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Does Switching Chords Leave Your Fingers in Knots? – 316
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Let's kick those common chord-switching problems with strategies to improve finger strength and dexterity, master chord shapes, and overcome psychological barriers that may be holding you back.
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Oh, oh, we're starting. Here, here we go. Get ready to untangle your fingers. We are going to kick those common chord-switching problems today. So stay tuned. Hello and welcome, friends, to this episode of the Play Guitar podcast. I'm Lee, and this is the podcast that's determined to make you a better guitar player, no matter if you're just starting out or you've been playing for years. This is the show that will help you become the guitar player that you always wanted to be. If you are new here, hello, welcome. Make sure you subscribe to the podcast and check out the description for all the links from the show.
Hey there, players, before we dive into today's topic, I'm going to remind you about the private podcast, the Academy member's private podcast. If you're looking to get some more from this, take your plane to the next level. This is the perfect opportunity. You can get exclusive access to more to in-depth insights, practical tips. And also, speaking of tips, in today's private academy episode, we're tackling one of the most common challenges guitar players face, and that is smooth chord transitions.
I'm going to share some other strategies for improving finger strength, for improving dexterity, mastering chord shapes, and psychological stuff. The fear of making mistakes or the self-doubt things. That's not all. On Thursday, we're going to be taking chord switching to the next level with chord switching 2.0. I'll be sharing some advanced techniques for some more complicated stuff and some more complex transitions. And then finally, on Friday, we're going from Fumbler to Advanced Strummer in one episode. That's a big one. So I'm going to share some tips and tricks to help get you from struggling with chord switching to playing more confidently and more fluidly on the guitar fretboard. So whether you're a beginner or more experienced player, make sure you tune in and learn something new and join the Play Guitar Academy to get even more exclusive insight over there. That's PlayGuitarAcademy.com/membership to sign up today.
Are you tired of feeling like your fingers are in knots every time you try to switch a chord? Don't worry, I've been there. There's a lot of us have. You're not alone. Not many people pick up the guitar and start playing chords right away. There's a little bit of a learning curve there. And sometimes we get stuck in this episode. We're tackling the common problems of difficulty with chords and moving between chords. We'll explore some of the strategies for improving finger strength, improving your dexterity, mastering chord shapes and the other things, too. So whether you're a beginner or an advanced player, there's always room for improvement, especially when it comes to chords and switching chords. A beginner may just have a hard time getting one chord going at all.
An advanced player may be wanting to build some new chords, play some chords in an area they may not have played before. So let's go ahead and dive in, get those fingers moving. And as we move into this, remember, you can always chime in. There's the comment section on the show notes to this page. Or if you're an Academy member, we have a whole community where you can chime in on this episode specifically. OK, so the outline. I've been doing a lot of this lately. I have just an outline and we just go with it here. I always get the visual of David Letterman when he interviews a guest. He's got all the questions on the card. He just chucks the card. So now we're just we're going.
I've been doing a lot of that lately. So let's see how how close I can stay on topic today. The first thing we're going to talk about is difficulty with chord transitions. OK, well, what are some of the reasons you might have a hard time moving from one chord to the next chord? The first thing always is maybe you're not practicing enough. You're not spending enough time on that. This is something that requires time. You're not just going to be able to quickly move from chord to chord if you just practice it for a minute, once a week. This is going to take some time. Once you have the time down, then things start to move faster. But what if you're going too fast? Here's another reason why you might be having a problem.
You're trying to switch the chords too fast before you're ready. You know it's coming up. You wait to the last minute and boom, you're too late at that point. So what do you do? You have to carve out a little time ahead of time. Right. You have to say, OK, every time I play this, it's late, so this time has got to come from somewhere. And I'm trying to go so fast that my fingers are going in knots. They're going to the wrong places. Maybe I need to think about this ahead a little bit, slow down a little bit, do some thinking. And the other reason that might happen is you don't know the correct fingers to use for the chord and for the next chord. Now, this is important. So once you get your D chord down and let's say we're going to the next chord is this is let's do a G chord. OK, D to G. And we could do a four-finger G or just a regular G. Right.
What a lot of especially new guitar players do is they'll play the first chord and they know what that shape is and then they know where the G shape is and they just hope for the best. They go, OK, I'll lift my fingers off of the D chord. And now I got to think, OK, now I'm making the G and now I'm going to put the first finger on the A string, second fret, second finger on the G string, on the E string, third fret and then tuck the third finger all up underneath onto the high E string. See how long that took. Right. What do you do for this?
Well, let's see, what can you do? You can figure out where each finger is moving between chords. My first finger goes from here to here. My second finger goes from here all the way across from here. And then my third finger, it just moves one string over. Thinking of it that way. Not thinking of here's this chord and then here's this chord. Thinking here's this chord and I have to each finger has its own dance. That it has to take to move from this chord to the next chord. Then things start to speed up pretty, pretty darn quickly. Another thing could be lack of finger strength. Maybe your fingers are not wanting to work. I've had that several times. Your finger, sometimes you'll hear like a little crack. Your finger tells you, no, no, I'm not doing that. I'm done with this guitar stuff. Or maybe it's just it doesn't it maybe it doesn't go far enough to that note all the way on the string that you wanted to go to. Or maybe your hand is just not warmed up enough. So what's the thing you can do?
Do some warm ups before playing. Get your muscles in your hand loose. You know, do some technique exercises. Play some through some chord progressions. You know, you don't even have to strum. I'm doing it right now as I'm talking. I'm making open position chords. I'm not strumming them, right? But I'm just making the shapes on the guitar, going back and forth. C to D, C to D, C to D, G, A minor, F, E, C sharp minor. Common chords that you play. You can start moving. Spend a few minutes doing that before you play. It's always a good idea to warm up before you start playing.
It could be you're not practicing this finger exercise. It could be you're playing too fast without building up the strength yet. So. You're playing your favorite song and it's at a quick tempo and everything's going good and it comes time for that. Maybe like a funk. And maybe it has quick chords that go back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. And your hands just see. So maybe you might want to start to build the hand strength by starting at a lower tempo, lower the beats per minute.
Try working up to that smoothly. Like you're a weight lifter. I've said that a lot lately. This is like lifting weights. You go too fast, you get sore, you burn out, but you can fool your body into building muscle by small increments, small increments and giving yourself time to rest too. It's just like building muscle. You might play for two days straight in your hands. And we've all felt that hands are tired, hands are sore. Just give them a break for a day. Let the body repair that and get used to it because it knows, well, if this happened for two days, it's probably going to happen again. So let's repair this in a way that's stronger for this exercise that we're trying to do. The next thing in the outline.
Trying to play chords that are too advanced for you could be a reason why you're struggling. Your fingers are in knots. I know early on, I really liked the chords that Jimmy Page would play. I thought they were so cool. They were so different than the standard stuff that I was learning in all the other songs, and I'm talking about stuff like the Rain song. Really, most Led Zeppelin songs have, unless it's the riff bass songs, have some very odd chords for the style of music that they're playing. And I remember. I say, I'm going to play that song. This is I like that song. I'm excited to play that song and I'm going to go.
And I would try to play these very odd shaped chords and got exactly what the title of this podcast is. My fingers were twisted in knots. So what I would do is I would try to play, OK, well, this is like a C major seven chord. I just try to play a C at first, something that I was familiar with. And then one chord at a time, try and get to add in the fancy chords. So one thing. And this is something that I learned playing in jazz bands early on, is that even if you have a chord that says, you know, like it's like a flat nine or like, you know, just all the different alterations that you hear about those chords and most people just go, I don't know. I don't know what that is. Right.
But what I found is that a lot of those are just decoration. A lot of them are. And you can play the functional chord underneath in place of that. So if you have, you know, a major nine chord, well, you can play a major seventh chord. That nine is not a functional note. It's a it's a decoration note. So, you know, if you were playing a C13 or something like that, well, you could just play a dominant seventh chord in place of that. And it would it will sound great. It will work. And then once you build up to that, you can start adding the stranger notes that tie your fingers in knots right there so that there's there's a little tip to. So the other thing that can leave your fingers in knots is not practicing your chord changes in the context of the song that you're wanting to play.
So you might be able to play the chord on its own. Yeah, I can do that. Here's it. Here's an odd shaped chord, right? I don't even know what this is. I'm just randomly putting my fingers in knots. Here, let's do let's do that school. That's a major seventh chord, diagonal shape across the guitar, right? And then the next chord, let's say would be that's a let's see. Let's do a back one. So this appears to be major seventh and then we have an E minor 11. Right. So those two chords, if these were the two chords in my song, I know you think, well, this is rock. I don't play that stuff. Play some chili pepper. Sometimes you're going to be playing some some cool chords. John likes to play some cool chords.
That's all I'm saying. So I can play that and I can play this one. I practice them on their own. But then when I play them in the song, I get the first one. And by the time I'm done with the first one, the second one has already passed. I didn't even get to it yet. So I'm not practicing these chord patterns in the context of a song. So making sure to play along with the backing track or the real song and get your not just leads, not just riffs, but chord changes together as well, too. Here we go on the list. So here's my favorite part. This is the the muscle memory part of this. OK, building muscle memory. What does that mean? Muscle memory. Muscles don't have memory. Your brain has memory.
Well, guess what? Your brain is in charge of your muscles. So I guess what that must mean is building pathways in the brain that are used to performing certain tasks with your muscles over and over and over again. So how do you do that? How do you build muscle memory? How does that work? Well, muscle memory is developed the same way we remember anything through repetition. And if you're not practicing enough, if you're not developing your skills on a routine, on a daily basis, you're having to perform this fight over and over and over again. So every time you want to play that difficult chord, you have to relearn it. Your short term memory is gone. It dumps. It is over. So you spend a whole day sweating it trying to learn something difficult.
And then you don't try it again for another week. That's you might as well just thrown it all in the trash, right? Thrown in the garbage. All that work that you did. Why? Because it's dumped. It's not there for you anymore. You can't it's not filed. There's a good way of saying that's much better. It's not like you don't file it. We need to use the filing cabinet so we can easily come back and use these things all the time. And that is through daily repetition. You don't have a better tool. I don't care if you're using guitar pro. I don't care. We got one of those guitars that you have that you can push one finger down and it plays the whole chord for you. This is a daily daily practice is a better tool in all of those. And it's free. It doesn't cost nothing. Cost you not nothing, nothing for you to practice a little bit every day.
Just a bit of your time and you have enough time. You've got 20 minutes here or there throughout the day to do this. And you will reap the rewards. Daily practice is where it's at. I play the guitar every day. Now, my things are different. I'm developing things for other people to be practicing, but I'm learning through that. I'm I'm developing my skills through helping other people. I'm getting daily repetition on these basic skills over and over and over again. What does that mean? That my basic skills are solid, solid as a rock. And that helps me as an advanced guitar player. Think about how many advanced guitar players don't go back over the things that they started learning in the beginning. Well, guess what? The songs that even advanced guitar players play are still playing the same stuff that we learned the first week that we started playing the guitar.
They're still there. And sometimes you can get into bad habits. And here's another thing. Practicing the wrong way. So if you I've seen this this week, someone who's used to playing a chord with different fingers, with fingers that may sound like let's take the A chord, for example, sometimes with the A chord, you'll see people play one, two, three, first finger, second finger, third finger. What makes this chord difficult is we have them all in the row on strings that are right next to each other and it's all in the same fret. So you can't get your fingers all straight up onto the fret. That way we have to do some crowding to get that A chord. So some people play it with a bar.
You just put your first finger across and forget the high string. Right. Some people play it with their second, third and fourth fingers. Right. But I've seen some people play it like it's an A major seventh chord. What they'll do is they'll take their first finger and put that in the middle between their second and third finger, kind of like a D seventh chord. But do that all on one string. And every time I see that, I think, OK, here's a person who's trying to do some problem solving on their own. Right. And I think it's a great thing. OK, they're getting, they're experimenting. They're trying to say, well, this feels more comfortable for here. The problem with that is that chord shape, the A, where you've kind of jumbled your fingers up a little bit, it doesn't go to other chords well. You talk about finger twisting, trying to go to a C chord from that, a D chord from that, trying to go to a G chord from that.
It doesn't, it, the fingers tend to get in the way. So that's something that a lot of beginners, they get creative with the way that they create chord shapes with what fingers they use, but they don't think about where they're going next and how that can affect the movement from one chord to the next. And if you don't have that movement down, you know what happens. The song slows down and you miss serious parts of the song where you have to have that chord right on time. Another thing is building muscle memory, playing slowly and playing deliberately. If you can play something correctly slow, then it's not much more to be able to play it fast. It's just repetition at that point. But if you're playing something incorrectly slow, there's no way that you're going to be playing it correctly fast. It just doesn't happen. So we all have to spend that time.
That feels like we've got the training wheels on something. I don't want to do that. I've been playing 30 years, 40 years. I don't need to do that. Well, yeah, yeah, you do because you're playing it incorrectly. And so if you've got a chord that's just not working, slow it down. Get used to feeling how your hands feel when you play it correctly at a slow tempo. And it's very easy to speed things up over time with repetition. Timing and rhythm issues. So one of the most difficult things to teach for new students, students who are new to the guitar or new to an instrument in general, one of the most one of the most difficult things to teach is rhythm, how to communicate that, how to... Some people will play off beat and they're not even realizing it. They don't see that it's not...
That when they play is not lining up with what everyone else is playing. Right. So timing and rhythm issues are very, very tough to beat. If you're struggling to keep the beat, you need to start to practice that. You need to practice along with a solid beat. If you don't know where the beat is, you're always going to be guessing. And it's not going to work. So what people do is they build an internal clock. It's kind of like building your ear with music. You can also build an internal clock. And that's from using something that will give you the exact beat. And you get used to playing with something called a metronome. A lot of people shy away from the metronome.
They say they don't have feel. No, they don't. They're clinical. They will play exactly what you ask them to play. Not all of them do, though. Sometimes now you can play over drum loops as a metronome and they'll have a little bit of feel to them as well. But I like to play over the clinical metronome because if you can play over that and get a good feel, then in real life, when you're playing with just a group of people, you're not playing to a click, you'll be used to that. You'll be used to playing in time and you can bring the rest of the people along with you with your good timing, breaking down the difficult passages into smaller parts and focusing on timing can help start slow.
Here's the theme for today. We're starting slow and then we're working up. Another problem people have is they might be playing the chord fine and playing in tempo, but then when it's time to change to the other chord, they lose that. They lose their rhythm. They lose their timing because all of a sudden now, instead of paying attention to playing on beat, they're paying attention. Oh, gosh, I have to switch the chord and then it's gone. Right. So losing the tempo, not being able to keep up with the beat when you're transitioning between those chords. So what do you do? We get some exercises for improving chord transitions and timing at the same time, practicing chord transitions in different orders, maybe choosing three chords and just going back and forth, back and forth, using a drum track, using a backing track, using a metronome and going back and forth. Here's another part to this where your fingers can get all jumbled up. Mis-freading chords. What does that mean, to mis-fret a chord? You've got your fingers in the right shape, but not all the strings are ringing out. That comes down to finger placement,
thumb placement on the back of the neck and where your elbow is and also how high or low you are holding your guitar. If you have a strap that's really high or really low, it's going to change the way your finger position is. Mis-freading chords, double checking your finger placement and hand position is extremely important. Spending some time looking at where your fingers are. Are they too far back on the fret? Are you accidentally touching other strings? How do you practice that? Same as everything else. Slowly, deliberately visualizing yourself playing the chords correctly. You can use those techniques to picture the chord shape and picture where you're going to place your fingers. As always, I love to feature the psychological element to these things. Why? Because that seems to be common. I see it plain as day. We have a lot of fear in playing guitar.
Shouldn't be. It should be the most fun you have all day. But there's a little fear in that too. Fear of making mistakes. Fear of feeling embarrassed about making mistakes in front of other people. Overthinking, becoming tense will ruin your feel. Right? If your muscles are all tense and you're trying to play a new world, like a lazy kind of song, it's not going to sound great. Right? Worrying about what other people thinks and then becoming tense is common. So how do a lot of people will do is they'll avoid chords that they're having, you know, they know that they're going to have a hard time with challenging chords, they'll avoid challenging chords. They'll have self doubt. They'll feel frustrated. They'll feel like progress is not being made compared to the other people that they see playing and also a lack of motivation to practice. Say that you have a little bit of fear and you're not going to sit down and spend the time it's going to take to make sure your fingers go to the right place, that you're not twisting your fingers around. So I've been there. I've been there where I'm playing. I've got a challenging chord coming up
and I tense up and I blow it. Right. I just oh, it didn't work. What's the big deal? Have you ever seen someone miss a chord? It's not the end of the world. You know, no one's going to miss a chord. No one's going to care. You know, just get back up, get on the train and get back on, figure out where you can come in. You know, a lot of times people get lost in a song. If it's in the middle of a chord progression, the best thing to do is sit out and wait till that chord progression starts over again, right, instead of hunting for. So here's the example. As I'm playing C and G and see my fingers got twisted going to the G and it didn't work, let's say I've got a D minor back to a G. And then it starts at C again. Right. So if I mess up on the second chord.
I'm not going to keep going up. There's a second one and then they're all going to be out of time and you've not given yourself time to regroup. So what I will do is I'll go, see, here's the chord I mess up. Two, three, four, one, two, three, four, one. Now I'm back in where C. It might sound like I meant to do that. Maybe I meant to sit out on that chord. So to kind of let everybody else be featured for that time. So there's a lot of different things that can contribute to your fingers getting twisted up and really just slow
deliberate practice. Learn about where your difficulties are. Spend the time to say, OK, yeah, every time I play that chord, it's not working out. Right. Then put that be intentional with your practice. These two chords aren't working out till I can get these two chords down. This song is not going to sound right. So I obviously have to work on these two chords. OK. All right. So what's the next best step for you if you're interested in going to the next level with your chords and you want to clear them up? I have something for you. It's called my guide to clear sounding chords. It's over at playguitaracademy.com/chordguide. And you will be able to make all the adjustments for all of the open position chords, make sure they sound great and even some other ones as well.
And it takes you step by step, finger by finger. It talks about where your thumb placement should be. And it's just a quick, easy PDF chord guide. It's not going to take much of your time as you're going to get the results. It's the 80/20 rule. Right. You're going to get 80% of the results for something easy. Something only takes 20% of your time and easy PDF. So head over there and get that. And let's let's wrap it up. What do we talk about today? Switching between chords is a fundamental skill.
Every guitar player has to get down. It requires not only the physical stuff, but also mental focus and sticking with it. Whether you're struggling with your finger strength, struggling with timing, or if your your brain has got you thinking, all sorts of stuff, get psychological barriers. There are definitely steps that you can take to improve these chord transitions. So remember to be patient with yourself. Make sure you practice every day and don't be afraid to ask for some help or guidance with other musicians. I'd be happy to do that for you. And with time, you'll be able to make these chords sound great and untie your fingers from the knots that they've been in. That's a wrap. Thanks for tuning in today for the Play Guitar Podcast. Don't forget to hit the subscribe button below.
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