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Changing Chords - A Guitar Lesson for Beginners.
Difficulty Rating: Beginner
Lesson by: Kirk Lorange

 



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Chords are the most fundamental aspect of any piece of music. Melody is the ear catcher, the bit we remember and hum along to, the part that the singer puts the words to ... but behind the melody are the chords. They're a sort of ever changing canvas upon which the tune is being carried. Chords therefore need to be studied, understood and practiced, whether you see yourself as an accompanist to a singer, a rhythm or a lead guitarist.

There are three main flavors of chords and many sub-flavors, but this lesson doesn't go into any of that.

The most difficult part of playing chords is moving from one to the next. Very few tunes use just one chord. Most use quite a few and the choices come down to the composer who usually works within a key. Each key consists of a few chords that are related through the scale they arise from, and are therefore compatible ... they sound nice together.

To keep things nice and simple, I've chosen four chords for this lesson, all from the key of Em. One requires just one finger, two require just two fingers, the fourth requires three, so at least you won't be getting all tied up in knots or cramped up. The main goal here is transition from one to the other in a smooth, musical way. I say it often in the finger style lesson here that music is not so much the notes but the flow ... you can be hitting all the right notes cleanly and accurately and still not be playing music if it's not flowing properly.

The video says it all, so I won't ramble on too much here nor will I post the tab as the chord diagrams are in the movie. I suggest you watch it through a couple of times, then start to practice the changes. I've kept it all very straight forward and the aim here is to be able to strum through the four chords over and over ... the example I play is in 3/4 time. Experiment with it in 4/4 also (if you don't know what that means, read this and this). If your finger tips start to hurt too much*, give it a break for a while, but come back to it asap to harden them up and to keep working on moving from one chord to the other smoothly and seamlessly. If you find yourself thinking too much about all the various aspects just shut your eyes, clear your thoughts and LISTEN. Pretend you're imitating someone who does know how to do it.

I will clarify a couple of things I mention in the video:

  • Chords sound strongest when their root is used as bass note. The 'root' is the note that the chord is named after, can be imagined as a sort of foundation for the chord ... It's also called the 'tonic' and the 'the one', the latter meaning that it's the first note of the scale that underlies the chord. It's the strongest sounding note to use as bass note of any chord. In the two Em chords in this example, the root is in the open 6th string, the thickest string (the E string). That's why you can strum from the bass string up; The CM7 and B7 chords have roots on the 5th string, so you need to leave the 6th out. It's simply the result of how the various notes are arranged on the fretboard.
  • In the case of the B7, the four strings I mention are the middle four strings, the 2-3-4-5 set. In this case, there are two strings that should be left out (the 1 and 6), but, as I say in the video, the treble string doesn't clash, the new chord (B7sus4) still sounds good, so it's not a huge problem if you do hit it ... and I do. You can in fact fret the second fret of the treble string to make it a 5 note chord, a proper B7, but I've kept the fingerings compact for this lesson.

Here are some midi tracks to practice along to: (bpm=beats per minute)

Chords as per the movie, plus a high-hat metronome: 70 bpm - 40 bpm

'Band' version: 70 bpm ... Rhodes piano playing the chords one per bar, plus drum and fretless bass. Strum along to this as per the movie.

*Close to the beginning of the movie, you can get a glimpse of the deep ruts in my finger tips. They don't hurt.