Learning Guitar Chords – Top 10 Mistakes
Your fingers are being introduced to fretboard and string, they fumble around and make mistakes, they’re sore, tired and sick of being told what to do.
It’s your job to dig in, because I can assure you all the effort, cursing and determination is worth it in the end.
Take a look at the 10 most common mistakes I have seen from my own experience learning and teaching guitar.
1. Giving Up Way Too Soon
C’mon we all suck at things when we’re learning.
It’s time to give yourself a break, ease up on that negative self talk, mmmm k?
The critical time in learning how to play guitar chords is when you’re almost there but you keep making little mistakes.
Luckily, once you know the shape of the chord and start repeatedly playing it, a little thing called “muscle memory” will take over.
It takes time to develop but once a chord is ingrained in your brain you’ve got it for life.
2. Thinking About Those Dolphins Again
When you are learning a chord it’s really important to visualize where each finger is going to move to, and how it’s going to happen.
Look at where your fingers are now, visualize where they need to be and figure out the shortest distance between them.
Sometimes you won’t have to move half your fingers because they’ll be used in the first chord. A great example of this is Island in the Sun by Weezer.
I guarantee you will speed up your chord changes if you follow these simple steps.
3. Making the Possible, Impossible
Changing from one chord to another, bar after bar, is without a doubt the best way to learn guitar chords. It builds that muscle memory we talked about earlier.
However, if you make it too hard and pick some nasty chord changes like a G7 into a D it can really put you off the idea.
Pick some easy ones first like G to A, E to A, D to G.
4. Avoiding the Finger Gym
Your fingers are amazing things, they’re operated by a complex network of tendons and muscles that reach up through your hand and into your forearm.
When you fret the chord you are telling these muscles to do new things. To make it easier on them you can increase their flexibility and strength by using specialized finger weights, hand grippers, wide scale exercises or just playing your guitar a boatload.
This tip probably applies the most to acoustic guitars, but is good knowledge for an electric as well.
5. Bending Like a Pretzel
Sometimes bending like a pretzel can be a good thing, but not when you’re playing guitar.
After getting your fingers into position, for something like an open A Major chord, strum without looking.
You don’t want to be bending over staring at your fingers, willing them to stay in place, if they move and you hear dead notes maybe have a quick peek, but that’s all.
Muscle memory only works when you give your muscles a chance to remember. If you are constantly watching over them, they’ll never learn.
Just watch this bending like a pretzel business, nobody likes a crick in the neck.
6. Only practicing one chord at a time
This is a bad habit some people get into, and it’s not really their fault, it’s just they way their tutors have been teaching them or that they’re reading a book or tutorial that doesn’t really convey a solid learning process.
By practicing 3 chords at once you’ll find you learn the fingerings for each of them a lot faster than if you learn just one at a time. It has to do with how your brain works, giving your brain 3 different patterns to memorize in varying orders strengthens the pathways in your brain so that when it comes to remembering that chord your brain is able to bring up the information a lot faster.
Just try it! It works.
7. Leaving your pinky out of sight
This is a weird one, but I see people doing it all of the time! Your fingers should be hovering over the strings of your guitar ALL OF THE TIME. Meaning that when you form a D chord your pinky finger should be hovering somewhere over the high E string or B.
A lot of the time people will tuck their pinky fingers under the fret board or some other weird place, and it really makes it difficult for them to learn more advanced chords later on.
8. Not understanding to root note
The root note of a chord is its bass note, it determines which string you should start strumming or picking from. An E chords root note is an E which is played as the open low E string on your guitar, this means you start strumming or picking from that note.
9. Not picking the chord
Sometimes by strumming the chord you will notice you are hitting a lot of dead notes, however most beginners will stop there and keep strumming until they get it right. It’s kind of like a brute force way to learn guitar chords.
As a more learned student (and reader of my blog) you will know it is better to pick each note separately so you can quickly analyze what string is giving you the dead note. You can then apply more pressure or move the finger slightly to get it into a better position. This can save you a lot of time and heartache.
10. Not using all your senses
I believe the best way to learn is to engage all your senses in the activity, you should be seeing the guitar chord in a photo (of someone playing it) in a diagram (of where your fingers should be) and even in a video so you can see how a player gets their fingers into position.
Although sight is a great way to learn, when trying to learn guitar chords you can’t get very far without being able to hear the guitar chord being strummed or picked so you can compare yourself to a professional. Getting information into your brain from every angle is the best way to succeed at learning how to play guitar chords in the shortest amount of time.
Look for tutorials and courses that use a multitude of ways to teach you, not just text!
I haven’t put these tips in any particular order; they’re all solid gold tips to being able to learn guitar chords faster than anyone else. I’d suggest writing down each method onto a piece of paper and start using it in your daily practice, you’ll be surprised at how fast you can see results.