Learning to strum your first few chords on the guitar

(For the beginner guitarist)

You’re just starting out on guitar and you want to learn how to strum some chords. All too often I notice this bad habit that all my first time beginner guitar students do when they try to learn how to strum and play chords on the guitar. They immediately start to move their head from right to left in a repetitive motion so they can see what they are doing with both the right hand strumming and the left hand fretting of the chords. This is the wrong thing to do because it confuses the mind and it doesn’t help with synchronization for both left and right hand technique. Here is what you should do first. Work on your left hand and use a technique that I call the dropping in technique and forget about the right hand strumming. The right hand can be worked on later, after your left hand fingers learn their little dance on the guitar fret board. The left hand fingers will end up memorizing where to fall on the fret board. This will eventually lead to fretting the right notes and shape of the chord. You will achieve complete mastery of the left hand and switching from chord to chord by practicing the following steps below.

The Dropping in Technique:

Choose 3 chords that you want to learn. In this example, we picked 3 chords C, F and G major. Use the diagram and the pictures below to learn the chords.

Step 1: First learn the fingering of C, F and G major.

C maj, F maj and Gmaj chords

Step 2: Get familiar with each individual chord by slightly lifting your fingers off the chord and by pressing back down onto the chord. Try to keep the shape of the chord as you lift so you keep the fingering in place and don’t lift too high or far away from the guitar fret board. The closer you can keep your fingers to the fret board the better. Staying close to the fret board allows you to grab the chord faster and with precision.

Step 3: After you have learned the fingering of each chord practice switching or dropping into each individual chord.

Step: 4: Use a metronome to practice dropping in time. Set it at 60bpm for your first attempt and gradually increase the tempo as you get more comfortable with switching from chord to chord. Try it with whole notes, half notes, and quarter notes. You will be lifting your left hand pressing down on the strings to the beat of the metronome. Remember, no right hand strumming, it will look like you are performing air guitar at first. Keep your eyes on the left hand for a while, then try to close your eyes or turn your head away from the guitar fret board. This will test if you are fretting the chord by memory without having to look at where your fingers have to land on the neck. When you are switching from chord to chord with whole notes you can cheat a little by grabbing the next chord in the middle of the count. For example, grab and press down on the chord on beat number 1 and start to change to the next chord on beats 2, 3, and 4. For the beginner those extra 3 beats will allow you to grab the shape of the next chord so you are ready to fret your fingers on the new chord on beat 1. Repeat this process with half notes and quarter notes.

The dropping in technique will and should help you gain left hand independence, where eventually you should not have to think or look at most of the chords you are playing on the guitar.Once the task of switching from chord to chord is mastered it is time to move on to right hand technique which involves strumming or picking. To learn more about right hand technique please read or click on the links: and

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