A couple common questions I get from my students is, “how do I know what this chord is supposed to sound like?” or “how can I fret chords more consistently?” Both of these questions bring up very good talking points about the importance of technique. Let’s dive into both of these topics in depth and then I’ll reveal my secret method to make learning guitar chords easy.
Correctly Fretting Guitar Chords
When we want to know what a chord sounds like, we need to make sure that we are fretting it correctly. This should seem simple enough as we can take a look at chord diagrams and figure out which fingers to put on which frets of which strings, right? That’s not wrong but the technique of fretting a chord actually extends way beyond that.
Not only do we need the right fingers in the right places, we need to make sure that they aren’t conflicting with the placement of any of our other fingers. Examples of this include:
- Muting a string
- Fretting on a Fret Bar
- Fretting Too High or Low on the Fret
How to Deal with Muted Guitar Strings
“Tony, how do I know if one or more of my fingers is conflicting with another string?” An easy way to solve this is to fret your chord and then play string by string. Playing string by string means to pick one string at a time and see what it sounds like. If it’s a clean sound, you’re good to go! However, if it’s muted or buzzing, you need to check your finger pressure and placement on that string. If it’s an open string and you get a muted or buzzing sound, it’s most likely another finger that it touching it and preventing it from ringing clearly.
When you have one finger that is muting a different string, you automatically get one less note of a chord. One note out of five or six doesn’t sound too bad, but sometimes the one note you mute can be a very key note for the chord which will change the sound drastically. “Well then, Tony, how can I avoid muting strings with one of my fingers?” One thing that is simple but often times overlooked is to bend your knuckles. If you are concaving your knuckles, you definitely run the risk of muting strings. If you bend all of your knuckles and use your fingertips to fret the chord, you will see a drastic change in the quality of your chords.
Avoiding the Fret Bar
If you’re hearing a muted or buzzing sound and your finger pressure is good, check and see if you are fretting your finger on the fret bar. If so, this will lead to a very muted sound or no sound at all. A trick to fretting in a good position is to fret as close as you can to the fret bar, but not on it. This is what I refer to as fretting on the top of the fret.
However, the one exception to this rule will be if we can’t get our finger to the top of the fret due to another finger’s positioning. An example is the modern G chord. We have three fingers that need to go on the 3rd fret of various strings and it’s nearly impossible to get all of our fingers on the tops of the frets so we have to improvise. In this case it’s ok to reposition a finger or two more towards the middle of the fret.
Tops vs. Bottoms of Frets
If you can avoid hitting the bottom of the fret at all times, this will lead to better intonation and note quality as well. It’s good practice to always try to hit the tops of the frets if you’re playing licks or riffs as well. Once we’ve addressed all of these issues, we can move on to my secret method to fretting chords cleanly and consistently.
Secret Method – Hand on/Hand off Technique
My secret method to make learning a guitar chord easy is what I call the Hand on/Hand off technique. Once you have gone through all of the steps above and you see what your fingers need to do, we want to be able to do that over and over again.
For the Hand on/Hand off technique, you fret the chord with good technique, then take your hand off. Visualize the chord and where your fingers need to go for a good sound, count yourself in with a 4 count and then fret the chord and play it. Go string by string afterward to make sure every string is ringing clearly. If not, make the appropriate adjustments and then try again. This will help show you what your natural tendencies are and what you need to adjust.
Once you can consistently fret clean chords, it’s time to start making our chord transitions easy and clean. But that’s a topic for next week’s blog! Stay tuned!
Using the Hand on/Hand off technique several times on each chord will make fretting guitar chords easy! If you want to see me teaching this technique first hand, I would encourage you to sign up for my completely free 5-day course. You don’t need anything but an email address to get started and I will send you 5 great lessons over the course of the next 5 days. What have you got to lose?! Check out my course and I can’t wait to help you become the guitar player that you want to be!
Keep rockn’ and I’ll see you soon!