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Effective Chord Changes on Guitar—Part 2

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A good magician never lets the mechanics of a trick obscure an illusion. As for guitar playing, an audience should never hear how you’re producing sounds. In this context, that means working towards seamless chord changes.

This is the second in a two-part tutorial, and here are some more concepts and ideas for you to consider.

Finger Trickery

Most people favour the index or middle finger, and with good reason, as they are stronger than the others. This is due to the arrangement and distribution of tendons in the hand.

Consequently, we tend to think our fingers operate best from index (one) to little (four), but this isn't the case.

To illustrate my point, hold your hand up in front of you, and then slowly close your fingers into your palm. Rather than 1-2-3-4, as you might expect, they close 4-3-2-1. This is the natural order of your fingers. 

If you're unsure, try closing them 1-2-3-4; you'll experience resistance, and it’ll feel unnatural.

This leads onto my next point.

Direction of Play

Consider the number of basic open chord shapes that use your index finger for the lowest fretted note. I can think of two—A and Em.

If you're still starting a change with the index finger, therefore, the chances are the chord constructions are occurring against the order of the strings. This will inevitably slow you down, as you wait for the chord to be built before striking the strings.

You should lead with the finger that you need first, which isn't always necessarily your first (index) finger.

In an Instant

Whilst some shapes may become formed almost instantly upon arrival, others by definition take longer to construct. Even if you've overcome the issue discussed in the previous point, you may still experience gaps in your own playing.

This is because beginners don't commit to playing until the entire shape has been built. More experienced players recognise a fundamental truth:

A string only needs to be fretted just before it’s struck

Knowing this means that you can play a chord on a rolling basis; as long as each note is fretted just ahead of the string being played, the desired sound will be achieved.

Furthermore, as you're no longer waiting for the whole shape before playing, gaps become almost non-existent.

Don't Let Go

Another source of gaps can be taking too many steps when executing a change. The greatest of these is completely letting go of the strings.

This can sometimes be inevitable, dependent on the requirements of the change, but otherwise should be avoided. 

Taking the fingers away from the strings is easy, but having to rearrange all of them back down again takes time. Every time this occurs, you risk creating extraneous string noise.

Correcting it not only speeds up the changes but cleans up the sound.

Shared Notes

Not all shapes need dismantling when a change is required. This is especially true when two chords share one or more fretted notes.

Here's an example: the chords of C major and A minor. On the face of it, they’re different types of chord. Both, however, feature the same two notes: C and E.

When played in open positions, E is on the second fret of the D string, and C is on the first fret of the B string. These notes are fretted in the same places using the same fingers in both shapes. 

Consider why you would you lift the fingers from the strings when moving from one to the other. It makes no sense. Beginners, however, often do so, considering it to be a new shape.

When looking at a chord progression, try to identify any shared fretted notes between chords. As well as improving the changes, it’ll increase your understanding of which notes your chords contain; this in turn enhances your knowledge of the fretboard, which is useful for all aspects of playing guitar.

Overcoming Differences

Shared fretted notes provide a pivot point. By this I mean you can lean on them to pivot the fingers, or indeed, entire hand, in order to move from one shape to the next.

Of course, not every chord change features such notes. You still don’t have to let go of the strings. If there aren't any pivot points, you'll need to create one.

For example, the change from G major to C major in the open positions. Whilst both feature the note of G, it's only fretted during the G chord (being an open string for C major) and thus is of no use to us in this instance.

When changing, lift the third finger away from its position in the G chord, and place it on the third fret of the A string; you're now on the root note of C major. If you've done this correctly, you should feel the third finger butt up against the back of the second finger.

Press down on the third finger, bringing your weight to bear. Keeping it planted, you can now swivel your hand into position for the C chord. If you're unsure what I mean, look at the thumb when you fret the G chord; it’s on the bass side of the neck. 

When you fret the C chord, it moves towards the treble side, which involves swivelling the hand into a new orientation.

It takes a little getting used to, but it's cleaner and quicker than letting go, plus it ensures you fret the chord in the direction of play.

Conclusion

In this tutorial I've shown you the following:

  • The fingers work back-to-front.
  • Make changes in the direction of play.
  • A string needs to be fretted only just before it’s struck.
  • Try not to let go.
  • Notes shared between shapes speed up changes.
  • If they aren’t shared notes, create a pivot point note.

Implementing these ideas will take time, but practicing them will make you a better player.

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