When it comes to playing guitar and learning guitar chords I’m not too bad at all — okay, I’m not Eric Clapton or Steve Vai, but I can bash out a tune. And I know plenty of guitarists down at my local jam session who are way, way better players than me, too. The point I want to make is there were many times in the past that I thought I’d never get even this far. My fingers refused to learn where to go on that fretboard, my guitar playing sounded like crap and it all just got too hard. The answer at the time was to not give up when things got difficult and, very importantly, don’t expect too much when you first start out. Be patient, it’ll happen. The answer today is still the same.
Still, some days it’s just bloody frustrating, right? This whole “learn to play guitar”, “learn guitar chords” thing can drive you nuts. To help you along here are five tips about learning guitar chords that should make a difference.
1. Start by Learning Guitar Chords Slowly (and Correctly)
Some of these guys you see playing on stage and in videos are playing fast — really fast. Let’s not even mention shredding (damn, I mentioned it). So you feel compelled to practice your own playing fast, because that’s what everyone else seems to be doing. Nope, don’t walk until you can run. The best way to learn guitar chords is slowly — very slowly at first. You have to teach your fingers exactly what to do and where to go, before even thinking about speeding things up and guess what? Faster playing will come naturally. Speed and dexterity are much easier after your brain and fingers know what they’re doing.
Don’t feel bad, because it takes an age for your fingertips to shape the chords and find the right frets. Keep things that slow until you’ve perfected that chord. You can use the Uberchord App – it listens to you while you play and corrects when you play chords wrong. Playing things correctly with the right fingering from the very beginning means everything else will fall into place. If you missed my previous post, “10 Tips to Learn Good Guitar Technique” – this is a must read for self-taught guitar players like myself. Save yourself the misery that I went through over the years and read it!
If you witness a band of novice musicians playing its opening gig with everyone on stage for the first time, apart from the buckets of nervous sweat you’ll see pouring out their socks, something else will be unmistakeable. With a furious concentration everybody will be watching their own hands playing the fret board. Their eyes stay locked on the guitar neck with a kind of desperation. It’s a bad look.
Experienced players only need a glance now and then at the fret board to make sure they’re in the right place. It’s a skill you’ll develop on your own, but a smart move is to work on it early. As you practice get into the habit of closing your eyes or looking away, then feel how to find and play the chord properly. An added bonus, you’ll learn to hear that you’ve got it right without having to check your fingers. And you’ll really cool on stage.
3. Don’t Neglect the Difficult Chords
Playing some chords is harder than others. An F Major done properly, for example, requires a barre chord on the first fret and it’s a real challenge for new players. Trouble is, an F Major is a seriously important chord for many simple songs and unless you want to use a capo to avoid it (not a good idea, you can’t dodge it forever), you’re going to have to grit your teeth and learn it. The same applies for a B Minor, another barre chord (see below). Some seventh and ninth chords will tangle your fingers big-time and seem impossible.
Don’t shun the hard chords, just because they’re a pain to learn. Even though it can be really frustrating spend more time on them, practice these constantly and the musical doors will open to a lot more songs and some impressive playing. Trust me, you won’t regret it doing the “hard” yards.
4. Learn Barre Chords and How They work
Barre chords are the heart and soul of rock music and electric guitar playing. They have a place in acoustic playing too, but chunky, driving rock comes from barre chords. To be fair, barre chords are kind of hard work on acoustic guitars unless they have a slim neck and are well set up. The good news is that learning barre chords on an acoustic means that playing these on an electric axe will be a piece of cake. Check out “3 Tips to Simplify Barre Chords” on this blog for some helpful pointers.
Learning the basic barre chord shapes and how they easily translate up and down the fret board is also a great get-out-of-jail trick for playing what might otherwise be a nightmare fingering. Like, you need a C Sharp Minor? Damn! Well, starting with your basic C Major shape you’ll need to… but wait. Instead, just play a B Minor two frets (a whol
e tone) up the neck. Job done! Barre chords… awesome.
5. Make sure you know which chords you’re playing
This may sound odd, but it’s easy to slightly change the chord you’re playing for a nice effect and inadvertently stray away from the original tone. It’s the standard tuning of a guitar that can do this, because unlike with a piano you’re sometimes still playing an open string that contributes to the overall chord structure. Now, by all means experiment with chords, add or drop a finger or two… listen to the neat sounds.
However, it’s a wise move to identify which chord you’re now playing otherwise you’ll get into a bad habit later on of calling some “a C Major thing” or maybe “a kind of a D Minor” when they’re nothing of the sort. Uberchord can fix this easily, because it can hear and recognize chords instantly. So when you’re fooling around with chord shapes, take the time to double-check what you’ve done. In the future it’ll help you communicate your song-writing ideas to the rest of band much better. That’s a good thing.