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How to Improve Guitar Chords: Secrets of A, D & E

The Easy Way to Master Beginner Chords on Guitar

Here's how I get beginners doing basic chord changes in double-quick time while ensuring they don't get stuck with the common problems I regularly help cure in frustrated guitarists.

Changing between A, D and E Chords

Strum, Lift, Slide, Drop!

We'll be working with 3 "easy" chords here; A, D and E. Once you can comfortably change between them you're able to play millions of songs to a basic but functional level (the "3 chord trick"). Just follow the sequence "Strum, Lift, Slide, Drop" as demonstrated below to make sense of all of the possible changes among these chords.

(I'll assume for the purposes of this lesson that you can read a chord diagram, know which number finger is which and can sound each of the chords A, D and E correctly. If not, then to save me reinventing the wheel, take a look at the excellent Justin Sandercoe's very popular beginner course here.)

(Companion Video - Click to play)

1) Changing between A and E

For those of you who've only learned the "123" fingering for an A chord instead of the "213" layout shown below you'll need to spend a few minutes becoming familiar with this new fingering to benefit from the ideas used here.

Your brain loves patterns and the trick to remembering chord changes as quickly as possible is to find links between shapes. Here the blue arrow highlights that our index finger is on the G string for both chords; at fret 2 for the A chord and at fret 1 for the E chord. We'll be using this as our anchor movement to move between the two.

Here's a guaranteed way to get this A/E chord change into your subconscious, presented of course in Taplature form where we'll tie the actions required to the foot tap (this ensures things are executed exactly the same every time which is how you "program" yourself).

I've written instructions below. Follow through the list as slowly as you need to go to ensure everything is correct. It may help to say "and" out loud as you lift the foot each time ready to tap again.

1) Strum the A chord while you

tap your foot and say "Strum"

2) Lift off fingers 2 and 3. Tap your foot and say "Lift"

3) Slide finger 1 to fret 1 of the G string

while you tap your foot and say "Slide"

4) Drop fingers 2 and 3 to make the E chord while

you tap your foot and say "Drop"

5) Strum the E chord while you tap

your foot and say "Strum"

6) Lift fingers 2 and 3 while you

tap your foot and say "Lift"

7) Slide finger 1 to fret 2 of the G string while

you tap your foot and say "Slide"

8) Drop fingers 2 and 3 to make the A chord

while you tap your foot and say "Drop"

(Click here for demonstration)

After step 8 you're ready to start again. I defy you to complete this sequence ten times as described without having learned this chord change (it's never happened in lessons anyway)!

To the Proving Ground!

When you can do the above with just your foot tap and the count for company you're ready to try it in time with a beat! Anything on guitar only really works when you can do it perfectly in time with a metronome or backing track. (A good free online metronome is on offer at and for those of you with Windows PCs I recommend "Chordpulse Lite", a free to download fully functional virtual backing band!)

(Click here for demonstration)

As with all things on guitar if you monitor progress you'll be able to see when your practice is working and when it's not. To help with that I've added some progress sheets for each of the chord changes discussed here in the appendix of "Discover Taplature!", free to download for all subscribers to the Taplature blog. Keep track of the top speed at which you can manage each of the examples shown here with perfect execution (no duff notes). It's fun to see yourself improving!

Strum the Night Away!

With A and E under your belt you can now join me to play a version of the Mavericks classic "Dance the Night Away"; just alternate these two chords along with me in the video (click here to view)! As the change gets easier you'll be able to keep each chord ringing for longer before preparing the next. You'll also be able to keep up for longer as I increase the speed! Once you've got it try playing along with the original (you'll need a capo at fret 7 to make our chords match the key it's played in!).

The Mavericks - Dance the Night Away

(click to play)

Changing Between A and D Chords

We can use the same 4 steps Strum, Lift, Slide, Drop to get between A and D. This time it's finger 3 that will do the sliding. A painfully common error when moving from A to D is to focus on placing fingers 1 & 2 first and to overlook the massive waste of movement that's usually induced in finger 3 when doing so (click here to view). Here we'll train in the most efficient way to learn to move between the two chords.

Here's that change laid out in Taplature:

(click here for demonstration)

1) Strum the A chord. Say "Strum"

2) Lift off finger 2. Say "Lift"

3) Slide finger 3 to fret 3 of the B string. Say "Slide"

4) Drop finger 2 to complete the D chord. Say "Drop"

5) Strum the D chord. Say "Strum"

6) Lift finger 2. Say "Lift"

7) Slide finger 3 to fret 2 of the B string. Say "Slide"

8) Drop finger 2 to complete the A chord. Say "Drop"

Now we can combine our A/E and A/D changes together to give an easy guitar version of the Beatles "Hey Jude". Strum only on the first beat of each bar as shown above.

(click here for demonstration)

I've added the first verse lyrics which include some fairly tricky semiquaver timing, explaining which would make for a lesson on its own. For now I'll play the melody and you can strum along. Again we'll start slow and speed up!

Changing Between D and E Chords

Our final building block! Here it's the first finger that slides again to give the link that will help this change bed in quickly. The instructions are similar to the change between A and E but most find this to be physically trickier as there's a bit more movement and work involved in rearranging fingers 2 & 3.

(click here for demonstration)

1) Strum the D chord. Say "Strum"

2) Lift off fingers 2 and 3. Say "Lift"

3) Slide finger 1 to fret 1 of the G string. Say "Slide"

4) Drop fingers 2 and 3 to make the E chord. Say "Drop"

5) Strum the E chord. Say "Strum"

6) Lift fingers 2 and 3. Say "Lift"

7) Slide finger 1 to fret 2 of the G string. Say "Slide"

8) Drop fingers 2 and 3 to make the D chord. Say "Drop"

I'd suggest a good target speed to aim for with each of the 3 changes outlined here is at least 200bpm. See which is the weakest of the 3 and focus on that. I'll predict that as the weakest improves, so do the others!

Ready to Roll!

With these 3 chord and the changes among them under your belt you can find a ton of songs you like to help cement things in place. Click here to run a Google search for "songs with a d e chords guitar". Anyone can find some favourites using just these 3 chords and we've covered all of the possible combinations here to let you play them, at least to this basic level!

I cover a few famous examples in the video (click here to view) mentioning in particular a few songs which I'd still struggle to play without using the fingerings and efficient movements covered above.

Onwards and Upwards!

Use the same approach with any other chords you come across while trying out different songs. I'd expect most of you to get the fastest results with the 3 chords covered here, but it's all good to keep leading you forward!

Once the rudiments covered here become easy your next challenge is changing chords while strumming. The best way to approach this hurdle is to learn a simple strum pattern without worrying about chord changes, and to learn the "next level" of chord changes but without worrying about a strum pattern.

Sounds cryptic? It's all covered in this blog article here on strumming and this one on the right way to change chords.


Old Swanner.

Need more of a push to get things working right? See me in the Taplature Forum! Discussion, advice and even free 1-1 tuition!

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