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I've been playing guitar for about a few months now, and i've "mastered" the CAGED chords and theirs minor relatives. Meaning i can switch between them pretty quickly but I'm not a pro or anything. I'm now learning some new chords like ninths and sevenths and i find them difficult to do.

My question is, when learning new chords, as you get better does it become easier to learn new chords because you've built up the muscle strength in the fingers and wrist? Or does each new chord you learn need to be "programmed" into muscle memory by repetition? Or is it a little of both?

What have you found in your experience to be true?

  • I would say a bit of both but also coordination – Unknown Oct 12 '16 at 22:12
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It's a bit of all sorts. Finger/hand strength and mobility are important, and will improve with more playing.Some new chords will require adaptations of existing fingerings, such as putting a pinky down as a changed note in a barre chord for a 6th or 7th. Thus, they're easy to learn. Sometimes, one finger needs to be flat across 2 or 3 strings, whilst the others need to be pressed on tips. Not too many are like this, so you need to try out different fingerings to find one or two that suit you. Some chords will need one or two strings to be muted. This gets tricky after being used to pressing everything down firmly to get a clean sound!

Other new shapes can take ages to perfect, and this is where muscle memory comes in. Try to hammer on the whole chord in one go - it trains the hand to get the shape prior to touching the strings.

Even after many years of playing, an occasional new chord, or its voicing, will take a long time for me to be happy with it. So - repetition (French for rehearsal) is the only cure. But it's not just playing the chord, it's getting there from the hundreds of other chords to be played just before, and then moving on to the next of possibly hundreds.I think that the changes are as important as the chords themselves.

  • Ugh, yea there are so many possible chords and variations of chords sometimes it seems like a daunting task. But, i figured it was a little bit of both. I guess what you're saying is that muscle memory is what should be focused on because that is what is needed for switching quickly and with that memory comes finger/hand strength? – Zerry Hogan Jul 14 '16 at 14:10
  • Yes. A sort of useful rough order for chords could be - major, minor, dom.7, m7, maj7,dim., aug.,dom.9, m7b5, sus4, sus2 for mainstream stuff, before you get into 'jazz' type chords - +/-5, +/-9 and so on.When you meet a new chord in a song, it's good to learn at least a couple of voicings, and be able to play the corresponding chord in all 12 keys. Daunting? Not really, there's no time limit, is there? – Tim Jul 14 '16 at 15:26
  • Hmmm... yea you're right there isn't a time limit. Thanks for the info! – Zerry Hogan Jul 14 '16 at 16:28
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    I think there's a minimum strength necessary, and at the same time I think pressing strings down harder than necessary and actually building larger muscles slows me down. So in general I don't look to build strength to get speed, I look to improve technique to require less strength. – Todd Wilcox Jul 14 '16 at 20:33
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    @ToddWilcox - you're absolutely right. What I meant was that muscles in hands and fingers which are needed for guitar playing developed due to practice anyway, that is a natural process. There is no need to press harder than is necessary to make a clean sound, although I find most people do. I also find myself sitting in the car on my level drive, with my foot hard on the brake pedal. I'm trying to understand why. – Tim Jul 15 '16 at 6:18
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You should try to juggle balls. Look at youtube, watch 2-3 videos "How-To", 5-15 min maximum. Nothing more.

Each day, 15-30 minutes. And test yourself, how fast will you accomplish this task?

For me, it was 10 days. What is it? Why I was so slow? Because it is speed of creation of connections between neurons inside spinal cord. It is kind of memory, called machinery or something like this.

Firstly, when you are taking wild chord or trying for the first time to juggle balls - you are forcing this task, there is no machinery memory yet. It is pretty costly for your Central Nervous System (CNS). Because, you are using links between neurons which are not created completely. After intensive training. Each day 15-30 minutes. Your CNS decide to create more robust connections between this neurons, to safe resources, because creation of this connections would cover all of this 10 days of repeating and signaling inside CNS by raw and not connected yet links... Methinks, it is pretty clear.

Your friends:

  • Intensity ( Try to keep training each day, without window )
  • True food for creation this connections. At least, you should eat vitamins each day. ( Again, without skipping ), At middle, there is fish fat... At the end, you should read about CNS.
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More about dexterity than strength. If you're focusing on hitting your strings hard, you can actually develop tendinitis really quickly. Instead, learn how to apply just enough pressure to get those notes out and then focus on moving quickly. It's actually much faster without all that pressure and much better for your arms.

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My guitar teacher taught me to practice fretting just the chords with the left hand and to not use the right hand for a few minutes. Just practice moving the left hand through your chord progression, over and over again. It helps build speed and muscle memory.

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