The Mental Side of Transitioning Between Chords on Guitar

April 1, 2015

 

Welcome to the biggest obstacle every beginning guitar player has to face. 

As someone who remembers this time well, and helps tons of students get through this process, there is no doubt that the period of time when you can play chords, but can't quite switch between them as fast as you would like to is one of, if not the, most frustrating stretches of time we guitar players have to endure. 

The cold hard truth is that this is mainly a matter of time, The more you put yourself though it day by day, the quicker you'll be able to strum along with your favorite records. However, there is one key thing that I have found a lot of guitar teachers, and music teachers in general, tend to skip over that I think can shorten this time a bit, along with learning skills that will help with your practicing overall. 

A practicing musician, regardless of their instrument, is actually fighting a battle on two fronts, but most teachers seem to  be pretty one-sided. 

The two battles we are facing are the physical/technical side, and the mental/cognitive side.

A lot of people focus on only their fingers (physical), making sure they're in the right place and then basically saying a quick prayer to get from one fingering or shape to another. What about the mental side of things? Yes, our fingers are moving slow at the beginning, but if our brain isn't still quite sure what to tell our fingers in the first place, that isn't going to help them out.. 


The brain definitely doesn't mind learning through repetition, so after awhile of only focusing on your fingers, your brain will get on board too, but there is a better way to approach things. If we actively focus on the mental side, along with the physical practice, we can make strides a little quicker. I've been doing this with students for about two years now, and though this process does still take awhile (we still have to put in SOME practice time), using the techniques below seem to make things go by quicker than when not used they're not used.

Here are some mental exercises to start off with that I do with all of my students:

1). Try to visualize yourself playing your chords and switching between them all in your head. Don't even touch your guitar. Be as detailed as possible. See the fretboard, your fingers, the frets, everything. This is harder than you might imagine; again, this is because our brain is still getting used to processing all of this mumbo jumbo. The fancy word for this is kinesthetic imagery if you want to impress your mom.

2).  Play a chord, and then very, very slowly pull your fingers off of the fretboard, while still maintaining the shape of the chord in midair. Then, slowly release the shape until all of your fingers are sprawled out. Finally, bring your fingers to the fretboard again, trying to make that shape in midair and landing it back perfectly on the guitar. This helps out a lot because making these shapes in midair is what we'll be doing ultimately anyway, and this helps isolate that movement. Also, focusing so much on those shapes (the slower you go the better) helps really brand what the chord shapes are onto your brain. 

3). Mentally practice the transitions, not just the chords. When you're starting out, your brain is sort of seeing all of these chords as seperate entities, which of course they are. This doesn't really help us out when switching between them though, because our brain has to totally change gears. We can help it out by slowly going through what we have to do from one chord to another, rather than just hoping our brain figures it out along the way. Go through the steps out loud or in your head. Are there any fingers you get to keep in the same spot? Same fret? What strings are you changing your fingers too? Are there any smaller shapes inside the chord that move over into the second shape? Our brain does not mind being spoon fed from time to time. 

If you have any questions on any of these, or want more information on the mental side of practicing for other techniques, stay tuned for more weekly blogs or contact me directly through my email below.

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Happy Practcing!

Mike Lowden
Guitar Instructor, Co Owner
mikelowden@fallsmusicschool.com


 

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