How to Use Corrective Pauses to Speed up Chord Changes

Classical guitar is complex. When we change chords, all four of our left-hand fingers have to land in the perfect place at the perfect time.

Each finger may need to move at a different speed. It may need to go a different distance, and in a different direction, than the other fingers.

So it’s no small wonder that we often have trouble smoothly connecting chords.

The Problem: Connecting Chords Smoothly

When we connect one note to another, we must synchronize our hands. Both right and left must move together to fret and play the next note.

And we try to make the gap between the two notes as small as possible. This creates the effect of a single, moving musical line. In this way, we create more “vocal” melodies.

To connect one chord to the next, the challenge increases exponentially. We may have four or more different notes all needing to connect to others. And we may have finger hops or big leaps as well.

Simplify: Each Chord is a Separate Issue

To solve complex problems such as these, the best first step is often to simplify.

We may be tempted to bludgeon through our musical section with repeated fumbles. We may fall into the trap of ignoring the issue and hoping it will work itself out in the future. This type of practice does not lead to smooth chord changes.

Instead, we can pull the two (or more) chords from the context of the piece. We can take them over to our perverbial workbench and set about polishing them.

We can look at the trajectory of each finger. We can use any method we know of to become more familiar and comfortable with the chord changes.

We can speak the issues aloud. We can move in slow motion. We can practice just two, then three, then four fingers at a time. We can try anything and everything we can think of.

Create Space with Corrective Pauses

Another tool with which to polish chord changes is the “corrective pause”.

When playing through a piece, or a section of a piece, we often tense when approaching a known tricky spot. If we’ve had trouble there in the past, we may start to become tentative or nervous when we come to it. And this inappropriate tension becomes part of our “muscle-memory”. This causes all sorts of problems.

The end goal is to play smoothly through the chord change, in time with the music. But this is not always the best way to practice.

Instead, we can insert a beat or more of time. These extra beats can let us practice releasing tension. Plus, they can allow us more time to stay aware of all the myriad issues involved.

Snap to New Chords in Rhythm

To use corrective pauses in practice, time does not necessarily slow or stop. We stay in rhythm, but add extra beats. The metronome, if on, would keep clicking.

(When first exploring the issue, we can do it away from time, with no thought of rhythm. Once we put it back into the context of the piece, we can then proceed practicing in rhythm.)

To flow through a chord change with corrective pauses may look like this (each step in a steady rhythm):

  1. Play
  2. Play
  3. Pause
  4. Release tension
  5. Snap to new chord
  6. Pause
  7. Release tension
  8. Play
  9. Play
  10. etc.

Close the Gap

As time goes on, we will become more comfortable with the chord change. As we do, we can reduce the number of beats in the corrective pause. Eventually, we can omit the pause, and play at a slower-than-usual tempo (speed).

Then, as we can, we can bring the section back up to speed with the chord change intact.

This may take weeks. We may opt to spend two or three minutes a day on one tricky spot, for a period of weeks or months. Or we may solve the problem in one practice. The time-frame depends on our current abilities and the complexity of the issue.

By and by, we can train our hands to hop from chord to chord with grace and elegance. It’s a matter of attention, process, and time.

Allen Mathews

Hi, I’m Allen Mathews. 

I started as a folk guitarist, then fell in love with classical guitar in my 20’s. Despite a lot of practice and schooling, I still couldn’t get my music to flow well. I struggled with excess tension. My music sounded forced. And my hands and body were often sore. I got frustrated, and couldn’t see the way forward. Then, over the next decade, I studied with two stellar teachers – one focused on the technical, and one on the musical (he was a concert pianist). In time, I came to discover a new set of formulas and movements. These brought new life and vitality to my practice. Now I help guitarists find more comfort and flow in their music, so they play more beautifully. Click here for a sample formula.

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