Guitar Chords: Difficulty Fingering Chords? Here’s Some Help

in Guitar Chords | 15 comments

C-two-finger-chord

Question:

Tomas, I find it difficult not to touch some strings that when I play the C chord with 3 fingers, is there an alternative C chord?

-- Alun WIlliams

Answer:

It's a common problem to have difficulty fingering many  guitar chords including the C chord. Here are some of the solutions that hopefully will give you more ideas and some encouragement about fingering chords.

 

Use A Guitar With A Wider Neck

 

If you using a steel string acoustic guitar and your fingers are on the thicker side you may want to try a classical type guitar. This guitar has a wider neck than the acoustic guitar and the strings are farther apart. It's created this way so that the fingers can get between the strings easier for picking with the right hand fingers, but some people with thick fingers find it easier to finger chords also.

This guitar has nylon strings. The sound is different than this acoustic guitar.

Another possibility is to use a 12 string guitar and only string it with six strings. This way the strings will be wider apart similar to a classical guitar only with metal strings. In this case I'm assuming you want the sound of metal strings which is common for pop rock music.

Before jumping to a guitar with a wider neck, and especially if your fingers seem in the normal range of thickness, I would consider some of the following solutions also.

 

Alternate Form Of The C Chord

 

In place of the regular three finger C chord you can start off using the fingering of an A minor chord. Another way to say this is to use just the two first fingers of the C chord and leave off the third finger. This actually makes and a minor chord, but if you strum just the top fourth strings it's the same notes of the C chord.

This is easier because you don't have to stretch the third finger over. I use this with students especially if their hands are small or their fingers are stiff. It's a good stepping stone to fingering the full C chord. It sounds pretty good also.

Eventually as the student gets comfortable with this I have them add the third finger to make the full C.

BeFunky_guitar with nature.jpg

How To Practice Fingering Guitar Chords

 

Touching other strings when you're trying to play chord will mute the sound of the strings. This is common when you're first learning. A lot of this can be sold just by patience and persistence. Get the fingering of the chord the best you can and then practice changing from one chord to another slowly. Over time you will likely figure out how to keep from touching, or muting, the other strings  little by little. There here's a few pointers can help:

  • Hand position is important. You should have years fingers, as much as possible, go straight up and then straight down on the string. There is no exact angle, but many beginners tend to straighten out their fingers when fingering guitar chords more than his optimal. Here's a picture of what a good angle with the C chord will look like.
  • You'll want to press the string using mostly your fingertip and not the flat pad of your finger. Again it takes practice but it's something to pay attention to.
  • A good guitar chord exercise to start with is to just finger the chord, strum it once or twice, make a few adjustments, strum again, and then take your fingers off. Repeat this process about 20 times per practice session. It only takes a few seconds each time. As you do this over a period of a week or so you'll find the chord sounds better and better. The reason you want to take your fingers off after a few strums is that your handle start tensing and you want to break that tension.

If you'd like more help with this check out my blog post and lesson:

How To Avoid Muted Strings When Making Chords

 

One Final But Important Note

 

A lot of students that tell me they have a problem with fingering guitar chords really have a different problem.

Learning to play a complex skill like playing guitar involves learning many movements that your body is not accustomed to doing. So it rebels.

Often students try to do something for a little while and when it doesn't work they either quit (really bad idea), or start looking for a quick fix like a different guitar or an easier way to do the particular technique. Unfortunately this doesn't address the underlying issue… a lack of a systematic way of practicing a new skill and difficulty with staying with something that you can't quite do yet.

I do want to also emphasize there is a time and a place to change the guitar, change strings or try something easier. It really helps if you follow a good systematic approach to learning guitar. This includes regular practice that's done in an effective way. Then making other changes to lower the bar make more sense if you're still having difficulties with something.

 

Long Answer To A Simple Question

 

I know some of you would think this was a long answer to a simple question. I'm hoping you'll see that I giving you much more than a quick fix to help you really learn to play guitar.

Let me know if you found this useful or if you have any other ways to help with fingering chords.

Leave a comment below so we can all benefit.

More Help:

How To Get Clear Sounding Guitar Chords

Difficulties fingering chords? “A” Chord & “Fat Fingers”

 

 

 

Tomas Michaud

Tomas Michaud

Author - Tomas Michaud at Real Guitar Success
Tomas Michaud is an American born guitarist and music educator with a French Canadian heritage. He first developed the Starland Guitar System in 1982 when his 9 year old daughter asked him to teach her guitar. Since then he’s founded the Starland School of Music in the SF Bay Area, and RealguitarSuccess.com.

When he's not making guitar instruction videos or creating more music to record (currently 7 CDs including Beauty and Fire) he's riding his bike along the beach with his dog Marco Polo or traveling to interesting places with his lovely wife Pui.
Tomas Michaud

    15 Comments

  1. Tomas, as always your advice is sound and practical. I will start with trying the A minor chord. Having just retired from work aged 59 and with some limited musical experience (5 years at age 10 to 15 in a Brass Band)my retirement ambition was to learn to play the guitar. However, recently I have been diagnosed with Polymyalgia rheumatica, but persevering through the pain a stiffness in my left wrist to continue to practice (5 times per week a minimum of 30 minutes per session). Starting to use my limited ability to read music to work on translating music for guitar to avoid only using tablature as the “easy way out”. Thanks for taking the time to reply.
    Alun 🙂

    Alun

    August 10, 2014

    • Hello Alun,

      Your story is definitely well-appreciated. Tomas Michaud would definitely feel proud of you.
      You are such an inspiration to those novice guitar players out there
      who are almost giving up their dreams of playing guitar for so many reasons. I really hope that your doctor knew about this and
      that playing guitar will not worsen the situation. Your perseverance and persistence is truly amazing.

      Get well so soon and take care of yourself and please don’t push too hard. Have fun and enjoy playing guitar.

      Take care,

      Hazel
      Starland Guitar
      Customer Support

      Tomas

      August 11, 2014

  2. Helpful advice. Thanks

    Donna

    August 10, 2014

    • Hello Donna,

      You are most welcome. As always, Tomas Michaud is glad to hear from someone like you
      how his guitar lessons were able to help his budding guitarist out there.

      Keep it up, Donna.

      Thanks,
      Hazel
      Starland Guitar
      Customer Support

      Tomas

      August 11, 2014

  3. Hi Tom:
    I’m having this problem with muting strings on some of my chords. I am a totally new player at age 71. I have a Martin LX-1, lefty, because we liveaboard our boat 6-7 months a year and it is smaller. I also think that I have smaller hands. A wider neck guitar would seem to be even harder to stretch my hands across. I’ve been using simpler chords, as you suggested. Hopefully, I will get better with practice.
    Do you have any suggestions for beginning left handed players? I have enjoyed your free videos but haven’t subscribed to any teacher yet because I have to convert everything I see to left handed chord charts.

    John

    August 11, 2014

    • Hello John,

      Glad to hear from you. With regard to your problem on muted string, allow me to share with you a blog post written by Tomas Michaud himself, its How To Avoid Muted Strings When Making Chords >> https://tomasmichaud.com/avoid-muted-strings-making-chords-sunday-update-33/. For left handed players, I hope that this post will also help you a lot http://www.starlandguitar.com/mistake-3/.

      If you think you’re having a smaller hands, then don’t worry too much about. Here’s what Tomas Michaud’s point on that :
      “I commend you on taking a first step…getting help. I want to assure you that it’s very unlikely that the size of your hands is really a problem. If they really are small like a child just get a smaller guitar (3/4 size). many students have told me over the years they thought their hand were too small or too large. The real issue is just practice and patience. The best advice is 1) find a good teacher or systematic online lesson course, 2) practice 5 days a week, and 3) persist…don’t stop. I know this may sound too simplistic.” – Tomas

      I wish you all the best in your guitar playing journey. Before I’d end up, remember that in playing guitar, age doesn’t matter 🙂

      Thanks,

      Hazel
      Starland Guitar
      Customer Support

      Tomas

      August 12, 2014

  4. Another great post. I too picked up the guitar at age 70. It’s great to have both
    Thomas and a local guitar instructor. I have Bud Preston here in Medina Ohio and I subscribe to Thomas Michaud. Thank you again Thomas and staff.

    Dennis

    August 30, 2014

    • Hello Dennis,

      That sounds great 🙂 Warm regards to Bud Preston
      and thanks for subscribing to Tomas Michaud’s guitar lessons.
      with you age, you proved to anyone that playing guitar – age doesn’t matter at all.

      Thanks to you as well.

      Hazel
      Starland Guitar
      Customer Support

      Tomas

      September 3, 2014

  5. Your approach to proper fingering and explanation of why we have problems to execute chords is excellent. I believe in you Tomas 100%.

    Keep on teaching us.
    Thanks.
    Michael.

    Michael Hari

    November 5, 2014

  6. I am a 63 old female just learning to play guitar. I love it! But feeling frustrated about going from one chord to the next. Practice at least an hour a day. Any suggestions?

    Mary

    March 19, 2016

  7. Tomas, I’m a beginner to guitar. Tell me why do you hold down the B2 string, if you’re not going to play it. I thought when you held down a string on it’s fret, it was to change the or tone of the sound. Since the B2 string is not being played, why bother holding it down?
    Please explain or point me where I can learn guitar theory.

    Anien Ham

    August 19, 2016

  8. Hi Tomas,

    Great lesson but I have a major problem getting D chord to ring out clearly. When I form this chord, my ring finger mutes the high E string. However hard I tried changing my wrist(lowering it), fingers going into fretboard, it just dont work.

    Any piece of advice.

    Jaggs

    June 26, 2017

  9. A very informative lessson to my ear I think I can play most beginners chords , but just started to learn the full F Barr chord I just can’t get all the fingers down at once , no matter how I try , practice and paitience, as Thomas says, thank you, Tomas
    Regards

    Frank

    August 30, 2017

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