Chord Technique on Guitar and Bass

Does it take you a long time to learn a new chord?

Do you want the secret to quickly learning new chord shapes?

Applying this write-up could dramatically speed your progress!

Contrary to common belief, fingering chords is a matter of control, not strength. While your first bar chords takes some strength development, control is what you need. And control is developed with slow and focused repetition.

Learning chords on a guitar or bass is simply a matter of muscle memory. According to a physical therapist student of mine, it can take up to 3,000 repetitions to establish the muscle memory of a specific motion. That’s a lot of repetitions! I’ve had students learn new chords in a shorter period of time as well, because they already knew many of them, or they had very coordinated hands. There is always a time variable, and nothing is absolute.

(I once had a beginning guitar student who learned every technique point perfectly the first time which was quite impressive. He was a slight-of-hand magician and could shuffle a deck of cards in each hand at the same time so his hand/finger dexterity was unbelievable. Wow!)

The following exercise is a technique for learning chords I’ve used for years that works like a charm. (If you are left-handed just reverse the instructions.)

1. Press and release on each chord.

(a) With the left hand, form the chord, then press and release the fingers onto the neck. Leave the fingers touching the string and only press the string down to the frets. You don’t have to press very hard as this is not developing strength: it’s developing control. (Though certain muscles will become stronger.)

(b) Once you are able to do this, let the fingers slightly come off the strings, staying in the exact chord position. Have the fingers remain fairly close to the strings, but slightly lift them off.

After each chord becomes “grooved in”:

2. Chord Changing. Change back and forth between a pair of chords, having all the fingers touchdown at the same time. It is common to anchor one finger in place then move the other fingers to their position. You might do this when playing, but for this exercise it is best to have them all land at the same time.

(a) Only use the left hand without any strumming. Slowly move from one chord to the next having all fingers land at the same time. If you are a beginner this can take weeks, so don’t get discouraged if it doesn’t happen right away. I’ve had some students learn a new chord in a few days whereas most take a few weeks to months.

(b) Repeat, only strum each chord once getting each note to ring out.

(c) When you are ready, strum a groove on the chords or play a song with them. If you are not ready for this just continue the above exercises until you are.

The major barrier to learning chords is trying to do the motions too fast! My article, Guidelines for Practicing a Musical Instrument, explains all the fine points about practicing. Applying these nine points should speed up your progress.

And if you think your hands are too small to play guitar, check out this video!!!!

Related articles:

The Famous F Chord on Guitar

Am I Too Old to Learn an Instrument?

Marty B.
(818) 242-7551

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