Learning to play the guitar, or any instrument for that matter is easily one of the most rewarding endeavors you can make. But as you probably already know, it ain't easy! From my work with beginners, I have found that the thing they have the most trouble with early in their journey is chords. While switching and fingering guitar chords becomes second nature, they start off as foreign shapes that feel as though only some sort of hand contortionist could pull off. Eventually, we learn, and so do our fingers. With that in mind, we'd like to share a few of the do's and don'ts of learning guitar chords.
First things first, always get the positioning of your fingers right whenever you’re practicing individual chords. Keep in mind that the fingers used to press down the strings against the fretboard are suggested to be held accordingly to a certain order that usually goes with – index finger on the first string that is played, middle finger on the 2nd and so on and so forth. This is called correct fingering. Positioning your fingers correctly to the fret bar will save you the trouble of correcting sloppy chord changes as well as helping you in discovering more comfortable variations of fingering to the chords.
Close your eyes or look away sometimes. Don’t be intimidated by the fact that you are playing without as much visual attention as you’re used to, learn to let go and relax and let your body do its thing. As you get into the habit of looking away, you’ll be more attuned to that instinctual feeling that you’ve got developing in you, where you’ll instantly be able to find and know the feel of playing the chords correctly instead of taking a peek. And as an added bonus, you’ll be able to hear it through your ears if you’re playing it right or wrong, and that’s really cool on stage.
Next, you would be wise to make sure that you know the chords that you are playing. Unlike the piano, guitar chords are often comprised of open strings and it is far easier to stray away from the original chord fingering by adding or dropping a finger or two. Pay attention to the changes it makes as knowing what you’re playing would help a lot in future songwriting endeavors and would generally improve overall communication of ideas between band members if that’s your kind of thing!
Never think that 3 and a half hours of practice in one Sunday is equivalent to 30 minutes per day stretched out for an entire week. It is destructive and unproductive to play cram school when you really needn’t. For starters, discipline yourself by just putting in 30 minutes of practice, going over basic chords, brush up on your barre chords, and really just get down to changing chords whenever you’re comfortable.
One should also avoid the left-hand death grip as it could seriously stifle your progression. When first starting out, you’ll find that pressing the strings against the fretboard to be difficulty. Basically, it just hurts your fingers and makes your wrist ache. The natural way to counter this is to hook your thumb over the top of the fretboard, but it would then cause you to press on the strings using the flat pad of your finger rather than the tips of it. This is sometimes called the “death grip” due to the restrictive fierce grip on your neck. Instead, remedy this with a proper technique that would have you position your thumb on the back of the guitar’s neck. This puts you in a position that encourages fingertips usage, which is much more viable and accurate when pressing down strings without muting the neighboring strings. The only thing is that it feels kind of unnatural and hard because of the wrist’s lack of strength. Stick to it and it should come eventually.
Also, as a beginner, you should never neglect how bad it is to form a habit out of a mistake. Sometimes we tend to get ahead of ourselves by taking up the challenge to learn a song that’s one or two levels above us, it’s okay because hey, I would really love to be able to listen AND play to my favorites, but it isn’t always easy as some of us are fans of songs that are technically demanding. Never practice further than you should if you find yourself fumbling around and making too many mistakes, slow down and watch your hands, go over any mistakes and make an effort to smoothen it out and you’ll thank yourself in the long run.
In the end, don't worry too much if you are not yet able to play like your favorite guitarist -- they all have had to go through this at some point in their career. So if you are unable to rip through the guitar doing licks and solos, playing by ear and all that jazz, just take a deep breath and remember that Rome wasn’t built in one day, and it’s okay to take longer as long as you get there.
Your Turn to Sound Off!
What are some other do's or don'ts of learning guitar chords?