When learning the guitar for the first time, forming chords can be a delightful experience. After all, you’re finally making some music on your guitar.
If you are looking forward to playing songs, however, you’re going to need to learn chord transitions. Chord transitions are basically learning how to change chords quickly on guitar.
There are many ways to practice guitar chords, but today we are focusing on a few key exercises for greater accuracy and speed in your chord transitions.
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Originally published on March 22, 2019, this post was republished on September 01, 2022.
The 2 Types of Chord Transitions for Guitar (And How to Practice Them)
In this lesson, we’re going to cover the two essential types of chord transitions:
- Basic transitions where two chords share a common finger
- Complex transitions where you have to completely change your fingers
Basic Chord Transitions
For transitions where a finger stays in the same place for both chord shapes, think of the common finger placement between a G chord and a D chord.
When performing the chord transition between these two frets, your ring finger is going to stay on the third fret of the B string. That note, a D, is the fifth scale degree for the G chord, and the root note for the D chord. Pretty neat, right?
When you work on this chord transition, start by keeping your ring finger on that third fret of the B string for the G chord.
Then, lift every other finger and slowly place them in the D chord shape. It might feel weird at first, but this is to help build muscle memory and individual control and dexterity of fingers.
Once you feel comfortable doing this, try moving from the D chord to the G chord, keeping the ring finger stationary while other fingers move.
Complex Chord Transitions (And the Domino Effect!)
Complex chord transitions involve shifting all of your fingers into a new chord shape. These chord changes can be daunting, but remember that it will get easier with practice.
To start practicing more complex chord transitions, start by creating a G chord. From there, lift your fretting hand entirely off the fretboard. Take a few seconds to relax your hand.
Once you feel nice and relaxed, start creating the C chord shape by placing your ring finger on the third fret of the A string.
This is the C note in the C chord. Think of that ring finger for the C chord as your anchor finger. After that, place your middle finger on the second fret of the D chord and your index finger on the first fret of the B string.
When you do this exercise, your fingers should act like dominos — that is, your ring finger is the lead domino. Once that ring finger falls on the C, all the other fingers fall one after another on their respective frets. That anchor finger will act as a bearing for where your other fingers are.
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Variations on Chord Transition Exercises
If you’re struggling with using your ring finger as an anchor on the D chord, try using a different finger as the anchor.
The idea behind the anchor method is that you build muscle memory and confidence in playing chord shapes. If you can better orient yourself on the fretboard by using your middle finger, by all means, do so!
The anchor finger concept and the domino effect are designed to help you understand the chord shapes and play them quickly without feeling helpless.
There are thousands of songs that use the G, C, and D chords. Being able to transition between the chords efficiently and seamlessly will unlock more opportunities to play the songs you love!
5 Chord Transition Tips
To help you transition between chords effectively, use these chord transition tips during your practice.
1. Practice Each Chord Separately
When it comes to transitions, start small. Choose a chord that you’re very familiar with and make sure that you’re playing it properly.
Go through it string by string and listen for any inconsistencies. Make sure the strings aren’t muted and your fingers are in the correct place. Then repeat this for each chord in the progression.
2. Know What Your Fingers Are Doing
For beginners, chord shapes can feel kind of clumsy, so it’s important to take note of what your fingers are doing and where they’re placed when you’re making different chords.
As you transition through chords, make sure you’re applying enough pressure on the strings with your fingers and that your thumb is resting comfortably around the neck of your guitar.
3. Keep Upcoming Chord Changes in Mind
This tip is less about technique and more about mindset. While you’re presently playing one chord, try and envision the next chord change. This prepares you for where you fingers will have to move next so that you’re not floundering when you have to execute the change.
4. Start With the Root Note
If you know what the root note of the next chord is, you can use that to start before playing the whole chord. That gives you a starting point and a little bit of breathing room so that your fingers can find their positions before you need to play the whole chord.
5. Practice Blind
To help solidify your muscle memory of where the chords are, try playing them without looking. Start playing without looking at what your fretting hand is doing and move through the whole chord transitions.
You’re definitely going to make mistakes here, but if you start slow, you can gain a lot of confidence and accuracy with the chord changes.
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