice guitar to begin playing well? Professional guitarists advise students to practice daily, or every other day, for 10 to 15 minutes so that the movements begin to become automatic and second nature. Then your muscle memory can take over when you’re moving your fingers between chords.
Get Help from a Guitar Teacher
If you aren’t motivated to practice on your own, or you’re having trouble mastering the chords, ask a professional for help. They can guide you through the process in private lessons or finding online guitar lessons for kids and give you advice on how to improve.
They will show you if you’re sitting badly or picking up bad habits, and correct you where need be.
Get access to useful online guitar lessons here.
Having a teacher will help generate immediate feedback on how you’re doing - they can mirror you, and your learning will be considerably enriched.
So start looking for guitar lessons London to find the perfect teacher!
Keep the Beat
Keeping a consistent rhythm is a crucial part of playing guitar, and you need to keep the beat when you change chords.
Don’t slow down to change chords and learn how to play with a metronome. This way, you won’t need to think too hard about the beat. Instead you’ll learn to keep a steady, even rhythm and play your chords.
Once you’ve mastered the two chords and your movements are smooth and easy, get a stopwatch to time yourself as you move up and down the neck of the guitar.
Always give preference to quality over quantity - it’s always better to make five clean chord changes in one minute, than to try and get 15 chord changes in, but the sound is all wrong.
Pay Attention to Your Breathing
We’re not talking about your physical breathing, but about the small pauses between chords when you let the strings vibrate and you move on to the next position.
This pause should always happen between chord changes, and especially on the last note of a measure.
If you want to get technical when you’re using a pick and changing between two chords, instead of playing both with your pick, leave the last note of the measure empty and use the time to get your left hand ready.
Visualize the Changing Chords
Learn to visualize changing chords.
Close your eyes and picture your fingers in the correct position, and then picture them changing to the next chord.
Focus on that mental image; it will help get your brain ready for the movement, and make the actual action smoother and easier.
If possible, use the fingers that aren't holding strings as a ‘pivot’ to change positions between chords.
And don’t forget to stay motivated and enjoy playing the guitar!
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