Changing Chords


When to change chords?

I read a dozen articles on the web just now after the question came up at rehearsal this week. Most people could do themselves a life-long favor by focusing more on playing melody and rhythm well, than working on their chords, but in backward-guitar-land, chords are a big deal to people. So here’s a summary of ideas:

  • Strum first sing second. You need to have the chord in place prior to the start of the syllable in the lyrics.
  • Abandon the previous chord as early as you need. Everybody changes chords at a different rate and it takes more time to get the difficult chords in place. Let the melody players or singers be the star while you get ready to hit the next chord without messing up the rhythm and flow of the song.
  • Rhythm is more important than anything else. If you can’t get your chord in place, switch to plucking out the melody or singing real loud until you can return to the chords.
  • Plan on having beat ONE right. The rest of the measure will take care of itself, but get the first beat of any chord correct.
  • Listen and feel. This is how folk guitarists who don’t read any music can get so good. They rely on their ears to help them make great choices. The good news is, it usually works. The bad news is, you get stuck playing songs only one way because new choices will be heard as “wrong.” If you’re playing college-level classical music, there’s a “right” way to play a song, everything else is open to your own ideas.
  • Strum patterns are lame. Unless you’re trying to copy somebody you heard on the radio, you need to bring your own ideas to a tune. Don’t think there is one “right” strum pattern. Try playing on the beat, or with the speed of the notes, or an arpeggio pattern, or fast, or slow, or not at all. Be adventurous. You’re an artist, not a robot.