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So, I can't seem to get my fingers to land in the same place when changing chords no matter how many times try. As an example, I can play a two-chord change if I practice it for 10 minutes. But I'll come back later or tomorrow and I feel I'm at step one. And this goes on day after day. I can't seem to maintain perfection in the simplest things.

I had a teacher a while ago who said his fingers land in the exact same place every time he plays a C chord.

I'm mostly concerned about playing clean, but I can't even do that slowly much of the time.

Am I just a slow learner or have years of bad practice screwed me up permanently?

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Chords will often have an "anchor note" or a note that is fingered the same between both chords. For example Am and C (open) have a c (second string, first fret) and the e (third string, second fret) in common. Start by switching between two chords such as this that only have 1 finger that moves. Focus on not moving the two fingers that are anchored. This will help. Look for other chord changes that have anchors and practice those.

There will be some chords that you can't do this will but you'd be surprised how many you can. For the ones you can't it is all about repetition. Start slowly so you get the muscle memory correct. If you practice incorrectly it won't help. And practice regularly.

Practice with a metronome. If you are forced to be in time it will help. Go so slowly you can do it perfectly. Then slowly speed up.

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    Another pair of chords you could work with are E and Am. They don't share any notes, but they have the same shape. Shifting your hand up or down while maintaining that shape seems like it will be good practice for you. – scott Jul 24 '18 at 23:31
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I consider myself an intermediate player and I have trouble with this, I think all guitarists do.

First -- you must practice regular. The ease of switching comes with a LOT of work. In time you develop an instinctive muscle memory and you don't have to think about it -- just like learning writing by hand.

Practice going from the E chord to the A chord.

Watch how your fingers move to do this. Practice each finger in the movement separately, then 2 together, then all three. (I assume you are playing the E chord with 3 fingers and the A chord with 3 fingers). Do this whenever you feel frustrated with the whole chords and keep at it. Try to keep the whole chord clean, all notes sounding --but don't fuss about that too much.

Otherwise just keep going back and forth from E to A.Just getting down these two chords is it for this exercise.

You don't want to be thinking : put your finger here, here and here. At first you do that but in time it becomes automatic, like writing. Until that point just work and stay at it.

BTW these two chords are very common in rock music. Try writing your own "songs" to these two chords "Play an E, Play an E again, then I go to A". That will help you get the rhythm side as well.

You should then start to add other chords as your skill improves.

It sounds like you have had some lessons. You are at the point where your muscle memory is not fully developed and your brain is thinking as opposed to your fingers.

I think the thing for you is to focus on steady practice, day by day. After ten days of ten minutes a day on this simple exercise I think you would see a big difference.

  • Practising each finger moving separately isn't so good. When they eventually get to move together, their movements will be subtly different from what they did separately. – Tim Jul 24 '18 at 7:54
  • This is a beginning player and just feeling the strings, and moving between them and seeing what is necessary (and what is not) gives an orientation and develops the physical co-ordination. It also breaks up the sheer repetition of the two chords with a moment of reflection on how it is being done. – Kevin Connelly Jul 24 '18 at 9:28
  • It may work, but with experience of hundreds of students in their first few lessons, I know my method works. – Tim Jul 24 '18 at 9:38
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B3ko's idea of keeping common fingers in place is excellent. and one that works in many changes. A similar idea can be used with a change from E to A, open. leave the index finger on 3rd string, as it is for E, and move the middle and ring across, putting the pinky on the second string for A. This means little movement, anchored with the index.

Another idea which I use often with students is to practise hammering-on whole chords. In other words, hole down a chord, then lift fingers together about 5mm, then bang them all down onto the appropriate strings, holding then for a second to hear the chord. It'll take some practice, but it trains those fingers to get there all at once, which after all, is what they need to do. Not one at a time.

With regular practice, often (5 mins at a time will do it), then try to find chords without looking. Eventually this is the aim, as you don't want to spend all of your playing looking at your fingerboard !

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What Tim and B3ko said is excellent - practising changing between chords which have common notes is a great place to start, and trying to hammer on a chord out of nowhere (without placing the fingers first and then strumming) will get you used to the shapes of chords and picturing their shapes will eventually be as simple as picturing a word in your head.

One thing I would like to warn about though in addition to these answers is a problem that a lot of beginner/inexperienced players suffer from - excess finger movement. Something I see time and time again is new players overly emphasising their finger movement every time they change shape; they lift their fingers far too far whenever they lift them and this makes their fingers more unstable/inaccurate when trying to find the next fret they want to play. It is something which you will definitely get over with practice - in the same way that when learning to type on a keyboard everyone goes through a phase of really over-emphasised movements but eventually improves - but it is definitely something to keep an eye on as it might hinder your progress.

One way to counter this is to play changes slowly but force yourself to change all fingers at the same time, so you are not awkwardly finding each fret at a time and slowing down the pace of whatever song you are playing. Obviously, start with chords which have common notes (as B3ko suggests, Am to C is a good place to start), but then move onto more "difficult" changes (such as D to Em or even open chords to barre chords).

This is probably more of a "next step" approach, but if you are at least aware of it from very early on it will help you in the long run. It is something which will develop naturally with time but trying to train the skill early on will definitely be a benefit to you.

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There is already a lot of good advice here, but I don't see any talk of finger independence. When switching between chords, each finger may need to go on a little mission to its next destination, and you don't have time to guide each finger to that destination; each finger needs to be able to get to where it needs to be independently of the others.

One exercise I found long ago that was very helpful in this regard goes something like this:

$E.1.$D.2 $E.2.$D.1 | $E.2.$D.3 $E.3.$D.2 | $E.3.$D.4 $E.4.$D.3 | $E.4.$D.5 $E.5.$D.4 | $E.5.$D.6 $E.6.$D.5 | $E.6.$D.7 $E.7.$D.6 | $E.7.$D.8 $E.8.$D.7 | $E.8.$D.9 $E.9.$D.8 | $E.9.$D.10 $E.10.$D.9 | $E.10.$D.11 $E.11.$D.10 | $E.11.$D.12 $E.12.$D.11 ||

Play this exercise starting from the first fret, ascending and continuing past the 12th fret, then reverse direction and descend back to the first fret. Try it with different fingers: first and second finger, second and third finger, third and fourth finger, first and third finger, second and fourth finger, first finger and fourth finger. Try it with different string pairs: 6th string and 5th string, 5th string and 1st string, 4th string and 2nd string, etc. Try it with different fret spacings: both fingers on the same fret, fingers spaced two frets, three frets, etc.

The point of this exercise is to isolate the problem of sending your fingers independently to wherever they need to go. Often a chord change just involves sending one finger to a new location, and the others remain in place. Sometimes two fingers need to move independently to new locations, maybe one or two other fingers stay in place or slide along the strings they already occupy. Other times all fingers must shift position, scattering to their destinations and arriving at the same time. This exercise allows you focus on these problems in a controlled way, and will improve the speed and accuracy of your chord fingerings. It is also great for your playing stamina; you might need a drink after traversing the neck several times!

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