(This is part II of this article. To make sure you get the full scoop, please check out Part I here first).
4. Practice Strumming/picking without the chords
a. Ok, so you now have the chord changes down to a level where you can comfortably execute them. Most people assume here that they’ve mastered the chord and move onto something else. But a lot of people get hung up on trying to actually use the chord in a song or some other musical context. This is because there’s another thing at play now that wasn’t there before– your right hand! Just because you’ve mastered the chord change (i.e. having your left hand perform the right movements) doesn’t mean you can apply it. Since strumming also uses up a significant portion of your brain’s pre-frontal cortex, if you haven’t gotten it down, then you need to make sure that you also understand and can perform it without hesitation. If you are totally unaware of how the strumming/picking motions go, then how do you expect to change chords at the same time and have everything going correct and smoothly together? Answer is: you can’t (yet).
Think of it like this – if you learned how to drive an automatic car and then suddenly you need to drive a stick, would you be able to keep driving the car effortlessly while changing gears at the same time? Of course not, you need to know how to use your foot for the clutch and shift gears with your right hand at the same time in order to keep the car going to where it should be. For this, you practice a bit with the car moving slowly (or not at all) and, after you practice it for long enough, you start putting driving and shifting gears together.
5. Know WHEN to change chords (with your strumming/picking)
After you already learned how to press the chord, combine it with other chords and learned the strumming or picking pattern you’d need to use, you may now be very eager to start playing. I definitely would! But you may notice something here at this point – it may be hard for you to keep the right time when playing the chords and strumming at the same time (if not, congratulations, you can move onto point 6). Be happy, this is a good thing! This means that you’ve moved up from points 1 to 4 very well, have made significant progress and are almost there. Before you can now play everything smoothly together, you need to know when to actually change between chords! This is all about rhythm and timing in music, which is going to get an article of its own (I will link it together here in this article). For now, just know that, for most purposes, you need to be able to count the beats as you’re playing (you know, that thing musicians do when they go “1,2,3,4”). 90% of the time, it’s when you go back to beat 1 that you need to switch to the new chord. As an example, let’s say you’re moving from a D to a G chord. You’d count “1,2,3,4” while playing the D and then, as soon as you count 1 again, you’d need to press the G and start strumming it at exactly the same time.
6. Practice Strumming/picking with the chord changes
a. You’re almost there! Now have everything that you need to start practicing and playing chords in a way that will sound great. Just remember how to change between the chords, how to rhythm goes (strumming or picking) when exactly you should change to the next chord and practice strumming and shifting between the chords. If it sounds like a lot to keep in your head at the same time, don’t worry. When you really take the time to go through steps 1-5, this step is going to feel a lot easier than you’d expect.
7. Have fun with it the process
This is, I believe, one of the most overlooked and fundamental parts of the process. If you’re not having fun practicing, how long do you expect to keep practicing? Or maybe even a more important question is, why are you practicing or learning to play the guitar at all, if you’re not having fun with it?
I ask this because, you may be highly motivated to learn to master chord playing, but doing so takes a bit of time. There’s no amount of motivation that can withstand the lack of enjoyment in the process – your mind and body will eventually get tired of it and start sending you signals to quit. This is because they don’t feel you’re getting anything positive out of it and it will be only a matter of time before you want to quit and go do something else. This concept applies to your guitar playing in general. If you are only focused on the outcome and never enjoy the part where you actually practice the guitar, then you won’t stay around for very long. People that play the guitar well experience exactly the opposite – they strip themselves about the feelings of the outcome and just look forward to practicing the guitar. Having that level of enjoyment will guarantee that you will get to where you want to be (because now quitting is a much more remote possibility) and will just make everything a lot more… FUN! Isn’t that why we picked up the instrument in the first place?
So, now you know what to do. In order to master your chord changes, follow these 7 steps every time you’re learning something now. Remember, reading this article and not doing anything about it will get you nowhere. But if you apply what I tell you here, there’s no way you won’t progress.
If you feel that you still have questions or, better yet, have made significant progress, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I want to know all about it.
Based in Zurich Switzerland, Gonçalo Crespo is a professional guitar teacher and musician. He has taught guitar for over 8 years covering a variety of styles but focuses mainly on getting his students to guitar playing success in the most efficient way possible. Founder of Music&Co guitar music school, Gonçalo also offers tuition for acoustic and electric guitar.