November 2013

Guitar Chords – Improve Your Technique!

Many beginners have trouble playing guitar chords because they find it difficult to play them without deadening some of the strings. Students with large hands and big fingers tend to mute the sound when their fingers interfere with the open strings of a chord. However, students with small hands often struggle with chords like C or G7 because they require a bit of a stretch. In both cases, the end result is usually a chord that sounds really bad.

So what can be done to correct this problem? Well, actually, there may be several solutions…

The first thing I would suggest for a beginner is to use the right size guitar.

Occasionally I’ll get a student who owns a big, jumbo size, acoustic steel-string guitar, but has small hands and fingers. While the guitar neck may be narrow enough, this student may not be able to apply a sufficient amount of pressure to the strings in order to get a good sound. So this student could experience some frustration until they acquire more strength.

The large body of the jumbo guitar may also cause a problem if the student has to contort their arm in order to position their hand over the sound hole. In time, this could create a fair amount of unwanted tension throughout their neck, back, shoulders and arm.

So, I recommend that a student of small stature and features use either an electric guitar, or a smaller 3/4 or 1/2 size acoustic.

Now a jumbo guitar might be okay for a student with larger features, but they may still have trouble fingering guitar chords because of the narrow neck. If this is the case, students with large hands could try using a guitar with a wider neck, such as a nylon string, classical guitar.

But, neither of these solutions are very good if it hinders someone from playing the style of music they want to learn. The best solution then, would be to correct the problem by simply improving their technique. With that in mind, here are a few suggestions that might help…

Finger Position:

When playing guitar chords, it’s important to place the very tips of your fingers on the stings. Many beginners however, tend to use the flat part of their finger, which results in a dead or muted sound. Good chord technique is a matter of using the knuckles of your hand, fingertips, and wrist effectively.

Exercise 1:

– Make a tight fist with your fretting hand
– Slowly relax and let your fingers begin to uncurl
– Your hand should now have a soft, round look & feel
– All three knuckles of your hand should be slightly bent, your wrist relaxed

This is called a “cupped” hand and it is what you want to strive for when playing guitar chords.

Exercise 2:

– Place your thumb behind the neck of your guitar between the 1st & 2nd fret
– Put the very tip of your first finger on the 2nd string, at the 1st fret by bending your 1st knuckle
– Hit the 2nd string (if it doesn’t sound clear, press harder while holding it down)
– Continue to hold the 2nd string down while you hit the 1st string open

1. —-0———
2. —-1——–
3. ————–
4. ————–
5. ————–
6. ————–

Both strings should have a clear, clean sound.


– Keeping your 1st finger down, add your 2nd finger to the 4th string at the 2nd fret

1. —-0——–
2. —-1——–
3. —-0——–
4. —-2——–
5. ————-
6. ————-

– Make sure to use the very tip of your 2nd finger by keeping the 1st knuckle bent
– Now play the top four strings, one at a time, while keeping the 1st & 2nd fingers down

Each string should have a clear, clean sound. If they don’t, check you position. You may need to move your thumb toward the center of the neck in order to maintain a “cupped” hand.


– Add your 3rd finger to the 3rd string at the 2nd fret
– Check your position- cupped hand, first knuckle bent, fingertips placed on strings just below fingernail
– Now, pressing down firmly, play each string, one at a time

1. —-0———
2. —-1——–
3. —-2———
4. —-2———
5. ————–
6. ————–

If you hear a muted sound, try to identify the problem by determining which string is being muted. If a sting that you are pressing down is muted, you probably need to apply more pressure. If an open string is muted, another finger is probably interfering with it.

Adjust your position by creating a “cupped” hand with knuckles bent so that you are up on your fingertips and repeat the exercise. Continue doing this until you achieve the desired result with your guitar chords.

Taking the time to focus on your technique will not only improve the sound of your guitar chords, but they will eventually become easier to play as well.

Author Bio:Kathy Unruh is the author of the ABCLearnGuitar eBook.

She has been teaching guitar to students of all ages for over 25 years.

Continue Reading

Play Songs on the Guitar!

Most of my students want to learn how to play songs on the guitar. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the case for you as well. However, that can mean extra work for the instructor, since they are the one who has to work out the different songs for each student.

As a teacher, my aim is to encourage my students in the direction they want to go. In order to do this, I try to accommodate their interests by providing appropriate practice material. One of the things I have noticed over the years, is that my students generally practice more when they are learning how to play songs rather than just a series of exercises.

So, to make things easier for myself, I try to keep a few songs “on hand” that use interesting chords and/or strumming, flatpicking and fingerpicking patterns. This helps my students learn specific techniques while at the same time, they are learning how to play songs on the guitar. They can then apply the techniques they’ve learned from these songs to any style of music they may be interested in playing later on down the road.

For example, two songs that I find serve this purpose rather nicely are Good Riddance, by Green Day and Closer To Fine by the Indigo Girls. Both of these songs use the same basic chord structure and they also have a similar rhythm. They are fairly easy to play as well, so students tend to pick them up rather quickly. The benefits of learning these songs are many. Good Riddance teaches students how to isolate specific strings on the guitar while using a pick, which is an important technique to acquire. Closer To Fine, on the other hand, has a nice strumming pattern and is useful for developing such techniques as speed control, even tempo and smooth chord changes.

I must say that one of the nice things for students today is the amount of free guitar learning material that is available on the internet… Everything from free guitar tab to free guitar lesson videos. This is really quite remarkable when you think about it. In my early days I learned a lot by just hangin’ out with other guitar players and listening to records. I learned how to play a lot of great songs that way and recommend that you try to do the same!

Learning how to play songs on the guitar is definitely fun and it’s very practical too! It’s not that hard either. Plus, songs can provide a great incentive for practicing, as well as give you a feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction when you’ve finally mastered a particular tune you’ve been working on. Not to mention that songs will make you feel like a guitar player. They will also supply you with the experience and material to play in front of an audience or in a band.

Perhaps now you see that learning how to play songs on the guitar can help you develop timing, coordination skills and acquire some tricks of the trade all at the same time!

Author Bio:


Kathy Unruh is the author of the ABCLearnGuitar eBook.

She has been teaching guitar to students of all ages for over 25 years.


Continue Reading