How can I become faster at changing chords?

The first time you sit down with your guitar you are immediately confronted with the technical difficulty of the instrument. With the goal of playing songs in mind, most beginners quickly realize that strumming represents the fastest road to playing complete songs. However, first attempts at changing among chords can be frustrating. If you are having trouble changing chords then read this answer. Herein you’ll find the bad news, the good news….and a plan!

The Bad News –

This process just takes time…unfortunately.

It is the mechanism of getting your fingers to do what your brain wants. This is very difficult because your fingers aren’t used to moving that precisely. This is compounded by the fact that, as a beginner, you are using your uncoordinated left hand. Depending on how large or small your hand is (and how you hold your guitar), and how your brain is wired, you will find that different chords will be easier or harder for form.

The Good News –

All is possible with a little bit of practice and time! We all learn at different rates. One of your friends may get it down in a week. Another friend might take a year. You might take three months. Just be patient and be confident. I did it at the age of 32 and I am no particularly great talent…even that is giving myself too much credit. So believe me, if I can do it you can do it.

When I talk to people who say they tried to play guitar and couldn’t do it. My first thought is “Hogwash!” My second thought is “You just needed a better plan!”

The Plan –

If I were to start it all again here is what I would do:

1) Get a metronome. A cheap one will do or you can use the great one we have on this site (Check the Tools section.) Make sure that you get one that at list has a “wood block” or other tolerable sounds. The piezo chirpy ones are really annoying. You can also spend a little more and get a drum machine which will make things a bit more fun. Old keyboards (like the one your sister got for Christmas 3 years ago) tend to have nice 100 pattern drum machines.

2) Go to WalMart and get a GripMaster (Light or Medium) for like $10. It’ll help build strength for barre chords. Use for 10 minutes at 3x a week. (STANDARD DISCLAIMER: Do not overuse and do not overexert yourself. Your goal is conditioning of your muscles, not annihilation. There are lots of stories of people hurting themselves by trying to move to fast. You have officially been warned….)

I am going to break this down by level because some people learn slower/faster than others. Once you can do level one, go to level two.

The important thing is not to overwhelm yourself. Take it easy. Don’t go to level 2 before you can do level 1. Don’t think that you’ll be able to sit down and play “[insert your favorite song]” right away. The hardest thing you will have to do initially is to learn to switch to a different chord ON TIME. So let’s work on that. When you have Level 1 down you’ll be able to play some songs! Don’t spend your time being frustrated with yourself, spend your time practicing. The good news is that each level gets easier because as your fingers get used to moving where you want them you’ll have an easier and easier time learning new ones.

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