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Keep It Clean – Playing Chords Without Touching Other Strings

Playing chords cleanly has always been a common challenge for both new and more experienced guitar players alike. 

Everyone wants to play chords that sound crisp, clear, and ring true. But due to a natural lack of left-hand dexterity, our fingers have to "learn" to play the chord properly.

It doesn't matter how difficult the chord is, having that fret-hand finger flexibility will enable you to play both easy and more difficult chords with ease.

Buzzing and Muted Notes

2 Types of Bad Guitar Sounds

Most beginner guitar players run into two problems:

    • The fretted notes buzz,

    •                         or

    • Strings that should ring clearly are being muffled by their fretting fingers

This goes back to left-hand finger dexterity. When you learn guitar everything feels unnatural and often clunky. But with the right technique and practice, everything in guitar becomes manageable and natural. And a lot less frustrating.

Tips For Clear Notes

How to Play Chords Clean


Here are 5 tips for playing chords cleanly that you can utilize right away. If you’re having a hard time visualizing these, check out the video to see what each tip looks like in practice.

1. Good Hand Positioning

  • Keep your thumb behind neck. It’s ok if it drifts up a little, but try to keep it mostly centered.
  • Don’t squeeze too hard. Imagine you’re holding an orange. Use that same hand positioning and grip tension.
  • Keep space between your palm and the fretboard. It gives you a better angle for fretting. Your fingers will naturally want to lay flat. However...

2. "Curl" Your Fingers To Play The Notes

  • Use the tip of fingers to fret the notes. Try to curl your fingers a little when fretting. This will help keep the flat part off of other strings.  

3. Keep Your Fingernails Short

  • Who knew that grooming would make you a better guitar player? If your fingernails are too long, they’ll hit the fretboard before your fingertips can correctly fret the note. This will naturally lead to pressing down with the flat part of your finger instead of the fingertip.

4. Put Your Fingers Close To The Fret, But NOT On Top

  • This is about balance. If it’s too far from the fret, you’ll have to press down very hard. And the note will probably buzz anyway.
  • Try to get as close to the fret as possible without being on top of it.
  • Try this for yourself. Play a note really far from the fret, and really close. Which sounds the best?

5. Minimize The Angle

  • Keep your wrist straight so your fingers are relatively straight with the frets.

There will often be compromises to these rules in practice.

You may need to angle your fingers a little on an A Major chord. Or slide your thumb up a little for a D Major chord.

Or squeeze a little harder on an *F Major barre chord. But using and understanding these techniques will give you the best shot at success.

*To see my lessons on learning barre chords in a much easier way, click here.

Eliminate String Noise: Play The Chord Switching Game

If you are looking to improve your ability to play clean chords on the guitar, I’ve got just the thing for you! Introducing The Chord Switching Game - a simple yet effective guitar exercise designed to help you improve your chord playing by allowing you to switch between chords without unwanted string noise or buzz. This is an essential skill for any guitar player, whether you’re a beginner or a pro! So why wait? Start practicing with this exercise today and take your skills to new heights!

Members of Real Guitar Success (RGS) Academy can access this exercise here.

Not a member yet? No problem...

Sign up here FREE for 14 days to RGS Academy to get access to one of my most popular guitar exercises, and much more!

I’m hoping you stick around…  but if not, the 2 weeks should be enough to make great progress on your guitar.

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  1. This Tutorial again refined my technique of angling my fingers, putting my thumb behind the neck of the guitar and my attitude towards playing guitar !
    You are so kind sir. You are precise and definite in explaining the stuff as you are so much experienced and you know the difficulties, mentality and psychology of the beginner guitarist. All your experiencereflects in your teaching ! That’s great. I honour you, sir.

  2. Thank you for the video! I received my acoustic guitar for Mother's Day in 2020. Tried to learn from my husband, and by myself, but found a really nice teacher. I never thought Covit 19 was such a great idea, but I found so much time to practice, it was wonderful. Lockdown? Well, not so much – no face-to-face lessons and my Skype is not good. I had three lessons before Lockdown, but had enough left-over music from my earlier attempts and my husband's brain and my teacher willing to text, I got a lot done. However, my technique is BAD. Your video is great – done with love and energy and encouragement. I shall use it many times. Thank you.

  3. Just a beginner but having a problem touching the string next to the one I am trying to play especially the G cord. I only know a few chords but that one I cannot seem to hit clean.

    1. Hi Mike,

      This other blog post might also help you. It shows a variety of ways to play the G chord that can make changing to other chords much easier. Plus if you are interested, there is a FREE 14-day trial for Real Guitar Success Academy. There is a very helpful course there that I think would make your guitar skills really improve. It’s part of the Beginner’s Journey course, and there it shows a very common chord progression with the G chord that is in many popular songs. PLUS it also has a couple of fun song lessons and an extra guitar exercise called The Chord Switching Game. There you will really hone your skills in changing chords easily and cleanly. Check it out with the free trial and let me know what you think!

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