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How To Switch Between Chords Fast | Five Tricks To Master This Fundamental Skill

April 24, 2018

"That's part of the policy: To keep switching gears."
— Ridley Scott

 

 

In a previous lesson, we learned how to play the Major and Minor Barre Chords. These are the next fundamental chords to know, after the Open Chords.

 

Barre Chords are difficult to nail as a beginner, especially the dreaded F major chord.

 

Open Chords are a bit easier. A little.

 

However, one problem most guitarists have is mastering how to switch between those chords quickly and, surely enough, accurately. Yes, I did have the same problem, which took time to get down.

 

Yeah, I'm not a machine, I'm a man!

 

In this lesson, I'm going to show you 5 tricks you can use for switching between chords faster and accurately.

 

(Video lesson coming soon!)

1) Moving the hand

 

The first thing we should be able to do when switching chords is, of course, moving the hand to the new position in the neck.

 

Don't underestimate the time it takes to do that. You can easily miss an entire beat.

 

You can't just move your hand as you please. You need to move it while keeping your fingers close to the strings, otherwise you'll still waste time placing your fingers on each string.

 

 

The first way you can practice this is very simple: just move your hand and play the root note. Yes, just one string.

Can you do it on time, not missing any beats?

 

Once you can do that, try playing the power chord of that root note. This will help you start moving a simple shape which most chords still retain (most chords still play the perfect 5th and an octave).

If you can do this well, great! Otherwise, practice it.

 

When you can play the power chord on time, it's time to move on and try playing the full chord.

 

Watch out: you'll soon learn that moving your hand too fast can easily make you overshoot and miss the fret!

 

2) Stiff-pressing your fingers

 

This trick is very useful when transferring the same shape up and down the fretboard.

 

Did you notice that if you keep your fingers open and separate, it's much more difficult to keep them still?

 

 

What happens when you place your finger together and press them against each other?

 

 

You got it, it gets much easier to leave them steady in a position, because they all rest against each other, making a rigid connection.

 

You can use this to help you transfer a same chord shape anywhere on the fretboard. 

3) Pre-moving your hand (pre-twisting)

 

Most guitar players don't play the Open Chords the same as when they play the Barre Chords.

The usual is that open chords are played with the thumb peeking over the side of the neck, while barre chords are played with the thumb behind the neck.

 

If you are not a freak of Nature not to follow this trend, you'll notice that when you want to change from, say a C open chord to an F barre chord, your thumb position will have to move quite a bit, like so:

 

 

If you were to switch from that C to F chord, you would have to not only change the position of your fingers, but also turn your hand at the same time, which is difficult to do as it carries your fingers with it.

 

The solution? Turn your hand before the switch, while still playing the C chord, like this:

 

 

That's it! You've eliminated one movement so that your switch will be easier and faster.

4) Progressive finger placement

 

When you have to play 6 or 5 strings, usually the position requires you to use all your fingers to play the chord, and because of that, it takes you longer than a chord with only two fingers.

 

However, it's also true that most of the times you don't hit all strings at once on each strum. You can use this to your advantage.

 

Let's say I'm playing a C open chord and switch to an A# major barre chord with the root on the 6th string. However, the strumming pattern I'm using hits the lower strings on the first two strums, and then the rest of the strings.

 

A good way to use this is to switch to an A power chord for the first two hits, which will make the switch faster, and then place the rest of the chord position.

 

By doing this you gain a couple more beats to set up the chord position. Don't worry: nobody will ever know.

 

5) Chord butchering

 

To be honest, sometimes there will be just no way around the problem.

 

Sometimes you'll find out that you just can't nail a chord switch on time, no matter what trick you try to pull off, and how many times you practice thechord progression.

 

Before you get angry and put your guitar on eBay, there's something more you can try, which some people will probably say it's "cheating", but pay no attention to those nay-sayers.

 

What you can do to make a switch easier is to play less notes from the target chord, as long as you don't eliminate any of the important notes. Yeah, so we just cut off pieces of the chord, which explains the name of the trick.

 

Let's say you are playing an A open chord and wish to switch to a G major 7th chord with the root on the 6th string, like so:

 

 

I always had trouble switching to the major 7th chord. There's something with the ring finger getting behind the pinky finger that I usually don't like...

 

Instead of playing all six strings of the major 7th chord, we can play a 4-string version of it:

 

 

If you know the fretboard already, which you definitely should, you'll see that we've eliminated the note on the 5th and 1st strings, which are a perfect 5th and an octave respectively. The perfect 5th we can do away with since there's another being played in the 2nd string, and the octave is always optional.

 

The resulting position is much easier for me to switch to, at least for me. Win!

 

It's usually safe to remove octaves, perfect 5th, and sometimes even the root note, but other intervals are more delicate because they can rob the chord of it's intended sound, so you should keep at least one note of each. You don't want to remove the minor 7th interval of a dominant chord to render it just a plain major chord; not good!

 

If you analyze the chords, there is virtually always a possibility to play them in another way that makes it easier to play them.

That's it!

 

If you implement these 5 tricks, you'll instantly improve your switching speed.

 

Happy switching!

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