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How to improve your open chords

Article Written By Gonçalo Crespo 

Playing chords is something that every guitar player should be able to do. If you are like most beginners, you want to be able to play your favorite songs early on when you start to play. Even though chords should NOT be the very first thing you start out with, you do want to start looking at them once you’re familiar with a few things regarding you guitar playing.


There are a few pitfalls when playing open chords that, if you are aware of them from the get go, will make you progress way faster. Let’s look at the most common ones and how to solve them.


String Buzz


One thing that commonly happens when playing chords for the first time is how some strings will buzz. This is due to the fact that your fingers are not pressing the string down in the best way, causing the string to produce that awful bizzing sound when you hit them. In order to avoid this, make sure:

You are pressing the string with your fingertip

You are pressing the string as close to the fretwire as possible


If you do these 2 things, you will for sure not have any string buzz happening when playing chords. Of course, this is easier said than done, especially for a few chords, so make sure that, even if you’re triying to abide by these guidelines, the issue still comes up, then learn how to have the proper hand and finger placement that allows you to press the chord. Also, most beginners don’t start out with the required finger dexterity and hand flexibility, so the more you practice, the easier it should be for your muscles to get to the right placement.


String not ringing out


Sometimes a string that you’re not pressing will not ring out altogether. This is most probably because you have a finger that is pressing an adjacent string slightly touching the open string (the one that’s not ringing). In order to address this issue, make sure that your thumb get a bit lower on the guitar neck and that you have it stretched and not using it’s tip, as well as have the palm of your hand be perpendicular (as much as possible) to the floor. Last, but not least, also make sure that you are bending your fingers slightly on all the 3 joints. This will allow your fingers to arch over the open strings and have only the tip of your finger pressing the string it wants to press and nothing else.


Not knowing how to press correctly some chords


Although there are some common guidelines for most chords, some are a bit tricker to master than others. An cexample of this is the D chord. If you have already tried it, you’ve noticed that you need to use 2 fingers in order to press 2 strings that are on the same fretwire (the 2nd). This is quite hard if you have the side of your hand where your pinky lies perpendicular to the floor. The trick here is to rotate your arm in a way that allows you to play the chord comfortably. To understand what I mean, try the following:


Stretch your hand out, without holding a guitar, and have the backside of your palm facing the wall in front of you. Your fingers should be pointing up. Now rotate your arm so that your fingers are now pointing to the right. Apply now this hand position to the D Chord. You should notice how it’s much easier to press the chord, since the first and 2nd finger are now on top of each other, instead of being side by side.


You will find lots of challenges when learning and practicing open chords, especially if you are a beginner. The good news is, if you follow the guidelines presented here, you’ll be much closer to mastering that and can do it that much faster!

About the author

Based in Zurich Switzerland, Gonçalo Crespo is a professional guitar teacher and musician. He has taught guitar for over 8 years covering a variety of styles but focuses mainly on getting his students to guitar playing success in the most efficient way possible. Founder of Music&Co. guitar music school, Gonçalo also offers tuition for acoustic and electric guitar.

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