How To Teach Guitar Chords (The Easy Way)

beginner lessons chords Apr 16, 2023
How To Teach Guitar Chords

Chords are one of the most essential elements of modern guitar playing.

They can also be a big source of frustration for students and guitar teachers alike as the many different shapes make memorisation difficult and can take several weeks or even months of practice before they sound musical.

Rather than teach my students individual chords, I like to teach them a process that they can use to learn any chord in a way that allows them to learn it quickly and efficiently while having it sticks in their long term memory so they don’t have to keep on relearning it over and over.

My method involves 5 simple steps.

It doesn’t matter whether my students are total beginners learning their first triad shapes or advanced jazz students learning altered chord shapes, they all follow the same 5 step process.

I even use it myself when I need to learn or revise a new chord shape.

If you use this process for learning and mastering chords with your students you’ll be able to turn this frustrating experience that often drags on for months into a fun and exciting progress that allows your students to learn chords at an accelerated rate.


5 Steps To Chord Mastery.

My 5-Step Chord Mastery Method involves simple exercises which anyone can do at any level of guitar playing.

We even use it with children as young as 5 years old when helping them with their chords.

The process is as follows:

  • Exercise 1 - Talk Through It
  • Exercise 2 - Finger Pushups
  • Exercise 3 - Strum/Mute/Lift
  • Exercise 4 - Draw It From Memory
  • Exercise 5 - Show My Teacher

Learning this way goes beyond simply repeating what you see on a page a few times and hoping it sticks in your memory.

It’s a systematic approach that engages your mind, accelerates muscle memory and tests your ability to recall information so that you learn faster and retain the information better.

You can see these exercises in our gamified guitar chord printout which is a free download on our website.


Talking Through Each Chord Chord

Just like you need to look at a target and take aim before firing your arrow, you need to know where to put your fingers for each chord before trying to play it.

For this reason, I have all of my students read the chord diagram and tell me where each of their fingers needs to go.

I usually get them to tell me the name of the chord, followed by the string and fret each finger will be placed on.

For example, an E Minor chord would be:

  • First finger on string 5 fret 2
  • Second finger on string 4 fret 2
  • Strings 6, 3, 2 & 1 are played open

Having your students talk their way through each chord will indicate that they comprehend what to do and know where they need to put their fingers BEFORE they try to play the chord on the guitar.


Prime The Muscle Memory Using Finger Pushups 

The second exercise I have my students do is called Finger Pushups.

This is where they fret the chord, squeeze, and then relax their fingers without lifting off the fretboard and without strumming.

100% of their focus is on their fretting hand and making sure they are squeezing the right frets.

I get them to squeeze, relax, squeeze again, and relax again over and over at least ten times.

Doing this primes the muscle memory for their fingers and burns the image of the chord into their mind’s eye, both of which will aid in recall later on.


Practice The Chord Using The Strum/Mute/Lift Technique

We’re going to build on the Finger Pushups exercise by adding a strum into the process.

This adds an aural component to the exercise and will allow us to hear if we’re playing the chord correctly.

Strum-Mute-Lift is exactly how it sounds and can be performed like this:

  • The student frets the chord
  • The student strums the chord
  • The student mutes the chord
  • The student lifts their fingers and places them back down again

Repeat this process over and over at least 10 times.

I like to say aloud “strum, mute, lift, back down, over and over and talk them through each step.

I will also encourage my students to stop every 5 reps and pick the strings individually to check if there are any dead strings that need to be fixed before continuing.

After all, 10 bad reps will only reinforce a bad habit, we want to make sure our students are practising the right chord shape.


Drawing The Chord From Memory

This is a crucial step that significantly increases your student’s ability to remember and recall chord shapes.

It’s as simple as asking your student to draw the chord shape on a whiteboard or piece of paper.

It demonstrates that they understand how to read chord charts and remember the chords they have learned.

You can do this during the lesson that they’ve learned new chords in, or as a homework activity to be completed by the next week.

You might even give students a blank worksheet or workbook that they need to draw their own chord diagrams into every time they learn a new chord.

Regardless of when and where, if a student can draw a chord from memory then they definitely know it.


Demonstrating The Chord For You

The final test is an actual test itself.

You should have all of your students demonstrate a chord from memory in order to finally tick it off as finished.

It’s usually best to do this in a different lesson to the one you teach it in so that the student has time for it to transfer to their long-term memory.

Routinely testing students on their chord knowledge with pop quiz-style tests every few lessons is a great way to ensure they consistently practice their chords and are in the habit of recalling them from memory.


Teaching Guitar Chords Has Never Been Easier

If you can adapt the way you teach guitar to include the 5-step chord mastery method then not only will you have a much easier time teaching guitar chords to your students, but they’ll have a much easier time learning.

You’ll feel a whole lot less frustrated as students do the bulk of their learning in the guitar lesson itself and can come back next week and recall the chord shapes whether they practised or not.

You’ll also see a lot of your students who hate chords because of how difficult they are quickly changing their tune and feel proud of how quickly and easily they can now learn chords.


The Last Piece Of The Puzzle

The only thing missing from the process is using the actual chords.

Not because it’s actually missing, but it’s the first step of practising chords.

The final thing you need to do is get your students to play the chord(s)

Any time they learn a new chord or two, the best exercise is to have them switch between the two chords one after the other.

But of course, we’ll cover that in another article.

Hopefully, you’ve enjoyed learning about how to teach chords to your guitar students.

I’d love to hear how you go using this method with your students, keep me posted.




About The Author

Michael Gumley is a seasoned guitar teacher, musician, and entrepreneur with over 15 years of experience in the industry. As the owner and head teacher at Melbourne Guitar Academy, he has helped countless aspiring guitarists achieve their musical dreams.

Michael's expertise in guitar instruction goes beyond the classroom. He is also the writer of the renowned Guitar Ninjas Curriculum, a comprehensive and innovative approach to guitar education that has gained recognition worldwide. In addition, Michael is a respected mentor for guitar teachers, coaching them through his successful 6-Figure Guitar Teacher Program, where he shares his wealth of knowledge and teaching resources to help them excel in their careers.

What truly sets Michael apart is his unwavering passion and enthusiasm for music and education. He brings an infectious energy to every lesson, inspiring and motivating his students to reach their full potential as guitarists. His mission is to raise the standard of musical education globally by empowering guitar teachers with the knowledge, skills, and resources they need to provide exceptional instruction to their students.

Whether you're a beginner picking up the guitar for the first time or an experienced player looking to hone your skills, Michael Gumley's expertise, experience, and dedication to excellence make him a trusted guide on your musical journey. Join him in his mission to revolutionise guitar education and unlock your full potential as a guitarist.


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