How To Learn Challenging Guitar Chord Changes

Author: Ed Cupler

Guitarist - instructor Mike Philippov
One of the most fundamental skills to develop if you want to play guitar well is the ability to change chords accurately and reliably. Sadly, many musicians have a very hard time doing this in their guitar playing. Since you began reading this article, chances are high that you struggle with this common problem and you can relate to the frustration of not being able to reliably change chords of your favorite songs as you try to play them for yourself or perform them for others.

Although this problem cripples many musicians for years, it is very realistic to overcome. In this article I want to show you one of the ways to do this that will help you to greatly improve your guitar skills and have an easier time playing the music that you love. This process involves 4 distinct steps that, when practiced consistently, will allow you to confidently and smoothly learn to play any chord change that you currently struggle with.

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Here are the 4 points you need to follow when practicing any difficult chord change on guitar:

Step 1: Get Specific

To successfully overcome any difficult aspect of the music you are learning, you need to get very specific about which pair of chords is causing your playing to fall apart. Doing this will make you very focused and will help you to spend your time more wisely by practicing only the sections of the song that you really NEED to improve. Even if you are trying to play a piece of music where it seems that every set of chords is difficult to play, narrow it down to working on a single chord change at a time. This will help you to minimize frustration and will build confidence from breaking down the problem into bite-sized components.

Step 2: Play And Release

Once you have narrowed down the problem area of the music to a sequence of chord changes, spend a few minutes mastering the fingering of each of the chords in isolation. Forget about the actual transitioning motion for now and only focus on placing your fingers down into the correct playing position for ‘each’ individual chord. Your challenge is to make the motion with fingers coordinated and moving “together” and to keep the rest of your arm relaxed as you do this. After your fingers land on the correct notes, release (relax) them off of the strings and immediately repeat the process, continuing for 1-2 minutes. Then do the same exact exercise with the second chord of the pair that is giving you trouble. Again, don’t pay any attention to the transition motion between the two chords yet (that will come next) and focus on refining the way your fingers come on and off of each chord.

If you want to see a video explanation of exactly the right way to practice this motion, study this free guitar video lesson about chord changes on guitar.

Step 3: Focus Specifically On The Shifting Motion From One Chord To The Next

The next step, after developing the coordination needed to play the chords individually, is to focus ONLY on the moment of transitioning your hand from one chord to the other. In order to practice this, first play chord number 1, then relax the hand gradually away from the strings and proceed to slowly transform it into the shape of the chord you are moving to. If the chord change you are practicing involves chords played in different parts of the guitar neck, move your entire arm while forming the shape of the target chord as your hand moves to the correct fret. As you make this transition, keep your mind focused on the points listed below:

  1. Do NOT allow your fingers to fly up too far from the guitar neck. The lower the fingers are to the strings, the faster you will arrive to the target chord.
  2. Look for common notes between the two chords. This means that if there is one or more notes to be fretted with the same finger(s) between the 2 chords, don’t let those fingers come up at all from the guitar in order to eliminate the extra motions that your fingers do not have to perform.
  3. Keep your eyes focused on the fretting hand the entire time you are playing. This will allow you to control the motion from start to finish, ensuring that the fingers land exactly where they need to be for the new chord.
  4. Take your time to work through the motion and avoid rushing to arrive to the next chord without paying attention to how your hands move in the process. Too many guitar players simply make a rushed attempt to land their fingers onto the next chord without taking the time to really train the nuances described above. This leads to inconsistent playing and frustration when it comes time to perform the music you have been practicing. After you have completed the chord change 1 time, repeat the entire process to return to the first chord in the progression and continue this practice session for an interval of 2-3 minutes.

You should strive to reach the level of making the transition with all of your fingers arriving at their target chord “simultaneously” and without making any micro adjustments after fretting the notes. Any adjustments made after the fingers land on the strings mean that you haven’t yet mastered the transition between the chords.
If you are still confused on how to practice this part of the motion, this free video about learning chord changes on guitar will help to make it clear.

Step 4: Complete The Puzzle

After completing the previous step of the practicing process, it is time to insert the chord change into an actual musical context you want to play it in (such as a song you are learning). To do this, simply lengthen the original 2 chord section you have been practicing in the earlier steps by about 2 seconds. Begin by playing the part of the music that occurs 2 seconds prior to the isolated chord change and then continue playing through about 2 seconds of the music that comes after the chord change. This will help to prepare you for actually playing the song all the way through and test how well you have practiced the previous steps of the process described in this article.

As you follow the practice steps outlined here you will see your problems with chord changes starting to disappear, enabling you to get much more enjoyment out of playing music on guitar.

About the author:

Mike Philippov is a guitar instructional author, professional guitar player and composer. He writes articles about the best ways to practice guitar that are studied by many musicians worldwide. To get more help with becoming a better guitar player, visit his website:

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