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I am a beginner (learning with acoustic guitar). Started learning major chords now and this is the sequence I am planning on practicing it; A, A-A#, A-B.... A#, A#-A, A#-B.... i.e I also want to practice changing the chords right now. I already am having finger pain, but now when I play chords it is even more.

When I change the chords without removing the contact between the fingers and the strings, The pain gets unbearable but when I do take my fingers off the strings between changing chords the pain is less but I do more mistakes and it takes longer for me to relocate the fingers.

In which method should I keep practicing? and what is the ideal chord-practicing time for beginner. I tried 1 hr one day and I couldn't lift my hand the next.

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Are you practising barre chords (with your index finger across all six strings)? –  Bob Broadley Jun 9 at 6:33
    
no I am not practicing barre chords at the moment –  rps Jun 9 at 6:39
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What is the actual reason for changes like these ? Are they exercises, or a particular song you want to learn.Most songs will not have changes such as these, so other chord changes will be more beneficial. –  Tim Jun 9 at 10:03
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Perhaps the most common changes occur between a chord and one either a fourth or a fifth away from it. As in A - D and A - E. There won't be many songs without these changes. To achieve this, you need to stay on the same fret, but change shape (for barre chords), say, from an E to an A shape.This is only the beginning, but a far more useful one generally than what you're practising.Of course, in the end, you'll need to be able to change any chord to any other, but one day at a time for now! –  Tim Jun 9 at 11:00
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Just read that you are playing A# but not using barre chords. So you must be using a shape like Bob broadleys answer? Anyway, you will find that changing to chords of a completely different shape will use different muscles and give your hand a rest. –  steve verrill Jun 9 at 11:33

6 Answers 6

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Practice Time:

There is no ideal length of time for practising, especially for practising any one technique. However, an hour does seem like quite a long time for a beginner to be playing chords. It is quite normal for the ends of your fingers to become a little sore while playing, as you play more your fingers will become stronger and the skin on your finger tips will become tougher. However, if you are getting a lot of pain, particularly if it is in your wrist, arm or shoulder I would definitely play a little less.

Whether you are getting a lot of pain or just a little soreness, I would still take regular breaks while practising. This doesn't have to be long (not even a real break from your practice), but just half a minute or so between exercises to give your fingers a rest. This can also help to make your practice more relaxed and help you to sustain concentration.

Generally, it is better to practise for a shorter amount of time very regularly, than for a long time only now and then. For instance, 30mins every day is better than an hour three times a week.

Technique:

You are right that you don't want to move your fingers away from the strings while changing between chords. You keep them close, so that the chord change can be quicker and more accurate. There are two ways to achieve this:

  • one is to keep any notes that are common to two chords in position while changing (for instance, keeping finger 2 on fret 2 string 4 when changing from Em to C);
  • the second is to allow fingers to move along the string if the same finger is used on different frets in two chords (for instance, moving finger 1 along string 3 when changing from an E chord to a D chord. I call this technique, using a guide.

If you are planning to play chromatic chord change exercises (eg. A - A# - B etc.) you will probably want to use the same shape for each chord, so you would use the second technique, allowing each finger to move along the string it is on. However, you do not need to keep each finger fully pressed down to use this technique. Instead, you should lift enough so that the string is no longer pressed against the frets, but so that your finger is still touching the string. This makes a lot of difference. It allows you to keep the accuracy and speed of chord change, by keeping your fingers on the strings as "guides", but gives your fingers and wrist a little rest from pressing hard in between every chord change.

Use Easier Chords:

All chords on the guitar can be played with a wide variety of shapes, some easier to play than others. You can build up to playing more difficult chords by starting with simpler ones. For instance, start by playing major chord shapes only using three strings, before moving on to shapes with four, five and six strings. Below are some suggestions for how to play the chords A - A# - B, starting with easier three-string shapes:

enter image description here

As you can see each progression of chord changes uses the same shape, moving it up one fret at a time. (Sorry the chord boxes are a bit untidy - I scribbled them in a hurry!) The first shape will help you to move onto the fourth shape. Also, you could try the first shape with fingers 1, 2 & 3, if you find it difficult to press down two strings with finger 1. The third shape could be played with just one finger across the three strings.

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Thank you sooo much, especially for the diagrams. I understand it better now. I think I was pressing the strings a bit harder than I needed to while changing the chords! –  rps Jun 9 at 8:14

Adding to Bob's always great answers, if you need to change up or down a fret - I can't think if many songs that it happens in - it's probably time to learn barre chords. This will be a tremendous leap for you, both in effort and in usefulness. Once you have achieved this status, your playing will soar.

Bob says 30 mins, I'd advocate even less, certainly not the hour you felt was necessary. 10/15 mins is plenty at this stage, with a break of an hour or two before the next session. If it hurts, it's God's way of saying give yourself (and your hand) a break - you've deserved it. With all guitar playing, be aware that it's not necessary to press really hard on strings - unless your guitar has a less than good action, in which case, get it sorted or change to a better guitar.

By the way, A# is far more commonly called Bb -by most people apart from guitarists ! I'd love to know why!

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Thank you for more advice. I thought an hr was needed coz I kept stopping and shaking my fingers for few secs many times due to the pain and didn't felt like I practiced continuously and effectively. And also I like have to press hard against string else the sound doesn't sound right, especially when my fingers are near the fret lines. May be since i am not used to play guitar that my fingers are lacking enough strength –  rps Jun 9 at 9:19
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As has been said many times here - have a few lessons at least. A good teacher will be able to verify the guitar as good, or not, and give you pointers that are well nigh impossible to give via a site such as this. –  Tim Jun 9 at 9:58
    
+1 For mentioning to play you don't (usually) need to press very hard at all. –  Mr. Manager Jun 9 at 16:51

Really sorry to hear changing chords causes pain - I'm thinking it probably shouldn't be like that otherwise no-one would play guitar! As you couldn't lift your hand, I assume you mean aching in the hand/wrist rather than the pain in the pads of the fingers? If it's the pads, that'll go as they toughen up with practice. Everyone gets that at first and it does go away.

So assuming you mean general hand-ache:

Others have made great suggestions re how to go about changing chords, but I wonder whether your guitar is causing you trouble? might be worth checking it out ..

The thickness of the strings and the distance from the strings to the frets (=the "Action") are prime factors in how hard it is to play a chord convincingly.

The strings rest on the nut (at the head end) and the bridge (on the body of the guitar) - both play a part in the Action (distance) so if you're playing an A shord and the action around that area is high, it's going to require more strength to fret the strings.

It should be something in the reqion of a millimetre or thereabouts, because the strings don't rattle about much that end so it can afford to be less distance. It;s a curious thing that some quite nice guitars have this set badly so that chords like F and Bb (A#) are really hard to play, but chords in the middle of the neck are relatively easy.

At the top end of the neck (ie highest fret) it's usially a bit more than the nut end to allow for the string flapping about in the middle, but still shouldn't be more than a couple of millimetres.

It;s a bit hard to describe in distances because it really depends on how it "feels" but basically it shouldn't feel like you're asking the string to bend much just by fretting a string.

Note that tastes vary so these measurements are just my personal estimates based on a "nice rweasonable guitar that I woud like to play", but are hopefully something to give you guidance if you look at yous and see it's way out.

If the nut is set too high, you can normally reduce it by taking the strings off (just loosen them & pull them out of the groove in th nut) and carefully sanding the grooves deeper with a folded bit of sandpaper./ Use VERY smooth paper so that you don't go too fast and reduce too much. altertnatively take it to a guitar technician - it shouldn't cost much and I bet they could do it there and then.

Regards the thickness of the strings : If it's hurting a lot, maybe you could try lighter strings ? It makes them a bit sharper so they'll cut into your pads more, but as I said they'll toughen up and that on;t be a problem after a few weeks.

Perhaps you could try this for a while as you get used to changing chords, then put meatier ones on once your'e more used to it.

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lighter strings, I didn't knew of them, I will give it a shot till I finish practicing if it means I need to use less pressure, since I find playing the 1st and 2nd string easiest! I will have my guitar looked at just in case, Thank you for the info. –  rps Jun 9 at 10:35
    
a pleasure, hope you find a way forward :-) –  user2808054 Jun 9 at 12:17
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ps. By lighter, I mean thinner gauge, meaning they're easier to push to the frets –  user2808054 Jun 9 at 16:54

If I don't know what you mean by "beginner" but if you're beginning with the chords, i don't think A# or B is a good choice, since it's quite hard to do on the six strings at the same time. I believe you should start with simple chords like

A C D E G - Am Dm Em

Then you begin the barred chords with

Fm A#m - F (with Am Fm and F you can do almost all chords by transposing it on different frets).

The hard thing with A# is that 1)you must make a double bared and 2)if you want to hear the six strings, the 3-finger must be very precise, not to touch the high-E string and not to mute it.I think you must try to do it after the other chords, and start with the 3 higher strings of the chords, and progressively getting lower strings from D to low-E, then playing this chord on different frets

The time you give yourself of course increases your abilities, but its not linear (less than the number of times per week !). So, giving yourself a lot of time is good, unless it gets you bored, which would be very bad ;) Hope it's been useful, farewell !

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A# was sooo hard ;( , It felt like I pulled a nerve in the outer edge of my left wrist! I will try to practice again with others' tips, if pain persists I will change the order like you suggested. Thank you loads. –  rps Jun 9 at 10:31

I would recommend that you intersperse some single note passages within your chord practice so that your hand doesn't cramp up, as well as to reinforce how lightly the string may be pressed. For starters, I I would simply recommend the nearly chromatic scale in the position where you are playing -- that is, four frets (one per finger) ascending from the bass strings to the trebles and back again. This will build dexterity.

After your music theory develops and you begin to play chords from a common key, then switch your single note exercises to arpeggios or scales from the current key. I think that you will enjoy that development.

The muscle memory takes time to establish, but eventually the chord shapes and positions will become virtually second-nature. Be patient and pick up your guitar daily, if possible. Above all, enjoy yourself!

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Practicing changes between nearby chords isn't going to do that much for your musical development as a beginner, in my opinion.

Try learning a relatively easy key first. Most of the chords in C major are fairly easy, and they will enable you to play quite a variety of songs relatively quickly. I play them in order (C Dm Em F G Am Bdim) when I am first learning them, but that is not necessary.

At this point it is good to try to play music with what you have learned. Use them in songs, or learn songs that use them. Learning in this manner is going to be more rewarding and more instructive than trying to learn chords chromatically.

Once you feel reasonably comfortable with what you have learned, either learn some variations of those chords or move on to a new key.

Don't do only finger and chord exercises. You will get bored and quit. Learning chord progressions and songs is a better way to keep motivated and it helps you to get used to the way the chords come up in normal situations.

Encyclopedic knowledge of every chord/chord-shape is neither necessary nor sufficient to ensure that you can play or compose successfully.

As for the pain:

Depending on the type of pain you are experiencing, you need may need to scale back your practice a bit.

If you mean your fingertips (or skin) hurt because you don't have calluses, then I don't think there is much harm if blisters don't bother you. Eventually this will stop. You might have a technician look at your guitar to see if it is set up properly. If your strings are too high above the fretboard, it makes the guitar hard to play because you have to push harder on the strings. A qualified person can verify if this is the case and modify the saddle for you if it needs to be done.

Lift your fingers off the strings completely if it hurts during changes. It shouldn't affect your speed in the long-term.

If you have muscle ache like someone who did too much exercise at the gym, then I don't think that is so dangerous either, but it is an indication that you are overdoing it a bit.

However if you experience sharp pain, then your body is screaming at you "Stop doing that, now!" You can cause serious damage to your hand if you try to ignore that.

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