chord changes guitar

If you struggle with chord changes and find they are slow, awkward and are ruining the flow of your songs and maybe they even want to make you throw your guitar out of a ten-storey building hoping it will land in a burning car, then you will definitely find this post helpful. 

There are multiple reasons for slow chord changes but one of the biggest culprits is one not many are aware of and even those who are, have no idea how to fix it.  In this post, I’ll show you what the issue is, why it crops up and more importantly how to fix it so your chord changes, especially those when changing from G to C, become faster and smoother.

Before we look at how to change guitar chords quickly and smoothly, first, let’s see what the issue is.

The big error…

When inexperienced guitarists change from one chord to another, they often take all their fingers off and then place one finger on at a time when changing to a new chord.

This is not ideal, but it is something that all beginners struggle with at some point.

Most of you will know that ideally, you want to put all your fingers on at the same time when changing to a new chord, but that is tough at first.

It is very tough for all beginners (and even for frustrated guitarists who have played for a while). I remember it too well (it was the urge to pull my teeth out with a pair of pliers that did it!)

Let’s take the tricky G to C chord as an example of this frustrating and harmful habit in action. This is a super common chord change and one that happens a lot in many popular guitar songs for beginners.

Today, I was teaching a lesson with a student named Paul who was learning “Mother” by Pink Floyd and this reminded me I needed to write a post on this issue.

The G to C change in Mother is one that happens in a lot of songs and is one of the toughest changes in the book. As a side note, a lot of beginners struggle just to play the C chord cleanly so you should use a capo to practise with at first as explained in this post on getting clear chords.

Anyway, what Paul did, and most people do when changing from G to C is to:

  • Take all his fingers off
  • Then place the index finger on the B string first (fret 1)
  • Then the middle finger on the D string (fret 2)
  • Then finally the ring finger on the A string (fret 3)

I hadn’t seen Paul for a few weeks due to my recent surfing trip so this little bit of a habit had snuck in somewhere. I stopped him and explained what was happening and he immediately realised what he had done as we had covered this a while back.

He saw the error of his ways.

The problem was that by placing the index finger on the B string first he couldn’t strum the chord yet, even when the middle finger went on, he couldn’t strum the chord.

Only when the ring finger was placed on the lowest note in the chord, which is the 3rd fret of the A string, could he finally strum the chord.

If he had strummed any earlier, it would have sounded rubbish.

When changing to a C chord, I instructed Paul to do the opposite which was to get in the habit of putting the:

  • Ring finger on the A string first
  • Then place the middle finger on the D string
  • And then finally the index finger on the B string.

Watch this mini video below of me doing it the wrong way and then the right way.

Try doing it slowly and precisely the ideal way as shown in the super short video and try to apply the G to C chord change using the five times rule for extra benefit.

Doing it the right way is far better for multiple reasons.

  1. You can actually start strumming the chord as soon as the ring finger is on, as this is the lowest note in the chord. As long as your middle finger and index finger are following quickly this works well and with practice, the middle and index finger pretty much catch up with the ring finger.
  2. You are building up much better muscle memory this way. If you were to place the index finger down first as most beginners do, you would then have something to anchor off, but the problem is this doesn’t strengthen the ring finger and doesn’t help it become accurate, it is just a bit lazy. The ring finger is weaker than the index finger, so by placing a weaker finger on first without anything to pivot against you are building it up in a much better way.
  3. Another benefit of placing the ring finger on first is that it will allow you to get it into a better position so that the back of it is not touching the D string and muting it (this is the most common error for the C chord). When you place the ring finger on last it often just flops on the string in its most comfortable position which is where the D string ends up getting inadvertently muted.


Anyway, that is a quick but very useful tip that will help you change guitar chords smoothly.

To summarise, try to change chords by moving all the fingers together at once.

That takes years to do for most guitarists so if you can’t do that, lead with a finger, but ensure it is NOT the index finger that lands first. 

Try landing the ring, middle and then index finger. If the pinkie is involved in the chord (like for a big F chord), you should use your judgement for if the ring or pinkie lands first.

There are always exceptions to anything so before I get emails telling me what about the Bm7b5 chord, and how that should break this rule, remember, this is a guideline, not a rule, and it is a tip that will help break bad habits, build better muscle memory and allow you to change chords faster.

If you have done it the other way (placing the index finger down first) for a long time, be patient, this method will work but like any bad habit, it will take a little time to break.

Let me know your thoughts on this and how it helps. If you want more help with your chord changes, check out my course on the subject. It is a few years old but the material in it is still very powerful, will always be relevant and has only ever had good feedback. Leave a comment and let me know what your biggest chord changing struggle is. I always enjoy your thoughts.



December 26, 2019 Reply

Great tips and tricks
Especially for beginners there is a ton value here. Thanks

Skills Research Essay (Units 1&2) – Nadia Dekiert
October 31, 2022 Reply

[…] How to Improve Your Chord Changes on Guitar by Avoiding One Dangerous Habit […]

Patricia E Burriss
February 18, 2023 Reply

Thank you! This is a great tip. It makes sense. I was learning the way you recommended and out of frustration to get faster I started doing it the other way, using my index finger first. I’m glad I saw this before it became habit!

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