How to practice chord changes on guitar for beginners

In this beginner guitar lesson, I will be showing you a way to practice chord changes. This is a lesson aimed at beginner guitar players who are at one of these following stages of learning how to play guitar. This lesson will be helpful to you if, you’ve learned your first few guitar chords and are ready to move to the next stage. Or, you’ve been trying to change from one guitar chord to the next and you’re having a few difficulties.

There are many hurdles to overcome when learning how to play guitar. Especially in the early stages. Arguably the hardest of these hurdles to overcome is developing the ability to fluidly change from one guitar chord to the next in time. Every guitar player struggles with this and breaking through this barrier can be really hard. The inability to change from one guitar chord to the next is actually something that discourages new guitar players from continuing their journey and many decide to give up on the instrument at this stage.

I don’t want you to give up. The idea of this lesson is to make this killer of a process a little easier. This information should help you break through this barrier so read through it in full and I hope to see you strumming freely soon.

Which guitar chords should I learn first?

Before we get into a lesson on how to practice chord changes, it’s important that you know a few of the more basic things. Please take a look at the lesson that I wrote on which guitar chords you should learn first. The lesson gives you the 9 chords that I feel that you should learn first and it also gives advice on the correct way to perform a chord which is something you’ll need to be doing correctly before moving onto the material for this lesson.

You’ll need a metronome

This is another “before we begin” section. We’re in spoiler territory here but you’ll need a metronome in order to follow the advice that I give in this how to practice chord changes lesson. Metronomes are very accessible. You can buy a physical metronome for under £10/$10 or alternatively you can use a free app-based metronome or a free web-based metronome. Oh, what’s this? Eat Sleep Guitar Repeat has a metronome that you can use.

How to practice chord changes on guitar for beginners

So now we’re ready to make a start. You should now know how to play the 9 basic open guitar chords that I recommended in my first chords lesson and you should also have your metronome ready to go.

Some of you may have found your metronome of choice but perhaps you’re unsure of what it’s for. This next little section is for you.

What is a metronome?

A metronome is a device used by musicians that marks time at a selected rate. At least, that’s the actual definition. We’re not going to get too technical here. A metronome is a device that helps a musician play in time via evenly spaced out ticks or beeps. The tempo of the beats is set by the musician and will remain consistent, but the tempo can be increased or decreased at any point.

What is tempo?

The word tempo refers to speed. Usually tempo in music is measured in beats per minute or BPM. You may come across tempo expressed as words such as “moderato” which means “played at a medium pace” or “andante” which means “performed at a walking pace”.

We’ll be using beats per minute though. The concept of beats per minute is simple. The easiest way to explain it is with a couple of examples. If a piece of music is at 60 beats per minute, there will be one beat every second. If the tempo is 120 beats per minute, there will be 120 beats every 60 seconds or, 2 beats a second.

A clock can be thought of as a metronome set to 60 beats per minute but without the option to change the tempo.

No matter what the BPM is, the beats (indicated by the ticks/beeps of the metronome) will always be evenly spaced out.

All music uses tempo so getting in the habit of considering tempo and beats is important.

Keeping things nice and simple

I could quite easily go a lot deeper into music theory here, but the purpose of this lesson is to show you how to practice chord changes so we’re going to move on. There is one more thing that’s worth knowing before we do though and that’s the concept of playing in 4/4.

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What is 4/4

We don’t need to go theory heavy here. All you need to know is that if music is in 4/4, there are 4 beats per bar and those beats are expressed as quarter notes. An understating of the second statement isn’t required for this lesson. Just remember that for the examples here, there will be 4 beats or ticks per bar.

4/4 is an example of a time signature. Again, an explanation at this stage isn’t really necessary. We’re using 4/4 because it’s the most common time signature in music.

1 bar equals 4 ticks on your metronome. Count 4 ticks (1 2 3 4). After that comes the next bar (1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4). The number 1 is beat 1, number 2 Is beat 2 and so on.

How to practice chord changes on guitar challenge 1

Firstly, set your metronome to 60bpm.

Next, ensure that your metronome is set to 4/4. Some metronomes have this as a specific option, and some don’t use this as an option. If yours doesn’t have It (like the Eat Sleep Guitar Repeat metronome), don’t worry about it. It doesn’t matter.

Now, play an E major chord on beat 1 of each bar allowing the chord to ring out. What you’re playing will look like this. Every chord is a down stroke with the pick. Naturally, a basic understanding of how to read TAB is required here.

Just to make things easier for those that need that extra help, I’ve included a chord chart with every guitar chord used in this lesson at the bottom of the page so scroll to that if/when you need it. Also, notice how I’ve included roughly where each beat falls in the bar. The beats are indicated by the numbers 1-4 below the TAB. Each beat is equal to 1 tick/beep on your metronome.

You’re playing at a slow tempo here and what you’re doing is basic. But you’re playing in time. Repeat this for each of your basic chords but don’t worry about the chord changes themselves just yet. Stop playing completely and remove your fingers from the instrument before positioning your fingers in place for the next chord and strum the new chord on beat 1. Do this a few times for each chord.

Once you’ve done that for each of your chords, adjust your beats per minute to 80 and then repeat the process again. Then to 100bpm and repeat again. Then finally, 120bpm and repeat again. If at any point you’re struggling to hit the chords at the right time, dial back the beats per minute.

How to practice chord changes on guitar challenge 2

This second challenge basically builds on what we did before, and its purpose is to further develop that sense of timing which will be important during the next part. The idea here is the same as challenge 1 but this time, we will be playing a little more.

Step 1 set your metronome back to 60bpm.

Go back to your E major chord and play the following.

As you can see, we’re now playing a down stroke E major chord on beat 1 and also beat 3 of each bar.

Repeat this process with each chord as we did with the last challenge and then again with the incrementally increased beats per minute.

Once you’re happy with that, move on to this next task.

Here you can see that you’re playing your chord on every beat in the bar. Stick with the down strokes and ensure that each strum is directly on top of each tick in the bar. Once again, repeat this with each of your basic chords and with the gradually increased tempo.

All the exercises that we’ve looked at so far have focused on developing a sense of timing with your guitar playing. This is vital for chord changing. We walk before we can run. Next, we’re going to look at incorporating those tricky chord changes so expect an increase in difficulty.

How to practice chord changes on guitar challenge 3

Now that we know how to play to the beat (at a basic level), we can start thinking about those chord changes. When you change from 1 chord to the next, that change must be done in time. If you’re changing from an E major chord to an A major chord and the A major chord is played on the first beat of bar 5, that’s exactly where you need to perform the chord. Not on beat 2 or slightly after beat 1. Let’s try something that will hopefully help to get you in the habit of playing the chords in the right places.

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At this stage, tempo is not important. We’re going to go back to 60 beats per minute and focus on accuracy.

Here you can see an example of how you can practice changing from an A major chord to a D major chord and then to an E major chord.

We’re keeping things nice and simple here. The TAB is telling you to play an A major chord on beat 1 of bar 1. You let that ring out for beats 2, 3 and 4 and then play an A major again on beat 1 of bar 2. Next you play a D major chord on beat 1 of bar 3. You let that ring out for the rest of the bar and then play an E major chord on beat 1 of bar 4. Let that E major ring out for the remainder of bar 4 before looping back to the A major chord of bar 1 and so on.

When you get the hang of that, increase the bpm by 10 and repeat. Continue this process until you reach 120bpm. If you feel things are moving too fast, dial back the bpm. Accuracy is king here. Also consider the next crucial tip when executing those chord changes.

Practicing chord changes on guitar a vital tip to make things easier

When you’re placing your fingers on the fretboard to play a chord, try and place all of the fingers down in their places at the same time. Don’t try placing your index finger down followed by your middle finger and so on. Doing that will mean you’ll struggle to get the timing right later. Placing all your fingers in position at the same time is the way to go!

Groups of chords that work well together

So far, we’ve seen 3 chords that work well as a group. A major, D major and E major. The chord changing exercise that you just saw can naturally be done with other chords. But which chords work well together and which chords should you practice changing between?

Well if you looked at that recommended article, you’ll know that the first guitar chords I recommend learning are E major, A major, D major, E minor, D minor, A minor, G major, C major and finally F major.

We can break these 9 chords down into groups of 3 that you can practice together. We have our first group already. A major, D major and E major. Our next group is A minor, D minor and E minor. The final group is C major, F major and G major.

These groups of chords all work nicely together. Stick with them for now and you’ll be fine.

This means that you can run the previous exercise with A minor, D minor and E minor and also C major, F major and G major. Not just the 3 chords shown in the example.

Quick recap 

By this point you’ll hopefully have a basic understanding of how to play in time to your metronome and how to practice changing from 1 chord to the next at a basic level. Also, you’ll know which chords to practice changing between.

Next, we’ll look at 2 exercises that will push you more and move you closer to making music and strumming.

Before that, let me tell you which chord you’re going to struggle with the most.

Everyone struggles with F major

The F major chord uses a barre (more than 1 string played by 1 finger). These chords are harder to play than open chords for new guitarists. The chord is harder to finger and, because you’re pressing down on more than 1 string, it’s harder to get the notes to ring out.

The only way to get through this difficulty is with persistence. Keep at it and you’ll get it eventually.

How to practice chord changes on guitar challenge 4

Just 2 sections left now for this how to practice chord changes lesson. Here we’re going to use the same concept as before but this time, things are slightly harder.

As you can see, there are more chords. This reduces the time you have to make that change. The chords are played on beats 1 and 3 of each bar. For this example, I’m using another one of the chord groups. The chords we’re using here are C, F and G. Bars 1 and 2 are C major, Bar 3 is F major and bar 4 is G major.

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Simply loop this exercise to increase your chord changing ability. When comfortable, increase the bpm by 10 and repeat until you reach 120bpm.

How to practice chord changes on guitar challenge 5

This is the last challenge for this part of how to practice chord changes. Let’s increase the difficulty slightly.  We’re still keeping things simple by playing every chord on a beat.

In this example, you can see the chords, A minor, D minor and E minor. You’re playing a chord on every single beat which will once again reduce the time you have to make those chord changes when they arrive.

Again, loop the exercise and again increase the tempo once you achieve perfect accuracy. Oh, and don’t forget to use all 3 chord groups with these last 2 exercises. I’m showing 1 as an example but you should practice with all 3.

This one will be by far the most difficult. Don’t forget to dial back that BPM if you need to and don’t worry if you don’t get the hang of this right away. 

All the chords needed for this lesson

how to practice chord changes on guitar chord chart

There you have a chart showing all 9 chord shapes that you’ll need for this guitar lesson. You may look at these shapes and think that they’re slightly different to the shapes you’ve already learned. For example, there is more than 1 way of playing an open G major chord. Also, some people decide to use different fingers to play the open A major chord.

I’m teaching you these specific shapes for one reason. Efficiently. These are the shapes that require the minimum finger movement when you factor in common chord changes e.g. G major to C major. I’m going to need you to go ahead and trust me on this. Some will disagree but this is they way I’ve always played these chords and I got by just fine.

Things to take away from this lesson on how to practice chord changes on guitar

It’s all about the accuracy. At this stage, it doesn’t matter how basic your playing is or how slow you’re playing. What you should focus on is accuracy. Get those chords directly on the beat as instructed and you’ll be strumming like a master in no time at all.

Well, maybe not no time at all. This is one of those things that takes some work. You’ll need some determination but if you can get this down, there’s no reason why you can’t master more advanced stuff.

Don’t forget to place those fingers down all at the same time. The A major chord for example requires you to place 3 fingers on the fretboard. All 3 of those fingers should hit their mark simultaneously. Trust me.

Also trust the process.  This method is designed to give you a sense of timing and get you playing in time right from the start. If you can master this, you can pretty much master anything.

Once you’ve got the hang of the material found in this lesson, you can move on to things like basic strumming patterns which will be much more musical.

What next?

It’s hard to know exactly where guitarists are in terms of skill level when they’re reading beginner content and guitar lessons so suggesting what to read next is kind of tricky. 

Perhaps you could check out this list of easy guitar songs or this list of guitar songs with two chords for some inspiration on what to learn next. Or, you could check out a couple of easy songs that I’ve already written lessons for here at Eat Sleep Guitar Repeat such as these. 

Hey Ya Guitar Chords and Lesson 

Talkin’ Bout a Revolution Guitar Chords and Lesson

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