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Great Sounding Chords on Acoustic Guitar

How To Get Clear And Beautiful Chords On Guitar

Do you want to have clear, smooth, and great sound chords on your guitar? 

Beginner guitar players often struggle to get their chords to sound clear and clean. You might have this same issue. If you get any buzzing or muted notes, or are having trouble even forming the chords. This is something that's actually really common. 

So here are 7 tips you can use today that will help you get your guitar chords sounding great. In fact, if you stick around to the end I'll give you a bonus tip!

Tip #1 - Start With Good Hand Position

I'll start by saying that this will look different for everyone. Since our anatomy is different, what my hand position looks like could be different from what feels right for you. BUT, there are some common guiding principles.

Let's start with thumb positioning. I like to have my thumb behind the neck, somewhere just above the center point. It can be straight up, or at an angle, but find a position that creates space in between your palm and the strings as your hand comes around the neck. 

Your elbow should be relaxed and somewhat tucked into your side. Don't force it, just let it hang naturally. When you grab your guitar neck you don't want to use too much pressure to squeeze. You only want to apply as much pressure as needed to play the notes. 

Try to play around with your positioning until you find something that works. Make small tweaks to your thumb, elbow, and hand.

Tip #2 - Don't Roll Your Fingers

When you're playing notes your fingers should be mostly up and down above the string. Basically, use your finger tips and not the pads, so your first couple of knuckles are pointing towards the string. You want to avoid rolling your fingers so they're flat. This will help to keep you from muting other strings. 

Tip #3 - Keep Your Fingernails Short

If your fingernails are too long you wont be able to fret the notes with your fingertips. And this will lead to you flattening your fingers and muting other strings accidentally. I know people who always keep a nail file on them to keep their fingernails at a good length. 

Note that this is only for your fretting hand. Flamenco and Classical guitar players keep longer fingernails on their picking/strumming hand and use them in place of guitar picks. 

Tip #4 - Fret Notes At The Right Spot

When you're fretting a note you want your finger as close to the fret as possible, without being on top of it. You want it just behind the note. The farther back your finger is, the harder you have to press and the more likely it is to buzz.

You'll find that you wont always be able to get every finger right behind the fret when you're playing chords. But get them as close as you can. You'll want to pay attention to this when you're playing and practice finger positioning. This will eventually be something you do naturally without thinking about it. 

Tip #5 - Don't Angle Your Wrist Too Much

A bend in the wrist is natural, but don't angle it too much. If your wrist is at too much of an angle you're going to develop wrist pain and discomfort. Some chords will require you to angle your wrist more, like barre chords. There's no way out of that. But find the right angle that lets you play the chords without any excess tension. 

This again will vary by player. And some people will have more or less flexibility in their wrists. So find the spot that feels best for you.

Tip #6 - Find The Right Pressure To Fret Chords

You only want to apply as much pressure as you need to play the chord. Too little pressure will cause buzzing, and too much pressure will cause pain in your hand. 

The pressure will come partially from your fingers and partially from your thumb. You want to distribute that pressure somewhat evenly. You'll also find that your wrist angle and finger positioning is going to help or hurt you here. If you have good wrist and finger positioning like in the previous tips, you'll need to apply less pressure to get the notes to ring clearly. 

You can get a feel for this with a simple exercise. Form a G chord and adjust your thumb, wrist, and fingers to a comfortable place. Now, note by note, play around with different pressures. See what pressure lets the note ring clearly without feeling too much tension. Do this with all of your fingers. Over time this will become natural and you wont have to think about it.

Tip #7 - Don't Think About Tips 1-6

I know, this sounds backwards. But here's my point: the less you have to think about these things the better your chords will sound. This all comes down to practice so they become habits. To do that, practice it, and practice it some more. 

I like to make it a a game for my students. I'll start by having them make a chord, put their hand down to their side, count to 5 and see how quickly they can form the chord and strum. Once that happens and the chord is clean I'll shorten the count to 4, then 3, 2, and 1. This helps build muscle memory which will help you form the chords way quicker. It also helps you react and not think, which is the place you want to be.

Bonus Tip - No One Knows How To Play Guitar At First

Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Steve Vai, Eddie Van Halen- all of the great guitar players started exactly where you did. No one knows how to play guitar until they learn how to play guitar. They all went through the same struggles you're going through. 

So keep at it! 

The biggest thing you can do for your guitar playing is take methodical lessons, practice often, and practice smart. All of these tips will help you become a better guitar player, but they all require practice and persistence. If you only do half-hearted practice you're not likely to progress very quickly. No matter who your teacher is. 

Remember, no two people are the same. You'll learn somethings that wont work for you that might work for someone else. You'll need to experiment a little. This gets easier and you'll have better discernment the longer you play. 

So use this as encouragement and keep on practicing! 


What part of playing chords on your guitar are you finding the most challenging? Let me know in the comments!

>> Check Out Day #16 :  Making Your Pinky Stronger On Guitar

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  1. I am at a frustrated time with my playing. I can effectively use several chords. I have an acoustic guitar. Should I move forward with Bar chords? I would like to learn the notes at different fret levels. I am self taught. Should I seek an instructor for further advice?

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