The obvious way to learn a new song is to simply practice chord changes in the order of the song. But the chords of most songs were not designed to help you become better at playing and simply following along is not the most effective way to practice.
Changing chords on the guitar is a complex process that involves a large number of fine muscle movements. If you use specific exercises to practice chord changes you will make much more effective use of your practice time and achieve better chord changes faster.
Let's take a look at three effective strategies you can use to practice chord changes instead of simply trying to play along to songs.
1. Keep it Simple
Keep things simple by focusing on learning one chord change at a time. If you set out to work on a song or a passage with three or four difficult chord changes you will make very slow progress.
The difficulty of each change merits its own special attention so break down the problem to work on only one chord change at a time. Forget the rhythm, the duration and order of the chords. Concentrate on learning the finger movements needed to make that one chord change smoothly.
2. Work Slowly
To figure out the best way to move your fingers and hand you must practice chord changes slowly. Don't try to play them in rhythm and tempo until you've got a very good idea of where your fingers are going and know how to get them there. If you play too fast you will make mistakes, repetition of this process will teach your fingers to make more of those mistakes.
When you practice slow moves from one chord to the next look for ways to shorten the paths taken by your fingers and hand. Aim to get your movements as accurate as possible. Only then should you think about gradually speeding up - little by little, keeping your movements clean, accurate and minimal - until you reach a normal playing speed.
3. Build and Integrate
When you simplify the problem and work slowly you'll already improve your ability to practice chord changes, but there is one more important step that will help you to go further still.
Whenever you learn a new chord remember to take the time to integrate it with those you know already. Learn to change the new chord to and from each of the chords you know already. This way you will improve your finger skills and be ready to play more songs with the chord changes you have learned.
By applying these three principles when you practice chord changes you will develop better chord change technique in less time. You will find your ability to change chords quickly, without errors and avoiding noises and muffled notes increases.
Remember to keep things simple - work on one problem at a time, start slow - aim for accuracy before speed, and lastly don't forget to integrate new chords you learn with what you know already.
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