How to Make Your Guitar Chords Sound Like a Million Bucks
If you’re reading this article, you’re probably eager to improve your ability to play guitar chords. Being able to play chords well is one of the most important skills a beginner or intermediate guitarist can learn.
But as you probably know, learning to play guitar chords can be very frustrating. Some of the notes buzz and some don’t sound at all. It’s enough to make you want to put down the guitar in frustration.
But don’t do that! I’m going to give you some tips that will make your guitar chords sound clean, crisp, and beautiful.
Tune Your Guitar!
This might seem obvious, but an out-of-tune guitar makes out-of-tune guitar chords. First things first: double check your guitar’s tuning. You can tune your guitar by ear, but an electronic tuner really comes in handy, especially for beginners. I like SNARK tuners because they’re affordable, convenient, and easy to use, but any tuner or iPhone or Android tuner app should do the trick.
Place Your Fingers Directly Behind the Fret Wires
This tip might require some explanation, but bear with me – it’ll make playing chords way easier.
First, let’s define “fret wires.” They’re the little metal bars that separate each fret from the ones above and below it. You may have heard them called simply “frets,” but it’s important to distinguish between those little metal bars and the spaces between them.
And for our purposes, “behind” means “right next to.” For example, if you’re playing a note on the first fret, you’ll want to place your finger right next to that first little metal wire.
Why do we do this? Well, it takes much less pressure to create clean, non-buzzy notes when you’re close to the frets. And when you put a bunch of non-buzzy notes together, you get a non-buzzy guitar chord. Try it. You’ll see what I mean.
Check Your Angle of Approach
This seems like advice an air traffic controller might give a rookie pilot, but it’s equally applicable to guitar players.
When you’re attempting to finger guitar chords and some of the notes aren’t ringing clearly, make sure the fingers fretting adjacent strings aren’t muting those notes. As a general rule, use your fingertips to fret the strings of your guitar. This will keep them from leaning over onto nearby strings.
Play Each String Individually
Playing each string one at a time is a great way to troubleshoot your guitar chords. When you play the entire chord, it can be difficult to figure out why it doesn’t quite sound right. But when you play each string individually, it’s much easier to zero in on problem notes.
Are you close enough to the frets? Are your fingers muting adjacent strings? Are you applying enough pressure? These are all excellent questions to ask yourself when fine-tuning your chord playing skills.
Strum With Gusto, But Not Too Much!
Beginner and intermediate guitarists often struggle with strumming, and incorrect strumming can make chords sound sour, even if the fretting hand is doing its job correctly.
First, make sure you’re not using too much of your pick. There’s no need to drag half the pick across the string; all you really need is the very tip. Strumming too hard or with too much pick can make your guitar chords sound rattly or buzzy.
Second, relax your shoulders, arms, wrists, and hands. It’s easy to become tense when you’re trying to learn something new, especially if you’re self-conscious about playing in front of your guitar teacher. But do your best to relax. When strumming, picture the motion you might make when shaking water off your hand. Much of that motion is in the wrist, some of it is in the arm, and the hand is almost “along for the ride.” Strumming is similar.
Third, don’t hold on to your pick too tightly. Beginners tend to worry that they’ll drop their picks or worse yet, lose them in that gaping abyss known as the acoustic guitar soundhole. In reality, you can always retrieve your pick if you drop it, and fishing picks out of your acoustic guitar is a skill that every guitar player should perfect.
Have Your Guitar Adjusted
Sometimes I wonder how many aspiring guitarists have given up on playing due to guitars that are out of adjustment. Don’t get me wrong: learning to play guitar chords is a challenge, but if your guitar is borderline unplayable, it’s much more difficult.
Do your strings seem like they’re miles above the fretboard? Does the very thought of trying to play a chord make your fingertips hurt? If so, your guitar may need a professional adjustment. Take it to a local guitar shop with a good reputation.
Getting a proper set-up will cost a bit of money, but the time and frustration it will save you will be well worth the investment!
I remember just what it was like being a beginner guitarist and struggling with chords. I really hope these tips help you out. Learn a few basic guitar chords, and pretty soon you’ll be the hit of the campfire or coffeehouse!
Need Guitar Lessons?
The internet offers a wealth of free tips for guitar players, but if you really want to take your guitar playing to the next level, there’s nothing like one-on-one, in-person guitar lessons.
If you’re looking for guitar lessons in Portland, Oregon, then we at Learn Guitar PDX would be honored to be your Portland guitar teachers.