Learning to play chords is one of the first fundamentals we learn as guitar players. But it’s a challenge in itself to play chords cleanly. This isn’t just a challenge for new guitar players. Experienced players have this challenge when learning new chords too.
That’s because guitar playing requires left-hand dexterity in ways you haven’t used before. So whether you’re learning the A Major chord, or attempting a Bm7b5, your fingers have to “learn” to play the chord.
Clear As Mud
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.
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.