Q: How long should you spend learning a chord on guitar?
A: The short answer is, ‘as long as it takes to memorize it and be able to play it effortlessly’ but that answer doesn’t really help you out so let’s look into this a bit deeper.
The reason why we learn chords is so we can use them in songs and jamming in general. Being able to see the chord name Em or G and instantly know where to place your fingers is an essential skill for every guitarist. On top of being able to place your fingers in the right place, it also helps to understand a bit about the chord. Understanding the type of chord you are playing will help you write your own songs or figure out how to improvise over the top of the chord. Do you understand the difference between Major and minor? What about suspended chords?
To be able to do the things above, there are a few different things you need to learn about each chord. Let’s look at what’s involved in learning chords and what’s actually worth learning. The picture below is from one of the flash cards available in our 50 Essential Chords Pack.
When looking at the information on the card, there’s a few points worth learning:
- The chord shape and finger positions
- The notes used in the chord
- The chord formula
- The Guitar TAB layout
Let’s look at each point and why each one is important to learn.
1. The chord shape and finger positions
Obviously all the other information about the chord is useless if you can’t actually play the chord. Learning the shape of the chord and the fingers used will help you memorize the chord faster and actually play it. There are a few tricks you can use to memorize the chords faster. Check out this lesson to learn how you can use a couple simple mnemonic devices to memorize the chord shapes.
2. The notes used in the chord
This is something too many guitarists neglect to learn. Quite often beginners will memorize the chord shape then move on to new chords. Spending a little time to memorize the notes used in the chord will have a big impact on your playing later on. There’s a couple reasons why this information is important but let’s look at the main reason:
If you understand what notes are used in any chord, you will have a much easier time improvising over the top of chords. If you know the chord D Major (shown above) uses the notes D, F# & A then you know straight away that you can use those notes when improvising and they will sound great when D Major is played in the backing chords. Without knowing anything else about theory this information on it’s own is enough to improve your improvisation abilities.
3. The chord formula
If you plan on one day writing your own music then this information is extremely important. The chord formula explains the intervals used in each type of chord. This means you can use the formula to come up with chords you don’t yet know. For example: if you wanted to use the chord C# minor in your song, what notes do you need to play to come up with the chord? If you know the formula for a minor chord the answer comes easy. With this information you can figure out any chord you need – without it, you would need to memorize all the chords and the notes used for each chord. Once you spend the time understanding the theory you will appreciate how valuable it is. This lesson will help explain chord formulas.
4. The Guitar TAB layout
This may not be as important as the other points listed, but it does help you when you need to learn songs from TAB. On the left of the card shown above, you can see the chord in Guitar TAB format. Whenever you see this number pattern in TAB you will know that it’s the D Major chord. Spending a little bit of time memorizing the pattern each chord makes in TAB format will help you read TAB faster. This type of skill will come naturally over time, so it isn’t as important as the other aspects of the chord – but it does help you out now.
How long it takes to memorize a chord
When you consider the four points above, it really shouldn’t take too long to memorize any one chord. The notes used the chord, the chord formula and the Guitar TAB layout can be memorized very quickly. Spend a couple minutes now studying the D Major card above to get an idea how easy it is to memorize this information.
The hardest part in learning guitar chords is actually learning to play them. This takes a while because it will take quite a few attempts before your brain starts to learn the position of the fingers on the fretboard. It takes at least 20 repeats of any task for your brain to start to remember it so you will need to repeat the chord over and over before it starts to sink in.
Fortunately this is easier than it sounds. Simply spending 5-10 minutes each day playing the chords is enough to memorize them. Some people have written to us about our 50 Essential Chords Pack to let us know that they managed to memorize all 50 chords in under a month. They followed out ’30 Day Guide’ included with the pack which details a 10 minute daily practice plan. Following this plan most people will be able to memorize an average of 1 chord a day. As long as you practice regularly you will memorize the chords. On the other hand if you only practice every couple of days or only a couple of times a week it will take you a lot longer to start to remember the chords.
Our guide to learning 50 chords in 30 days
So in short – if you follow the right practice plan, you can realistically memorize an average of 1 chord per day. Try out our 30 Day Plan included with every 50 Essential Chords guitar flash cards pack to learn 50 easy chords chosen for beginners. 10 minutes a day is all it takes.