10 September 2007

Guitar Practice Tips: Effective Chord Fingering

In my article on practicing vs. playing guitar I introduced the idea of slow practice. In this article I'm giving you more tips on effectively practising chord changes on the guitar.

1. Keep your fingers close to the strings.
When learning a new chord change the aim is to get your fingers from one chord position to another. This means that the fingers have to end up at a certain fret and string on the guitar's neck. To do this quickly and accurately you must keep your fingers close to the strings.

A frequent habit many beginners adopt is to lift the fingers away from the strings. This makes extra work for each chord change as the fingers are moved away and then placed back on the strings.

So, the first tip is to keep your fingers as close to the strings as possible.

2. Don't press the strings.
My second tip is that you don't try to press the strings down. When you start learning a new chord, scale, or even a solo, just rest your finger tips gently on the string in the desired position.

This approach has two advantages. Firstly, it lets you concentrate on the job of positioning the finger. The next step of pressing down the string can be practised separately.

Secondly, your finger muscles will be more relaxed. When you're aiming to press the strings the muscles have a tendancy to tense up in anticipation of the effort needed.

3. Work one finger at a time.
When first starting out with a new chord work on the movement of each finger individually. Figure out where each finger has to go and find the smallest movement possible to get there. Experiment to find the best movement and don't be afraid to come back and revise after working on other fingers.

4. Choose a lead, or anchor, finger.
Choose one finger that you'll place first when playing a chord. This makes it simpler to place the other fingers around it. Experiment with different fingers as anchors for each chord.

5. Don't try strumming or picking at the same time.
Concentrate on only the hand that's making the chord shapes. You can introduce the strumming or picking later when you've mastered the chord shape.

An exception to this piece of advice is when you start pressing down on the strings. You can strum or pick the strings to check that they all sound correctly and are not muffled.

6. Relax your fingers and hand from time to time.
Stretch or wiggle your fingers to relax them. A good exercise is to place your palm on a flat horizontal surface. Your thigh is perfect for this if you're sitting down. Put your palm down and let your arm go limp. You'll feel that your hand and fingers are completely relaxed in this position.

7. Relax the rest of your body too.
I know that I have a tendance to tense up around the guitar when I'm concentrating on learning. Take some deep breaths, loosen up your shoulders, straighten your back. Stand up and stretch from time to time.

8. Breathe.
While you're practicing check from time to time that you're still breathing. When I'm concentrating hard I often catch myself holding my breath. This leads to general tensing up. Remember to maintain a regular, easy breathing while you practice and play.

That's the end of my list. I hope that these tips will get you learning new chords and fingerings more quickly and more acurately.

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