Videos by American Songwriter
Nobody’s perfect, but you can improve your guitar playing greatly by paying a little more attention to a few details. Chances are, even if you’ve been playing for a while, you’re still making one or more of these common mistakes. So let’s work on making your playing better with just a few changes.
Changing From One Chord To The Next
Let’s say you’re playing in 4/4 time, and you’re in the key of D. You’re playing a D chord. Your rhythm pattern is eighth notes. 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and. You’re strumming down on 1, 2, 3, 4 and you’re strumming up on all of your “ands.” That’s one bar of a D chord. Then you’re changing to a G chord. Do this slowly, at about 65 bpm on your metronome. I want you to especially notice the “and” of beat 4. It should be an upstroke. When you hit that 4 and, your fingers should still be on the D chord. They should not be lifted off the strings to give you a head start on the G chord.
What most people do is strum that last eighth note (4 and) and hit open strings while their fingers are en route to the G chord. What do you have if you hit the e, b, and g strings open? You have an Em chord. So in effect, you’re hitting an Em chord instead of a D for the last upbeat (eighth note) of that bar. Is that so bad? Yes, it is. Can you imagine playing any other instrument and substituting an Em chord for the last eighth note of every single bar in the song before you change chords? If you do it when you go from D to G, you probably do it every time you change chords. So a chord progression that should sound like this: D – G – A7 – D sounds like this: D – Em G – Em A7 – Em D.
You’re doing this because you haven’t trained your fingers to move between the beats to the next chord. You have to move your fingers after the “4 and” and before the “1” of the next measure. Maybe you can do it at a slow tempo, but when you get up to 110 bpm, you can’t quite get to the next chord without cheating. As a result, your playing sounds a little sloppy. The slower your fingers move between chords, the sloppier your playing sounds.
Of course, the easy way to avoid this is just to avoid strumming the last eighth note at all, which doesn’t sound bad. It’s a lot better than adding wrong notes every time you change chords. So you end the bar with 1and2and3and4. Some of you may choose to do that and that’s okay. If you want to be a good guitar player, you’ll learn how not to do that. And to learn that, you have to get a metronome, strum up and down, count 1and2and3and4and and pay attention. Start slowly and gradually you’ll be able to do it faster. This is the kind of thing that separates the pros from the amateurs, not knowing more chords or hot licks.
Hitting The Wrong Bass Note
Many times, I have seen people strum an open Em chord and hit every string but the low E string. Hey, that’s your bass note, the root of the chord and you totally left it out. Remember this: Every chord is named after its bass note. If you strum an Em chord and you leave out the 6th string, you just played an Em/B. Em over B. B is now the bass note. If you play a D chord and you strum 5 strings instead of 4, you just played a D/A. There is a difference. One talented, well-known Nashville songwriter consistently plays F chords and D chords with an open E bass note. Ouch. Every guitar player in the room cringes. But hey, he’s got priorities, I guess. And guitar playing isn’t one of them.
Remember, whichever string is closest to your face is the lowest note in pitch. That’s your bass note. The names of the strings are (from big to little) E, A, D, g, b and e … Eddie Ate Dynamite good bye eddie. Easy. A D chord has a D bass note, an A chord has an A bass note, etc. Those two mistakes are errors in technique, and are probably the most important to those of you who perform in public.
Inability To Keep Time
If you have never played to a metronome, a drum machine, or with a real drummer, chances are your sense of time could use some improvement. Usually, your first experience with a metronome is quite frustrating. “Something’s wrong with this thing!” and “It can’t keep up with me!” are common reactions. It takes practice to keep consistent time. Some people have an easier time of it if the metronome is set to eighth notes, instead of quarter notes.
A KORG MA-30 metronome will fit in your guitar case. A metronome or other timekeeper is invaluable to guitar players. Playing in tune and in time are prerequisites to being pro players, if that’s what you’re aiming for. It’s really the simple things that make a difference.