Master Any Chord on the Guitar (the On /Off Switch)

Learning chords is not only one of the first things a guitarist does, it's one of the most important. After all, 90% of what we do as guitar players centers around playing chords. 

This means we need to learn to switch between all types of guitar chords to the very best of our ability...

Are you sick and tired of not being able to grab into chord shapes when you want them and when you need them? This post will break down one of the best methods I've ever come across for mastering chords on the guitar in record time.

Our role to the rhythm section is paramount. Whether we're playing in a rock band, country band, folk group, or a jazz ensemble, the guitarist is considered an integral part of the rhythm section (guitar, drums and bass).

In a band situation, the guitarist usually plays a regular flow of chord changes and although there can be a certain amount of improvisation possible, generally the parts played by the guitarist center around strumming chord changes.

This means that all kinds of different chords can be a part of what the guitarist plays. Major and Minor chords, 7th chords, extended, suspended, altered, etc.

The chord types can really add up. So, in order to be able to handle the execution of all of the different chord types that will show up in all types of music we need to play, we absolutely have to develop a learning strategy that can bring the chords up to speed in our playing as quickly as possible.

Changing chords on guitar involves a lot of control. The fingers need to know the feel of each chord shape. The mind needs to understand each chords geometry, and the body must be able to anticipate how the fingers, hand, wrist and arm will work together to make chord patterns occur easily.

Above all else, the chord changes need to happen quickly and effortlessly. This means that there needs to be a "chord skill building method" for guitar players to learn chords fast and learn them forever.

There's an old saying, "Repetition is the Mother of all Skill." This saying couldn't apply more to the development of chords on the guitar. If you play a new chord that you're learning 10 times in a row it will be better understood by your body. But, if you play it 50 times, your body will begin to start programming it deeper into your memory.

Once you play the chord 100, 200 and eventually 500 times or more - over and over again, the chord will become neurologically programmed deep into your mind, hands and fingers. This is where you need to get to and you'll need a way to get there as quickly as possible.

In order to build this muscle programming and mental programming with guitar chords you'll need a system. And, one system that I've used here at Creative Guitar for many years now (with my own personal students) is the method I've nick-named the "On /Off Chord Switching Drill."

What do I call it a drill? Well, the term "Drill" is one that is taken from the military and in that context it means to not just develop gathered information, but to impress the developed ability in the human body to be able to have the body react to the training of that information. And,, when it comes to using chords in a song, we need those shapes to happen and happen fast.

Here's how it works...

STEP #1). Select a chord you need to better develop into your playing.

Begin by choosing a new chord to work with. One that is unfamiliar to you. Maybe a chord you've had trouble with in the past. It can be a chord type that you never make properly, or one that you seem to constantly flub every time you go to create the shape on the neck.

STEP #2). Visualize yourself playing the chord perfectly

The next step is to visualize the shape in your mind clearly. Close your eyes if you have to and see, hear and feel that chord on the guitar fingerboard. Make sure that in your visualization, (as you are doing this), you are playing that chord with ease and perfection. Everything about how that chord sits on the neck needs to be perfect.

STEP #3). Create the chord shape on the fingerboard

The next step is to develop the fingering in a perfect and calm relaxed layout of the tones. Do your best to go slowly and remain relaxed with your fingers. Notice how your hand naturally chooses to fall. Notice the position of your thumb and how your wrist is angled. If everything works and the chord is well fingered and positioned, you're done this step.

However, if the fingering feels terrible, or if you cannot reach over to the chords notes correctly, start working at changing the position of everything you can think of.

This includes how you're sitting, how your wrist is angled, and the way your thumb is placed on the back of the neck. Do what you need to do for the chord pattern to begin taking better shape on the fingerboard. This even includes sliding the chord shape over to other areas of the fingerboard.

STEP #4). The "on /off" drill - Phase One (fretting hand only) 

Relax your hand away from the fingerboard. Then, bring the hand "ON" to the neck to create the chord pattern that you've selected for the drill. Make the fingering function as best as you possibly can.

Pay a lot of attention to what the strings feel like under the tips of each finger. You do not need to strum the chord at this point, only create the fingering shape.

Next, remove the fingering, "OFF" and relax the hand. Take a moment to reflect on how you did when you created the fingering. Was it like you visualized? Did the strings feel good under your finger tips? If you would have strummed the chord, would it have rung out nicely? What could have been improved?

STEP #5). The "on /off" drill - Phase Two (fretting and strumming)

Now, the fun begins. At this point your technique for creating the chord fingering under study upon the neck should be at a decent level of skill. The feel of the chord and its geometry should also be well acquainted to you by now.

The next phase is to begin doing several "ON /OFF" repetitions including chord strums to begin the practice of the chord shape, the layout on the fingerboard, and the quality of sound when the chord is strummed with the strumming hand.

At this stage you're integrating both hands, so pay a lot of attention to accuracy. The strum hand should be striking the correct string sets and you should pay particular attention to how the chord sounds.

Are the notes clear and is every string ringing clearly? Does each finger feel accurately placed upon each string? How does your hand feel when it moves away from the neck? How does it feel when it comes back to the neck?  


You'll need a lot of repetition to burn in the muscle memory and to develop an automatic response for the chords you are drilling on. Over time, you'll become faster with each return to a perfect chord grip. Normally, most chords will require between 150 to 200 repetitions to build the basic response. After 1000 cycles, the chord should become second nature at that point.

1000 cycles works out to approximately one months time (to reaching absolute perfection) with chords that are causing you trouble. In the big picture, that's not a lot of time to absolutely master the technique of performing a challenging grip for a chord pattern on the neck. And, the reality is, that once you've done this routine for awhile your overall skill will build up to a level where new chords will take less and less time to master.

Have fun, practice this drill and enjoy the results!

- Andrew Wasson




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