Beginner guitarists face a major hurdle trying to make smooth and comfortable chord changes.
To that end, I’ve developed a few helpful “common” strategies that are outlined in this epic lesson. The first two strategies – common finger and common string – are often easiest to apply. The third strategy, however, usually presents a few coordination issues.
But learning to use the common shape strategy will make life much easier for your average guitar rookie. In a nutshell, we want to recognize the fingers that are configured – or “shaped” – the same way between two chords and maintain that shape as we switch.
[Note: Although I’m presenting this as a beginner lesson, it’s actually a foundation concept that is practiced across all skill levels. Granted, it is usually developed in the beginning stages of practice, but if you’ve been playing for a while and find yourself still lacking in this area, read on!]
Chord Changes Made Easy
Some shapes are easy to recognize, like Am and E. They share the exact same configuration; each finger just needs to move one string over to make the chord change.
But instead of moving them one at a time, we should instead think “hop and drop” – we lift our fingers as a unit (“hop”) and place them as a unit (“drop”) into the new position. This is a nice catchy way to think of using your common shape strategy.
Of course, the key to all of this is maintaining the shape of the chords in mid-air. Pro guitarists do this all the time and so should you. It’s as much a matter of commitment and discipline as it is physical coordination, so take control and command those fingers!
Partial common shapes are not as easy to recognize at first, but if you train yourself to look for them, you can find them all over the place!
One example I’ve been pointing out recently is the chord change from G to D7. Typically we’ll tackle this with the common string strategy; that is, we’ll release fingers 1 and 2 from the G chord and let finger 3 guide us back to the D7 position. We’ll then reapply fingers 1 and 2 to make the triangle that is a D7 chord.
However, there are many beginner guitarists who have a hard time getting fingers 1 and 2 over to D7 – or back again to G – without all sorts of contortions. If that’s you, then pay attention: Fingers 1 and 2 are in the same short diagonal position for both G and D7! It’s a partial common shape strategy at work.
Our goal now is to migrate fingers 1 and 2 from G to D7 while maintaining the diagonal shape in the air. We then simply drop them into place.
Allow me to toss a few more common shape examples your way:
G and Cadd9 (narrow and wide versions of the same shape)
C and G7 (narrow and wide as well)
C, Dm and E (fingers 1 and 2)
G and B7 (fingers 1 and 2)
D7 and A7 (fingers 2 and 3)
And lest you think that this only applies to beginner material, here are a few examples of moveable chords which share some common shapes:
Bm and F# (entire shape)
Gm7 and C9 (finger 2 and partial barre of finger 3)
Dm7b5 to Gdim7 (entire shape)
Takeaway Point: Using the “hop and drop” concept to execute your common shapes will make chord changes much easier, no matter if you’re a beginner, intermediate or advanced guitarist. Learn ’em like a good rock star should!
QUESTION: Do you have any tips to share for making clean chord changes? Leave me a comment below!