5 Chord Changing Tips

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The biggest hurdle to overcome in the early stages of playing guitar for most players is changing between chords in time. In the long term you should be aiming for the following:

  • Being able to move between shapes without any gap in time
  • Clear sounding chords, with no fret buzz or missing strings
  • Moving between chords without having to look at the left hand
  • Moving all fingers simultaneously, rather than one by one.

When you start out with your first 3 or 4 chords these goals feel a long way off, but they are achievable with the correct approach to practice. Here are my top 5 tips:

  1. Figure out the most logical way to change between chords and then stick to this way. This is essential, as your ability to play chords smoothly is thanks to muscle memory. If you alter the way you play a chord change each time you pick up the guitar, then that muscle memory won’t even get started. My main tip here is to try and put down the fingers which are on the bass strings first (E,A,D). This is because these are the first strings that you are like to hit with the right hand. It is then a case of analysing chord changes for the most logical movement. Ask yourself, are any fingers close to where they need to be for the next change? Are fingers already on the correct frets, but perhaps not strings? sometimes fingers are already in the correct shape/formation and ‘just’ need to move.
  2. Separate out the hands: you can start this by simply moving between chord shapes without playing them. This seems like a strange thing to do at first, but it allows your brain to focus solely on the movement and good finger placement. When I started out, I used to do a lot of this. As it is silent practice it can be done any time of day too!
  3. When moving between chords don’t lift your fingers away from the fretboard. Try to keep them as close as possible as this will minimise the time to find the next chord. To start with you may find that the fingers involuntarily jump away from the fretboards in anticipation of the chord change, so this is really about training the fingers and you may have to go very slowly at first.
  4. Practice playing in time in a gradual way. I do this exercise a lot with students. It goes like this: either with a metronome or drum track (at about 60 bpm) play your chord of choice 4 times to the beat. Then leave a clear gap of 4 beats/clicks. This is your time to move to the next chord. Once you can do this, reduce the gap between the chord to 3 beats and then 2 and then try without a gap at all. This is a great way to see progress.
  5. Visualise chord shapes/changes when away from the guitar. To reinforce your memory, try visualising chord changes when away from the guitar. This could be whilst walking, waiting for an appointment, free time when you can get in some guitar practice, without a guitar! To do this you need to clearly visualise the fingers, where they are and how they move neatly to the next chord.

There are other things that you can do, but I find these most effective. If there was a sixth tip , it would be don’t give up! Every guitar player has difficulty with this. To get beyond this stage try not to think negatively about how difficult it is, instead take a problem solving approach and try to look at it logically.

5 Signs that you should change your strings

‘How often should I change my strings?’ – is a question I often get asked. The truth is there is no set amount of time, for every player it will be different. There are a number of factors that affect the longevity of guitar strings with some of them being:

  • How much you play the instrument
  • Where you store the instrument
  • If you wipe down the guitar strings after you have played (This is important for players that sweat a lot when they play!)
  • How much you sweat

The following are signs that you need to change your strings:

  • The strings aren’t staying in tune
  • They have lost their shiny colour/look duller
  • You might notice dirty points where the string is tarnished
  • They feel rougher
  • The tone of your guitar is duller than normal (this is more noticeable on acoustics).

As you become more experienced you will come to spot these signs more easily.

 

How to approach learning a song

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One of the skills I often find myself teaching is how to approach learning a song from notation/tab. Take the wrong approach and you can end up frustrated and wondering why a piece of music is eluding you. Before diving into a piece of music I would suggest the following strategies:

  1. Listen to the piece of music several times. This is particularly important if the song has any tricky rhythms. If there are different versions of the song by other artists then listen to them also. You may also find it useful to find out more about the band/songwriter and the context in which the song was written. This may help you put the required feeling into playing the piece.
  2. Divide the piece up into sections. Learning a piece in chunks is a proven way to commit something to memory.  Some music will have titles for each section eg. section A,B,C etc or Verse, Chorus. If this hasn’t been done for you then look for double bar lines. Double bar lines are used to indicate the end of a section. Once you have done this take it section by section.
  3. Isolate any technically difficult parts. A phrase might be a bit quick for you or have a challenging rhythm, whatever the difficulty isolate such passages and practice them independent of the piece. If possible play them to a metronome and gradually increase the speed by no more than 5bpm. If you have the technology you could also slow down the recording and loop it. Picking is often the main barrier to the effective playing of a lead guitar parts, make sure you’ve opted for the optimum picking pattern.
  4. Look at the notation as well as the tab. If both notation and tab are present then you need to look at both. Tab is a very accessible but limited method for writing music. Ideally you should be looking to the tab to guide you on rhythm and expressive techniques/dynamics.
  5. Deal with frustration positively. Instead of feeling like giving up, ask questions to help you overcome problems. If you can’t execute a passage at speed or keep making mistakes, then ask what technical issues could be the cause of the problem rather than allowing negative self-talk to fill your head.
  6. Perform! Practice performing it at home or record it to listen back to.

Gypsy Style Licks

I’ve been working on my jazz vocabulary recently and have decided to share some of these lines. Some of these take inspiration from Charlie Christian whilst others are my own lines. There are a mixture of Major sixth lines, dominant 7th and pentatonic style lines.

Jazz Licks for Lulu Swing PDF

It can be quite hard learning new lines and actually putting them to use in jam or gig situation. I think the following helps:

  • Learn them in more than one key and more than one position
  • Analyse what is going on harmonically e.g is it just chord tones or are there extensions/chromatic notes etc?
  • Practice them in a context of a song. For these licks I’ve applied them to the gypsy jazz standard ‘Lulu Swing’

I hope they are of use to some budding gypsy jazz players out there! Dennis Chang (Canadian Gypsy Jazz educator) has a great YouTube backing track for practice use which can be found here. A link to a chord chart can be found here. To leave you here is a video of Django’s grandson David and Sammy Daussat playing ‘Lulu Swing’.

 

 

 

Tip 3: Practice in short bursts

There is a longstanding image of budding guitar players working away for hours on end to master their instrument. Hiding from the outside world and playing for maybe 7 or 8 hours straight. Is this an effective way to practice? If the guitarist has thought out what they’re going to work on and allowed time for breaks then yes. There is no magic answer to how to practice, I say you should go for what works for you and try  and take ideas from how players you admire practice. The main thing I’ve learnt is that it is better to work on something for a maximum of 20 minutes and to then have a break.  If you have an hour or half an hour a day to practice then try and break it down into chunks. It could be something like this:

0-5 min Warm-up

05-20 min Scales/arpeggios

20-40 min Song that you’re working on

40- 60 min Improvising

What’s important is that before you even strum a chord or play a note, you know how you’re going to use your practice time. It’s far too easy to waste time playing something you know inside out!  Next time you practice try and break your time down into 15-20 min sections. Playing in short bursts is also sensible as it helps avoid any annoying strains or pain in the right arm/wrist.

101 Guitar Tips: Tip 2 – Walk before you run!

Speed is the goal that many guitarists aspire towards. Some players would put this above their ability to improvise or to be able to work well with other players. The desire to play burning solos and licks at full on tempos means that guitarists often rush trying to get there. Many new players find it odd that the key to being able to play with speed is to firstly be able to play something slowly. Furthermore, as with tip 1, the right hand is usually the hardest aspect when it comes to playing something difficult.

Here are a few pointers when trying to build up speed in your single note playing:

  1. Buy a metronome or use an online one/app (http://www.metronomeonline.com/)
  2. Whatever you are trying to learn, slow it right down until you can play it cleanly and without any tension in your right arm
  3. Play at this tempo to the metronome
  4. Gradually increase the metronome speed – remember if you tense up slow it back down again
  5. Each day keep a record of what speed you have reached and return to it the next day.

 

What if this doesn’t work?

Perhaps you’ve picked something that is a little out of your each at the moment or you’re not picking/fingering it in the most efficient way. Either way, playing at speed involves lots of small steps to reach your goal! Rushing will just result in frustration.