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I've been playing guitar for about a month following Justin guitar's beginners course and I could do some basic chord changes quite fine but I find myself really struggling when I'm trying to change from a G chord to a C chord.

I've been trying to get it smoothly for about a week now trying different things but I still cant get it right. Any tips?

  • After about a month, it would be pretty amazing if you could change between these two chords really fast. Give it more time. When I have a moment, I will post an answer about a way to switch between these chords really fast, but it will take you a lot more than a week to get the method I will propose down also, so you just need to be patient and keep practicing. – Todd Wilcox Jul 15 '16 at 20:40
  • It took me a few years before I could change at a speed I consider fast, so don't be concerned if this takes you some time – Doktor Mayhem Jul 16 '16 at 6:58
  • Practice moving one finger at a time. Place them in order starting with the lowest string. Examine the movement of each finger in turn. Do not attempt to place all the fingers at once. That'll happen naturally once you're comfortable, – PeterJ Feb 27 at 10:32
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The answers given so far offer excellent and accurate advice on learning chord changes in general! But I will offer a tip that will help many beginning (and some experienced) guitarist with the specific change from G to C which is what your question is about.

I am not sure how you are fingering your G and C chords but there are several different ways to play a G chord in first (open) position as detailed here: How to Play a G Chord

Probably the most common way many beginner guitar course books and instructors teach the G chord is the formation and fingering shown below using the First (a/k/a index), Second (a/k/a middle) and 3rd (a/k/a ring) fingers (notated as 1,2 and 3 respectively).

enter image description here

From this G fingering - you must flip flop your entire hand from top to bottom to get to the most common first position C chord (pictured above). With this G fingering - your first finger is at the bass end of the fretboard and the other fingers are below it and with the standard common C in first position your index finger is at the treble (opposite) end of the fretboard and the other fingers are above it.

This complete reversal requires a great deal of movement (fingers travel a great distance between chords) and although it is a very common transition, it may be one of the more difficult transitions to master effectively at any modicum of speed.

For that reason, I teach my beginning guitar students to play the G chord using their pinkie on the 3rd fret g of the high e string instead of their ring finger. Your middle (2) and ring (3) finger are used to fret the two bass strings as shown in the diagram below.

enter image description here

When playing the G in this formation, you can hold your first finger directly above the first fret on the B string so that when you transition to the standard first position C chord you only have to move your first finger to the string and move your middle and index finger south by one string each. Transitioning from this G fingering to the C chord requires very little movement and can be done very rapidly.

It's also easier to transition from the G major to the standard first position G7 when fingering the G chord with the pinkie on the e string.

enter image description here Image from tvonline12-2.besaba.com

Note that from the position shown in this picture, you can very easily transition from G to G7 or vice versa by alternating between your first finger on the first fret of the high e and your pinkie on the 3rd fret using an almost imperceptible amount of movement. Also notice that the first, second and third fingers are aligned the same way as they will be when playing a standard C chord and going from G to C will require only a slight shift from this position.

It is a little more difficult to play any chord using your pinkie in the beginning because the pinkie is a finger that we rarely use in every day life so it is weaker and less coordinated. But the sooner you learn to start using your pinkie in chords, the faster you will progress as a guitar student.

One other "cheat" I often teach beginners to help get them playing two and three chord songs quickly so they are more encouraged to continue guitar lessons - is using the Cadd9 chord (as a substitute for C major) to G chord transition using a third way to play the G h. This cheat only requires a very slight movement of two fingers to change from C (Cadd9 substitute) to G.

To try this chord transition (which actually sounds kind of cool and will usually work in place of a G to C) play the G using the fingering pictured below:

enter image description here enter image description here

From this G you can easily transition to the Cadd9 (pictured above) simply by moving your first (index) and second (middle) fingers down slightly from the E and A string to the A and D string. Don't remove your 3rd (ring) and 4th (pinkie) fingers from the strings - just leave them right where they are.

The G to C / C to G transition described above (using a Cadd9 as a substitute for C major) might be one of the easiest transitions a beginning guitarist can learn and can get them playing two chord songs in the key of G or C right out of the gate.

It all takes practice but hopefully some of these tips will help you with the G to C transition. Enjoy the journey!

  • Thanks for a very detailed answer! One question though, if i used that G chord fingering that you mentioned for a while then i got used to it, should i try to learn the "standard" G chord fingering to C chord as well? – jorS Jul 17 '16 at 12:13
  • Great answer. I totally support the OP's decision to change the accepted answer from mine to yours, as you offered much more specific advice to the question at hand, not to mention the addition of some charts/pictures, which is very helpful. – Basstickler Jul 18 '16 at 18:52
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    @Basstickler Thanks for the comment. I up-voted your answer before posting mine because you did an excellent job describing the frustration that is inherent in learning to contort your hands and fingers into very unnatural shapes in order to play guitar chord. – Rockin Cowboy Jul 18 '16 at 20:13
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    @jorS My opinion is that practice sessions should incorporate several different exercises to prevent boredom. I would suggest spending a portion of your practice time on some other changes as well - perhaps a G to D or C to D change. If you can master all the changes between any (just one each) fingering of a G C and D chord, you will be able to play thousands of three chord songs in the key of G. Add the easy Em chord and you can add another thousand 4 chord songs in G. With a capo you can play those songs in many other keys as well. Good luck and have fun. – Rockin Cowboy Jul 20 '16 at 19:48
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    @AlexMA I would not describe them as "stopgaps" or "best practices". They are suggestions based on what works well for me. Each guitarist will develop their own best practices based on what works for them. A beginning guitar student should start with techniques that are widely recommended and later can experiment with other ideas. As an experienced player, I am comfortable with many alternate fingerings of different chords and will use the version I feel fits best with whatever piece I am playing based on the context of how the chord fits in with other chords & other considerations. – Rockin Cowboy May 26 at 17:19
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A few thoughts for you. Learning to play chords on guitar doesn't really fit the mechanics that most people are used to with their hands. Having difficulty with some chords (or chord voicings) after one month is not surprising or uncommon.

You could try arpeggiating the chords (playing out each note of the chord individually). This would allow you to practice placing each finger individually. You would want to make sure that you end up with all of the appropriate fingers held down at the same time so that you're not just practicing individual notes. I would recommend doing this from the bottom up and the top down. You could even do it from the middle outward, it's just a little less intuitive. Ideally this will help your hands get used to the shapes and be more easily able to build them on demand; it's not intended to make the switching faster so much as the ability to form the chord faster, which will make it easier to switch quickly.

You can also try to slow things down a bit, which will give you a little more time to get your fingers in place. In general, teachers always suggest moving the tempo around to get a better understanding of things and ingrain each aspect a little better by having a different context. This is most typically applied to playing certain rhythms or fast melodic lines but could certainly be used in this setting as well. They always say that if you can't play it slow, you can't really play it.

You can also work on adding a space between the two chords. Similar to slowing things down, this gives you some room to move around. It would be best to do this with a consistent tempo, so if you have a metronome, I would suggest using it (in general but specifically for this exercise). I would recommend playing a chord for one beat, then resting for the next beat, then the next chord, followed by another rest. I would start slower (maybe around 60 bpm), to give yourself more time, then increase the tempo incrementally. The idea here is that you have an allotted amount of time to get to the next chord, so you want to choose tempos that line up with your ability to switch. If it's difficult for you to follow the beat that slow (which is common), you can try setting the tempo to twice that (120 bpm to start) and play each chord for two beats, then rest for two beats.

Since the mechanics of forming chords aren't intuitive, you should expect it to take a little time. Make sure to practice regularly to get the fastest results and remember that practicing for long periods of time is not always better. Practice smarter, not harder, as they say. Basically practicing for too long will wear you out, especially as a beginner, and make things stick less well. Practicing for 20 min a couple times a day will likely yield better results than practicing for 40 min once a day.

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    I guess i'm rushing things a little bit. I'm gonna try to slow my pace down and try to do as you said and yeah i do practice regularly and all i do is trying to do this chord change smoothly. What i've been doing is basically strumming 4 times then change to the next chord without trying to stop and slowly increasing my tempo. Is this the right way of practicing chord changes or am i doing it wrong? – jorS Jul 15 '16 at 21:05
  • @jorS That is a good method in general, practicing slow and increasing tempo, but if you don't have a good grasp of the technique, then you often just end up frustrated. I would also recommend adding some variation to your practice in some way. Run scales a little, run chords a little, play melodies a little, etc. You can take a day or session to work on a single thing but if you're not feeling any progress over time, then you're not practicing effectively. This is hard to measure as a beginner, since you don't have an accurate concept of how long something should take to learn. – Basstickler Jul 15 '16 at 21:38
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    You can also try some other chord transitions, like a progression where the chord transitions are a little easier for you. That would allow you to get more practice with the shapes themselves without having to focus on the difficulty of this particular transition. Maybe try D, C, D G or E minor, C, D, G. You're basically trying to train your hands to move around to different shapes on demand, so as much as it may not seem to make sense, playing different chord shapes that come easier may actually improve those you find difficult. Similarly, practicing scales could improve your chords. – Basstickler Jul 15 '16 at 21:43
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First finger the C chord. Take as much time as you need. Then move your fingers up and away from the fretboard and refinger the chord, trying to get all of your fingers hitting the frets accurately and all at the same time. Start with a short distance and then gradually increase the distance until you can do it with all of your fingers fully extended at the beginning. When you can do it with your fingers fully extended, then learn to do it as fast as you can.

Repeat this method with the G chord.

When you have mastered playing the G and C chords this way play alternating G and C chords with your fingers fully extended each time. Then decrease the starting distance between your fingers and the fretboard until your fingers barely rise above the fingerboard.

Analysis: For the first parts you are learning to hit each chord with all fingers at once instead of thinking about the placement of each finger. Then you are transitioning between ending the first chord with your fingers fully extended and beginning the second chord with your fingers fully extended, something you've already mastered. Then you learn to transition between chords with your fingers close to the fretboard, which now is giving you difficulty because you're having to stop and think about it. With the chords firmly residing in muscle memory, your thinking block will be broken.

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I don't think one should really get stuck into learning one specific way to switch from one chord to another. I'm self taught and playing for a year now, so my methods may not be the best, but here are my take on this:

One thing that I have learned is to not get stuck on one shape to play a chord or a specific way to change between chords. This can cramp your style and again make other chord changes a challange. There are some considerations that you need take into account when changing between chords, like what is the preceding chord, next chord and what type of embellishment do you want to apply to the current chord being played, and most importantly, what is more comfortable for you and what works for you with the least amount of effort. I think most entry level chord books comes with one basic fingering for a chord which beginners think is the alpha and omega. One need to remember, there is no wrong way to finger a chord, and that is also not the only way to play a chord.

Lets look at the G chord. I play my G, by default, the four finger way with my ring and pinky on the third frets of the B and high E strings. I also alternatively play it the three finger way with my pinky on third fret high E. This always leaves my index finger in a position for emballishing the G chord. Which G shape I'm using is almost always dependant on the preceding chord. When coming from something like a D chord, I use the 4 finger G (works great when moving from G to Cadd9), and when coming from an open F chord or a C chord, I use the three finger G (this finger pattern also works great when moving from G to G7). When coming from E, Em, A or Am, I tend to alternate depending on the next chord, so if C is the next chord after G, I will use the three finger G then. (As an extra, if I come from a full F barre chord, I tend to slight up a whole step to a full barre G chord)

So, when I move from G to C, I could be coming from a full G barre chord, 3 finger G or a 4 finger G depending on the chord that came before that. So, for me, there is no predefined way of moving from a G to a C.

What is important is your wrist position when forming the C chord, whether or not you are coming from a G or not. I remember seeing a tutorial by Marty Swartz (I think it was for Linger by the Cranberries). In that video, he gave a tip that, when forming a C chord, one should use your ring finger as an anchor. As beginner, this should be your leading finger, the first finger that you should get down. With your ring finger down, your wrist is stabilized and cannot swivel around, this also positions your wrist perfectly. It is then just basically a matter of fretting your 2 remaining fingers. I think that when you can really master a C chord this way, it would be much easier to switch to a C from any other chord.

To conclude, the only real way to learn is to practice. I really put a lot of time into practicing. Get yourself a few easy beginner songs with easy chord changes. Being a Nirvana fan, I chose a lot of their songs, most of then is really easy to play, specially on acoustic. For me, this is still a fun way to learn new tricks, and what is really nice is, at the end of the day, while learning something like chord changes, you also learn to play some of your favorite songs, which in turn can be great fun around the braai or campfire.

Good luck and have fun, and never ever give up if you do not immediately succeed. Your favorite guitarplayer was also a beginner, just like you, which had the same issues as you. What made him where he is today, was (and still is) lots of practice and never giving up

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