Studying Guitar Chords – The Best Methods
By Tennyson Williams, Author of The Essential Guide To Guitar Virtuosity
I have heard over the years that there are as much as one million guitar chords that can be learned. It might even be two million. I think that one million might just be a slightly inaccurate number, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the actual calculation was close to that. There are still a lot of guitar chords that have never been named or really discovered. The possibilities are endless, and as you can see, it can become quite a chore to learn even a handful of guitar chords.
In this article I’m going to give you some simple advice for studying chords and then making them stick. Let’s get to it!
1. Stick with it. If you learn a new chord, you’re going to have to play it or use it in the context of a song for a number of days.
2. My biggest suggestion would be to try and learn only five chords at a time. Don’t take on too much. From here there are two ways that you can go about this. You can either learn five chords in the same key, like the key of E, or you can learn five chords from five different tonalities.
My personal approach to learning chords was to try and tackle twenty chords under each key, and I went in order. I first learned twenty E chords before moving on to the F chords, and once I mastered twenty F chords, I moved onto the G chords, and so on.
3. Write them down
Make them stick by taking the time to write down the name of a chord, as well as the fingering for that chord on a chord chart. You might have to do this over and over again, and though it is very simple to purchase a chord book, you should consider starting your own chord book. This goes perfectly with what I have to say next.
4. Find your own
Take the time to create your own chords, and be sure to name them. Go ahead and name them with a more unorthodox approach, because you may not want to confuse yourself with the standard chord name formats. This is also important in case you one day discover what the name of that chord actually is. If this happens, then you’ve already memorized it, keeping you ahead of the game.
5. Record them
Joe Satriani actually took the time to make a cassette of himself playing guitar chords. The tape would feature him playing a chord, then there would be a short pause afterwords. After a few seconds of silence, his voice would appear, giving the name of the chord. The pause was left in between so that upon playback, it would give him enough time to try and guess what the chord was. He used this process with hundreds if not thousands of chords. There’s a good chance that he didn’t get very many of them right when he first started listening to the tape, but over time his ears began to adjust. Its no different than a CD that you know well. When one song ends, you know exactly what the next song is going to sound like, as well as the name of that song. This may be a bit ambitious, but it does work.
6. Use the chords
The most important part of memorizing chords is actually using them in the context of a song. Even more important than that, use them in the context of your own songs. Experiment to see what chords work well with each other. There is no rule for this, so have fun with it. This also gives a guitarist great ideas for future song material. You may just find yourself abandoning your chord studies, because you have come across the perfect combo, but this is ok! After all, that is the whole point of music – to create.
7. Study them
Its also ideal that you take the time to study the functionings of guitar chords. Really make an attempt to learn the theory behind each chord structure. This takes time and doesn’t always make sense right away, but if you learn what makes them tick, you’ll be able to find them on the neck in no time.
Learning as many chords as possible is very important. There is nothing more frustrating than jamming with people who play a completely different style of music than your own, and getting left behind. I once jammed with my uncle and a buddy of his who are both very experienced jazz musicians. I did alright by faking my way through it, but the chord structures were too foreign and the chord changes were too fast. This really infuriated me so I took it upon myself to learn as many chords as possible. You too may find yourself in a similar situation, or perhaps this scenario has already played out in your life, but don’t give it up! Just work a little bit harder.
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