Learning to move effortlessly between chords is one of the main goals of every guitarist,

in this article, we’re going to help you speed up that process.

But to speed up, you must first slow down. - Ancient Pickup philosophy

We’ll show you step by step how to practice new chord shapes and more importantly – how to move between them. Let’s turn songs with hiccups into tunes with smooth transitions!

It doesn’t matter if you’re learning your first open chord or a new voicing for that fancy Am7/#11 – the process of learning any chord is the same.

First things first – get yourself nice and comfortable!

Get comfortable with a new chord shape

Before you work on chord changes, learn each chord individually.

  • Each chord shape requires your brain to form new muscle memory.
  • It's normal to take several days until you're comfortable with a new shape.
  • Sometimes there is more than one way to play a chord and you have choices of which finger to use for which string.
  • Try some different fingerings to find out which one works best for you.

To test your comfort level, you should be able to fret the chord, remove your hand from the fretboard completely, and then quickly fret the chord again.

Below are example chord progressions that you can work on while reading this article:

Beginner chord progression

Intermediate chord progression

Advanced chord progression

Turn chord transitions into an easy exercise without a metronome

We’ll bring in the metronome later but first, you’ll practice changing from one chord shape to another at sloth speed: S-L-O-W-L-Y.

Change chords in slow motion

The purpose of this slow-motion exercise is to teach your fingers how to get from A to B flawlessly.

You want to practice changing chords smoothly, not sloppily. Make sure that you're pressing down each note cleanly and accurately.

  • Step 1: Play the first chord.
  • Step 2: Move your fingers from the first chord shape to the second one, but do it so slowly that it’s impossible for you to make a mistake. Imagine your fingers are the stars of a slow-motion art film.
  • Step 3: Repeat until it feels natural.

Find commonalities between adjacent chord shapes

Approach the chord change with a curious mind and observe what’s happening.

  • Observe the route each finger takes during the change.
  • Are any fingers staying on the same string, maybe even the same note?
  • Are your fingers moving up or down a string? Up or down a fret?

There’ll often be a certain part of each shape that is most tricky.

Find the problem finger with a mind of its own (usually that rebellious pinky) and focus your attention on making it do as it’s told.

What to do when you can’t play a guitar chord

Eventually, the goal is that all your fingers will land on their respective note or notes at once.

For some players, however, it’s easier to start out with one finger as the anchor and slowly assemble the other fingers around it.

Test and see if this helps if you’re struggling.

  • Choose one finger that you place on the fretboard first.
  • Add the rest of your fingers that you need for the chord shape.

Then, you speed up the assembly process over multiple practice sessions until all fingers get in position simultaneously.

Practice tips for smooth and speedy chord transitions

Once you feel comfortable with each chord shape individually, it’s time to practice transitions and get them up to speed.

To achieve faster chord transitions, keep these general tips in mind:

  • Make sure that you know which chord comes up next in a progression before it’s time to play it.
  • Visualize the next chord shape ahead of time.
  • Try to keep your fingers as relaxed as possible.
  • Don’t forget to breathe. We often hold our breath when trying to do something difficult. Newsflash: Our brains don’t work very well without oxygen.

Build up to fast chord changes

When your goal is to play a song at a specific speed, it’s best to enlist the help of a metronome. We’ve even made a free online metronome just for you! (We know… we’re too generous).

  • Start with only two chords.
  • Find the fastest tempo (it will be pretty slow) where you can smoothly transition between these two chords.
  • Write down this tempo.
  • Practice strumming and switching between the chords 5 times in a row until you can do it perfectly.
  • Increase the tempo by 5 bpm.
  • Repeat this until you get to your target speed.

Don’t overcomplicate things. We recommend starting out with a single down strum on the first beat of each bar.

  • Repeat this practice routine for each chord change in the song.
  • Start practicing loops with three chords, four chords, and so on.
  • When that goes well, you can add a more complex rhythm.

Track your progress in bpm. It'll help you see results in real time and keep you motivated!

Be patient and persistent – at the beginner level, it'll take a couple of weeks until you start getting comfortable.

Practice chord transitions without your guitar

When you’re stuck somewhere without a guitar or you’re not getting the results you were hoping for, try these simple exercises:

  • Draw out the chord shapes that give you trouble and see if you know which finger presses down which string.
  • Visualize the fretboard and chord changes in your mind. This can help you internalize the finger positions and make the transitions smoother once you return to your guitar.

Achieve smooth chord transitions

The best thing you can do is break down the skill of playing through a chord progression smoothly in small components.

Below are our five most important practice tips to achieve fast and clean chord changes:

  • One by one – Make sure you are able to fret each chord individually.
  • Start slow – Practice playing the chord changes correctly and smoothly without pausing or hesitating. You can practice this without a metronome at first.
  • Use a metronome – Set a metronome to a slow tempo and practice the chord changes in time with the beat. Gradually increase the tempo as you improve.
  • Take breaks – Instead of practicing for long stretches of time, practice in short bursts of 5-10 minutes. This will help you stay focused and avoid getting frustrated. It might take a few days for muscle memory to develop.
  • Focus on the most difficult changes – Identify the chord changes that are the most challenging and practice those. If you’re playing a sequence of 6 chords and only two are tripping you up, spend more time on just those two.


Hopefully, we’ve saved you from some tangled fingers and temper tantrums.

It’s natural to get frustrated – especially when one nasty chord wants to ruin your whole song, but just take your time and relax.

Follow the steps we’ve gone through and soon you’ll be playing those progressions in your sleep!

Looking to build a rock-solid foundation for rhythm guitar? We’ve got a Learning Pathway for that. Check out a free 14-day membership to Pickup Music.

Author: Julia Mahncke