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Learning to play ranges of guitar chords

By Micha, published on 10/05/2017 Blog > Music > Guitar > How to play guitar chords

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.

You can also begin composing and jamming once you know the basics of guitar.

Your basic learning blocks are scales, reading notes and tabs, and learning chords.

Whether it’s major, minor, major seventh, or harmonic chords, learning them is a key part of learning to play guitar.

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.

Once you can do that, you can really say that you’re a guitar player.

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A step by step guide to learning chords

For most beginners, learning guitar can be a rocky journey – the strings hurt your fingers, your right hand seems completely disconnected from your left, and there are tons of chords to learn which all seem impossible.

For anyone who’s trying to learn guitar, we’d recommend starting with the basic chords. The next step is then 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.

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.

Here are a few things in common for all chords

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.
  • The position between two chords is only offset by one or two boxes, so you don’t actually need to change your finger positions, just pick up and move your whole hand along the frets.

How to position your fingers on the guitar? By following the instructions of your guitar teacher, you get to better play the different chords on the guitar. Get the basic chords right

  • The finger position for the chords is the same, but just on different strings – again, no need to move your fingers, just move your hand along the strings as necessary.
  • All of your fingers are used in the same order – sometimes two chords follow each other in the same order. Learn to group your fingers together to move them quickly.
  • 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.
  • 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.

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.

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.

Learn how to dissect the positions, check to see if you can play the note without having to add any extra fingers.

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.

Where to place your fingers to test the guitar? Learn your chords so that you can play your guitar freely!

It’s impossible to learn how to change chords and put them together all in one go, even in a guitar lesson.

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
  • 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 step up to 20 times – 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

Practice regularly

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.

Learn how to place chords on the guitar! Play the guitar like Ben!

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 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.

Where can I find a guitar teacher to help me improve? They'll be able to teach you the techniques of playings guitar chords well. Learn how to play your chords with a professional!

Having a teacher will help generate immediate feedback on how you’re doing – they can mirror you, and your learning will be considerably enriched.

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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