One of the biggest challenges for beginner guitarists is learning to change or transition between chords quickly and smoothly.
Learning how to change chords faster on guitar is something you’ll need to practice a lot.
However, chord transitions are going to drastically improve your guitar skills, if you can get them down pat.
So, what’s the best way to change chords faster?
While playing songs with various chord changes will help you learn to change chords quicker, chord transition drills and exercises will help you progress as a guitarist, much faster.
How to change chords on a guitar
Let’s start with the very basics of guitar chords.
We have some basic shapes that make up each open guitar chord.
When we want to transition to the next chord in the progression, we need to move, and or, change the shape of the chord.
Many beginners with a few weeks of practice under their belt, might have no problem switching from an E chord, to an Am chord.
This is because the shape is kept the same, the frets remain the same, but the shape is moved down one string.
So simple transitions like this are easy, even for beginners.
But what if you want to go from E chord to B7?
That’s a much more difficult transition.
B7 is already a difficult chord to play, but the transition from E chord also adds some difficulty.
For this transition, all your fingers need to adjust to different strings, and or, different frets.
However, let’s say we want to go from B7 to Em.
This transition will be much easier, even though all the fingers are moving, once again.
The reason this chord changes is easier is because Em is a simple open chord, and even if you need to move your fingers from afar, it’s a simple and quick shape to make.
So, we know that not all chord changes are going to be the same amount of difficulty, how do we begin to improve our chord changes to make them smoother?
Best way to transition between guitar chords quickly and smoothly
When switching chords you want to understand two things:
- Where you are
- Where you need to go
There’s a popular idea called the “Economy of Movement” that spans across many areas and doesn’t just apply to the world of music.
For our purposes, as it applies to music, the Economy of Movement suggests that when changing or transitioning between chords you want to keep movement as minimal as possible.
Less movement should equate to faster changes.
Let’s take our E chord and Am chord example again.
If we play E chord, and then take our fingers off the strings, and move them one by one onto the strings to make Am, we’re not applying the economy of movement.
The economy of movement is about efficiency.
The most efficient manner to switch between E chord and Am, is to hold and keep the chord shape, and move it all down one string, almost like a block.
Moving shapes requires less dexterity than moving individual fingers, each and every time.
So if it’s more efficient, it will almost certainly also be quicker, and if it’s quicker it will be smoother.
If you want smooth chord changes, you first need to get efficient with your chords.
When you see advanced guitarists playing complex chords at lightning speeds, they’re applying the same idea as mentioned above.
The difference is that they have developed a high level of muscle memory for each chord.
For example, I’ve been playing for over 15 years, no matter where I am on the fretboard, I can basically snap to any of the common open chords, without thinking about where my fingers need to go.
This isn’t because I’ve practiced transitioning to every chord from every fret, but because I’ve built up muscle memory for those chords.
When I need to make a G chord I don’t think about where my fingers need to go, or even the shape I need to make.
My fingers just snap to the correct position. That’s what will eventually happen if you put in enough practice to develop your muscle memory.
Methods to practice changing chords
So how do we practice and develop changing chords to build our muscle memory?
My personal recommendation is to find a good variety of songs that will take you through different chords in all sorts of different orders, and play along with them.
Find 3-4 songs that are made up with different chords, or at least have the chords in a different order, and just play along with the song, as best you can.
The reason why I like this method of practice is because you can play along with songs you want to be playing.
You’re playing the songs and music you want to be, so it won’t feel like practice, and you’re still building your guitar skills.
Once you find you’ve begun to master a song, keep it in your repertoire, but move on to a more challenging song.
Either a song with a new complex chord, or a song that transitions faster than you’re used to.
With practicing, you want to ensure you’re challenging yourself enough.
If the material you play is too easy you won’t be practicing in an efficient manner, too hard and your progress will be slow.
Finding the right balance for your skill level is an important part of guitar practice, for chord changes or any part of guitar.
While playing along with songs is a great exercise, drills are a huge benefit to improve your chord changes, to make them faster and smoother.
I’d recommend using a couple drills and going through them a dozen or so times each practice session.
I’ll include a video with some drills and exercises below, the important thing with drills is that you are using them efficiently.
Don’t just drill the same thing every day for weeks on end.
Yes, that’s a great way to build up muscle memory for one or two chords, and your transition for those two chords will be smooth and fast.
However, just like with muscle memory for individual chords, you can also develop overall muscle memory for your guitar skills.
For a simple example, it is better to be able to make decently quick chord changes to all the major and minor chords than it would be to be lightning quick at changing to a couple of chords.
Developing muscle memory isn’t just for chords or riffs but you can develop it for the fretboard in general.
When learning to change chords faster, a wide variety of practice material will be more beneficial than drilling the same thing over and over.