You’ve learned a few chords in first position… and your fingers didn’t fall off! Congratulations!
Now you’re facing the same major obstacle that every newbie guitarist fears – the dreaded gap. Have you experienced the pause that happens when you’re changing your hand from one chord to the next? That, my friend, is the gap. We need to close it.
Why is it important to close the gap? When the gap is there, your guitar playing sounds like a collection of unrelated chords, not a song. Once you close the gap, you’re making music! If you like to sing, you could serenade your beloved as you move smoothly between beautiful chords.
Here are my first four time-tested strategies for closing the gap:
1. Memorize your chord shapes.
Take a look at your chord diagrams. Connect the dots between your finger positions and – voila! – you have shapes. You have a multiple-step process when you have to think of every individual finger position when making a chord. If you can make a shape with your fingers and place them at the same time, you reduce the process to one step. Memorize the chord shape to speed up your chording hand.
2. Memorize the chord progression.
Chords are arranged in a song in what is called a chord progression. The word progression means that the chords move forward throughout the song in a pattern. Pay attention to the chord progression in your song and memorize it. You will be able to move from chord to chord more quickly if you know what’s coming without having to refer to the chord sheet.
When just starting out, choose a simple song with two or three chords and one chord progression that repeats throughout the whole tune. Songs like this would be Horse With No Name, Achy Breaky Heart, Revelation Song or How He Loves. Other songs have different chord progressions for each section of the song. Some songs have such a long pattern that the chord changes can be difficult for newbies to memorize (i.e. Hallelujah, Wish You Were Here or Hotel California).
3. Slow down.
When I first learned to drive, I would speed all the way to a stop light, just to slam on brakes so I wouldn’t run the light. My dad taught me to look ahead for upcoming stop lights and, if I saw a red one, slow down before I got there. The light would turn green and I could ease through at a nice pace.
Moral of the story? Slow down your guitar playing while you’re closing the gap. Take the song down to a much slower tempo because you know the gap is coming. As you begin to shave milliseconds off your gap, the slower tempo will allow you to ease through the transitions without such a noticeable gap.
4. Practice ‘til your fingers bleed!
When you learn a new physical activity, your muscles can be trained to hold certain positions. This is true of the muscles in your arms, your legs… and yes, your fingers! Practice correctly over and over again and you will find that you build muscle memory in your hands. Nothing substitutes for quantity of practice time.
If you practice for a while and your fingers hurt to the point that you cannot continue, simply stop and come back to it later. If you play 15 minutes every day, your fingers will build calluses and you will be able to play longer without pain. However, if you only practice once or twice a week, your fingers won’t have a fighting chance. The pain and frustration will continue indefinitely and you will likely give up. We don’t want that.
Look for “How to Close the Gap – Part 2” for four more tips on smoothing out your song. That’s enough talk… get to strummin’!