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The 6 Stages of Learning A New Chord Shape

There is usually a pattern to learning new chord shapes.

  1. First, you learn the fingering.
  2. Then you memorize the fingering by practicing the new shape you just learned.
  3. Once you remember it, you practice applying it quickly. The more uncomfortable the chord (Like some jazz chords or some chords with unusually long finger stretches), the more time it takes to get used to it.
  4. Then you start messing around with it.
  5. Somewhere along the way, the chord shape becomes natural. Automatic.

    But the most important stage is this:

  6. Eventually you learn to recognize the chord. Once you hear it played, you know it’s that particular shape.

Now, stage six doesn’t happen by itself. It takes conscious effort on your part. It’s easy to recognize Am and D, and that G shape with two fingers on the bottom instead of just one finger. It’s also pretty easy to recognize a diminished chord.

But can you tell the difference between a half diminished chord and a diminished one? Can you recognize a 9th chord when you hear it? A major 7 (That’s actually an easy one)? That’s what you want to work towards. And later, as you learn more complex shapes, you’ll be surprised how you couldn’t hear it before. Like b5 chords. Or 7#9’s.

Work on your ear. It’s the musician’s best friend.