In “How to Close the Gap – Part 1”, I gave you four tips for getting from chord to chord without stopping. These are things that every guitarist should do when closing the gap. Let’s review:
1. Memorize your chord shapes.
2. Memorize the chord progression.
3. Slow down.
4. Practice ‘til your fingers bleed.
The following three tips are a little more challenging for the newbie guitarist to apply. If you can wrap your brain (and your fingers) around them, they will help your playing become much more fluid. If these tips hang you up in your practicing, go back to tips 1-4 and focus on them.
5. Stop looking.
Your eyes actually slow down your hands. First, practice making your chords without looking at your hand. Next, try to move from one chord to the other without looking (don’t try to play the song yet… you’re just working on transitions). Once you get a feel for where your fingers should go without looking, try playing the song slowly and move blindly between chords. You’ll be surprised how quickly you get it.
6. Count the gap.
When the gap happens, count how many beats it takes for you to get from one chord to the other. Once you know what this baseline is, you can challenge yourself to shave beats off of your time. Most guitarist’s gaps are about four beats when starting out, so during the gap I’ll count, “One-two-ready-go!” When it’s time to take the gap down to three beats, I count “Ready, set, go!” For two beats, I count “Ready, go!” Once you get the gap down to just one beat, you can go ahead and push on to close it altogether. (On all of these examples I squeeze the word “ready” into one syllable.)
This works best if you use a metronome while practicing. You can download your choice of metronome apps for iPhone or iPod touch from the App Store. I really like the free Ludwig metronome or the metronome in the Guitar Tools add-on for the Ultimate-Guitar.com app (there is a cost for this app and for its add-ons, but I feel they’re worth it).
7. Cheat the upstroke.
Most strum patterns end with an upstroke and, more often than not, this final upstroke is short. It is typically an eighth note or smaller. When it’s time to move from one chord to the next, you can “cheat” the last upstroke and use it as a split-second head start for your chording hand to get to the next position. When your strumming hand is playing this final upstroke, your chording hand can already be in motion, racing to the next chord.
When cheating the upstroke, your fingers are off the strings and you’re not actually playing a chord. Most listeners will not notice this; they will only hear the sound of strumming during this split-second transition. It would be ideal for every stroke to be on an actual chord, but cheating the upstroke without a gap sounds better than playing a chord on every stroke with gaps between them.
Parents and students often ask me, “How long will it take to play a song without any gaps?” This varies depending on the student, but most newbie guitarists can close the gap on a two or three chord song in 4-6 weeks if he/she comes to one lesson a week and spends at least 15 minutes a day practicing. Some students close it in a week or two while others take a couple of months.
Stay encouraged and apply these tips. The most important thing you can do to achieve your goals is to practice often and practice well. Happy strumming!