I started to play guitar yesterday in high school. I started by learning Em and D, as we started learning the chords to Drunken Sailor, which has the order 2 x (2Em 2D 3Em 1D 2E) at a relatively quick tempo ( 2E means two bars E) Especially at the 3-1-2 part, I am having trouble transitioning between the Em and D at a quick pace. The problem is that I am to keep locating the frets and strings, although they are so near each other! I asked my teacher and he said that it was because I had played the piano for 6 years without playing the guitar, so I hadn't got the best of both worlds. Is he correct, or is there some special trick or exercise to help me do this? I am used to the old advice "keep practising" so none of that please...

  • See my answer to rb1094's question 6 questions back. It works well for 'open' chords, too.
    – Tim
    Jun 7, 2017 at 7:08
  • @Tim could you provide a link? I am on mobile and I can't see the authors or anything like that
    – Xetrov
    Jun 7, 2017 at 7:11
  • here is the link to Tim's answer mentioned earlier : link Jun 7, 2017 at 7:15
  • Apart from the good advice given below, I answered a related question yesterday. My advice may be a little more advanced than what you need right now, but may still be worth looking at.
    – user39614
    Jun 7, 2017 at 15:05
  • I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because he's just asking for instant gratification.
    – Laurence
    Jun 7, 2017 at 15:19

4 Answers 4


Two quite good chords to cut your teeth on with guitar. Not the easiest changes to make, but hey ho. The Em is the easier to play, most probably with middle and ring fingers. Get used to putting them on the right strings without looking. Finger the Em, then bounce the fingers up and down on the correct strings/frets, till you can do it without looking and thinking. Then, each time you pick up the guitar, go straight to the chord, quickly.

D is more involved, partly because the whole hand is in a different position from the Em placing, partly because, at the last count, there were 12 different fingerings for it, some using half-barres. Yes, st3,f2/st2,f3/st1,f2 - just that simple chord. You (and all of us!) need to find the best fingering for D, considering changing to it, and from it.

When you find a good fingering, do the same bouncing trick, then slowly go from Em to D,and back; same fingering each time, until you build up speed and don't need to look at what you're doing. Gradually speed up. Good luck!

It may be easier to change the key, and use Am and G, but that may affect anyone who's trying to sing along.


When you are starting out, it is often useful to lead with a particular finger from one chord to the next. This gets the transition happening and then you follow with the other finger/s. Say you're playing E minor with second and third fingers. Just work on moving your first finger to A on the 3rd string to start the D chord then lead with your 2nd finger back to the B on the 5th string to start the E minor chord. Try leading with your first finger for C, E major and A minor chords. Quite quickly you will find your fingers starting to move as a team. Another trick is to remember the general shapes: D is a small triangle; D7 is that same triangle inverted; E minor is a 'side by side same fret chord, as is A; G is a big triangle; C and F are sort of diagonals. A third trick is to put yourself under pressure to arrive at the next chord on time. Choose a very slow tempo and stick to it, no matter what. You have no doubt realised that you need to 'leave' each chord a fraction early in order to 'arrive' at the next chord on time. There is nothing like playing with other musicians for improving your chord changing. If they adhere to the tempo it will goose you into doing what it takes to keep up.

  • I'd say this is not a good premise, as it encourages the player to move one finger at a time. Not good playing, and actually slows things down. Learn to get the shape even before the fingers hit the strings. -1.
    – Tim
    Jun 7, 2017 at 16:12

First of all I want to say congratulations on your decision to learn guitar. As you have already discovered, it is not an easy instrument to master - but once things begin to come together and you start learning to change from chord to chord and play songs, it is very rewarding. And since there is always room for improvement no matter how good you become, it's a lifelong journey of continuing improvement and sense of accomplishment.

Learning the guitar takes patience, desire, and determination. Learning to play your first chords is probably the most challenging part of learning guitar. You must train your brain to tell your fingers and hands and wrist how to contort into very un-natural shapes and positions that you have never had to do before. And these shapes are nothing like what you learned to play piano.

This process is tedious and there is simply no substitute for repetitive practice. Your teacher can show you the correct hand and finger positions for each chord and correct you if you are doing anything wrong.

Once you figure out exactly what to do with your hand and fingers to get a clean sounding chord, you must practice forming and releasing that chord over and over until your brain memorizes the shape and it becomes almost natural. You want to be able to form the chord in the air and then drop that formation onto the strings.

Then you learn the next chord in the song the same way. Learn the next chord in isolation and practice forming the chord in the air. Then practice switching back and forth between the two chords. If there are no common fretted notes between the chords, you will want to be able to form the next chord in the air with your fingers as you make the switch. Take each chord one at a time until you learn two, then practice transitioning back and forth between those two.

Every chord transition (from one particular chord to another particular chord) is unique in some respects. A particular transition may require a shift in the position of your thumb on the back of the neck or a different orientation of your wrist relative to the guitar neck. The hand, finger and wrist movements necessary to make a particular transition must become imprinted in your brain so that it becomes automatic (like tying your shoes or writing a series of letters with pencil and paper).

On many chord transitions you can find a common fretted note between the chords - which will allow you to leave at least one finger anchored to the fretboard and pivot to the next chord using your anchored finger as a reference point that you don't have to look at. For example, when transitioning from an Em chord to a C major chord - you can leave your middle finger on the D string at the 2nd fret). There are no common fretted notes between Em and D however.

Just remember, learning to play any new instrument is most difficult in the very beginning. But if you stick with it and understand that it does take dedication and consistent tedious practice, you will soon start making advances very rapidly. If you can just stick with it until you can play a song you enjoy, you will be hooked for life. You can do it! Good luck.


Chords and transitioning between them on guitar, specifically. Learn each fingering individually. Get comfortable with them. You can do a lot just holding a single chord and limiting yourself to that ~six-note pitch inventory. One of the great things about guitar is that chords exist in movable forms. I'm not sure if my own nomenclature perfectly mirrors everyone else who has a great deal of chordal experience, but the most common movable chords are:

  • barre (using your index finger to hold all the strings down across an entire fret, and also holding additional frets with one or more of your other left hand fingers--or right if you're into touchstyle or fingertapping)
  • open (using one or more open strings as common tones between chords, using two or more fingers on additional strings and sliding between positions and letting the stopped strings ring with the open strings)

There's good news and bad news. The bad news is there ARE a gajillion different chords. The good news is most of the conventionally usable ones are similar, rely on the same basic and movable forms, and are either major, minor, augmented, or diminished. So do yourself a favor, learn to make your pinky useful. Learn all the common first position forms in major and minor.

But to answer your question about transitions: you're probably only working with a sequence of 3-7 chords. So it's like a dance. Work through the steps. Jumping back and forth from each chord to the one before it and back, then to the one after it and back. If you have a 4 chord progression, you could set up a click so you stay slow, and play them in this order, as maybe half notes: 1 - 2 - 1 - 2 - 3 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 3 - 2 - 3 - 2 - 1. The order of performance is important, but the order of practice is more about getting confident in your fingers' ability to land on the target frets. If you can hammer all your fingers onto the fingerboard on target for a chord, then jump and hammer on to another target chord without strumming and you still hear the notes, and you can continue this for an entire musical sequence, you have reached your goal of comfortable transitions.

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