How to Switch Between Chords | Hub Guitar

How to Switch Between Chords

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Barre Chords Technique Hi, I'm Grey and this is Hub Guitar. Let's talk about the overall technique needed to successfully play barre chords. I'll preface this with saying that most beginners should avoid barre chords, for at least 6 months. It's a big obstacle to learn to play barre chords and it depends on your physical conditioning. There's alot of other things you can do instead while you work up the strength to play barre chords. A barre chord is when you use a single finger from the fretting hand, normally the index finger, and push down multiple strings at the same fret. One of the first barre chords that players usually encounter is the F major barre chord. And that's ironic because it's also a fairly difficult barre chord. This chord works by fretting across the entire first fret with the index finger, and then with the remaining fingers, you create an "E Major" chord shape. So if this is E Major--notice that I'm using middle, ring and pinky to create it-- and then it up one fret, and barre across the entire first fret. My students are sometimes surprised to find that as a guitar player, I don't usually play this chord in this way. I don't really like to barre chords in the open position. There's usually an easier way to play an F chord. And I like to play things the easy way. When you practice barre chords, you should start with the easiest ones and move your way towards the harder ones. That makes "F Major" a poor choice, because it's among the harder ones. Actually, barre chords are largely a function of strength. So practicing really hard barre chords will help you build that strength. But if no pleasant sound is coming from your guitar when you practice, you're not going to practice long. So what makes barre chords more easy to play? 1 - Barre chords in the center of the neck, around Fret X or so, will be easier. That's because the tension of a string feels lighter in the middle than it does at either end. 2 - Barre chords where the finger doing the barre is not responsible for pressing the middle strings are easier. For example, in the F major shape we talked about, that's easier than an F7. F7 requires us to lift up the finger on the fourth string, and now the barre is responsible for playing four strings instead of 3. And one of those four is in the middle and it's very hard to transfer the force from the barre into that string. 3 - Barre chords on a properly set up guitar are easier to play. If you spend less than $1,000 on your guitar and you did not have it set up by a professional before, chances are your guitar is not properly set up. Setup refers to the string height and all kinds of tiny little adjustments that are made by a professional to make the guitar easy to play. Only very expensive instruments will arrive from the factory set up properly. The rest will usually need adjustments. The store selling the instrument is supposed to do these adjustments. But they are often done hastily--if at all. 4 - Barre chords on a guitar with lighter strings will be easier. The strings are thinner and easier to push. 5 - Barre chords on a guitar with detuned strings are also easier. So you can actually tune down the pitch of every string by an equal amount. Now there will be a little bit more slack on the string length between the nut and the saddle, and thus the string is easier to push. So knowing what we now know, we can come up a practice routine that takes that into account. I'm going to go to the Xth fret and play a D major, and then switch that shape down one string to create a G minor. And that's a fairly easy motion; same shape. I'm going practice back and forth, making sure all of my notes are nice and clean and I'm pressing firmly. Then I'm going to slide that whole thing down one fret and repeat. Db Major and Gbmajor. And I can continue all the way down the neck. The frets are getting larger, and the strings are feeling tighter. Once I've mastered that, I can go back to the Xth fret and try it again with a harder chord progression, like D7 to G7. Now my barre has to do some of the notes in the middle of the chord on strings 34 and 5, so it's getting harder. And then I work my way back down. So that's it. If barre chords are difficult for you, find a way to make them as easy as possible. And practice them slowly, until they become more and more easy.

One difficulty many beginners experience is that they have trouble switching chords. They can strum the first chord just fine, but they need time to build the second chord. And so when they switch from strumming the first chord to the second chord, it’s a bit of a stop-and-start, like a car with a stalling engine.

Do Lots of Chord Pushups

A “chord pushup” is when you form the shape of a single chord, play it, and then completely release your hand from the guitar fretboard, returning to a neutral position, and repeat.

This exercise can teach your fingers to quickly form the shapes of the chords.

When working on switching between several chords, as in a chord progression, one important step is that you can quickly form the chord shape—so start here.

Switch Chords Efficiently, Using the Least Motion

When chords share similar notes, you may not need to move all of the fingers.

For example, common open chords like C and Amin might both involve the index finger pressing down on the Ist fret of the 2nd string. This finger does not need to move to switch from one chord to the other.

Give Yourself Space in the Strumming Pattern

One simple solution is to adjust the strumming pattern so that you have more time to switch from chord A to chord B.

The first pattern, if repeated, may be a stumbling block. If the last strum is removed from the pattern, there’s more time to get back to the C chord.

Instead of strumming a complex pattern which leaves you only the duration of an eighth note or less to switch chords, stick to strumming patterns that offer more time. Consider playing block chordsA simplified accompaniment consisting of one chord per chord change. The chords are just played once as they occur and allowed to fade away., which give up to a whole measure of space after the chord’s attack to switch to the following chord.

More and more, society is beginning to accept the use of block chords.

Some beginners express doubt at this concept. “Isn’t that cheating?” they ask. “Don’t I have to be able to switch chords effectively? Shouldn’t I be able to play anything and not just easy patterns?”

But the thing is, all guitar players limit themselves to playing within their abilities. Strumming 64 times per measure is impossible—so nobody does that. And if you’re having trouble switching chords right now, your abilities may need time to develop. So it’s a good idea to make some minor adjustments to the difficulty of the patterns you’re playing in order to enable yourself to push forward. That way you can keep learning other stuff on guitar while your abilities grow.

64 strums per measure? Uh, no thanks.

When you encounter a roadblock, don’t stop. Push through it, or go around it. There’s no such thing as cheating. Get out of your own head, be practical, and do whatever is needed.

Adjust the Chord

Here’s a thought: if you’re having trouble switching from one chord to another, change one or both of the chords to make them easier.

No, this is not cheating. Smart learners adapt the music to fit their abilities and their needs. There is no angry god of music demanding that you play everything exactly as written or else offer a goat.

Besides, if you are failing the switch between an E7 and an A-7, that’s not good practice. Falling on your face is bad practice. Making the chords easier enables you to practice switching chords that are actually at your level. This will pay off, and soon you’ll be ready to play (and switch between) harder chords.

In order to know what chords you can use in substitute of others, you may need to learn a bit of music theory. Alot of learners act like they’re allergic to theory, which is ironic because it’s one of the few things that can make their job a little easier.

Switch Part of the Chord

Another way to to improve the switch is to switch part of the chord at a time—and keep strumming while you finish the switch. Or change the strumming pattern so only the correctly switched parts of the chord are strummed until the switch is completed.

Either way, you buy yourself extra time to make the switch.

Practice the Switch Aggressively

This is the most important tip.

Let’s imagine you’re playing a tune that has one single hard chord switch that you always mess up.

The tune is three minutes long. Each time you play the tune, you fail the switch.

Let’s also imagine that mastering that switch will require 500 repetitions.

If you only practice the switch while playing the song, you’ll need to play the song 500 times to master the one chord switch that’s giving you trouble. Since the tune is three minutes, you spent 25 hours learning one chord switch. Not a very effective strategy, is it?

Now, imagine you practice switching back and forth between the two chords over and over again. At first it takes a few seconds to do each switch, but soon you can do more than 50 per minute. By the time you’ve reached that level, you can practice those 500 repetitions in just 10 minutes.

Take the difficult parts out. Dissect them. Play them over and over again. And then put them back.


If you’re having trouble switching chords, try adjusting the chord or the rhythm to make it easier. And focus on practicing switching back and forth between them until you’ve got it down.

As the creator of Hub Guitar, Grey has compiled hundreds of guitar lessons, written several books, and filmed hundreds of video lessons. He teaches private lessons in his Boston studio, as well as via video chat through TakeLessons.

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