D Major Chord

The best way to memorize chords on guitar

In this lesson we will look at a few strategies to use for the best way to memorize chords on guitar. Keep in mind that everybody learns in slightly different ways so if you feel like modifying this method then do so. This method builds on other tips and lessons we have on memorizing chords and it’s worth checking them out as well. One of the most frustrating aspects of learning guitar is memorizing chords so this method should get you off to a flying start.


What it takes to memorize guitar chords

Tests have found that it takes at least 20 repetitions of any task for the brain to start the memorization process. This means if you only repeat something 5-10 times it won’t be enough to improve your skills or recall the information later on. Knowing that it takes at least 20 repetitions to start memorizing chords will help us ensure we’re practicing effectively.

Repetition is the key to memorization. If you practice something only once, there’s very little chance you will actually improve your skills and memory. On the other hand, if you repeat the exercise 20-50 times and do the same thing for a few days in a row you will clearly see improvements and increases in skill.

Key Tip #1: When practicing anything, repeat it at least 20 times before moving on

Our five senses are very tightly linked to our memory – think back of the last holiday you had at the beach – can you feel the warm sunlight, smell the salty air and hear the crashing waves? You are more likely to remember in detail an experience if you use more of your senses. Again we can use this when memorizing guitar chords. Instead of simply playing the chords without much thought we need to really ‘experience’ them. Listen carefully to each sound, feel the strings and frets under your fingers, look at the patterns your fingers make on the guitar. If you really pay attention to every detail you will improve your memorization of the chords. Alternatively, if you simply play the chords without much thought involved, there won’t be enough ‘links’ from your senses to help memorization.

Key Tip #2: The more senses you focus on when practicing, the more your brain will remember it

A final tip we can consider when thinking about memory is something called mnemonics. Mnemonics are simply tricks we can use to assist memorization. A detailed lesson on mnemonics for memorizing chords has already been written so check that out for more information.

Key Tip #3: Use mnemonic devices whenever possible to assist memorization


The best method to memorize chords on guitar

Now that you understand what it takes to memorize chords, let’s look at a simple step-by-step method to memorize them in the fastest and easiest way possible.

Step 1: Choose four chords to memorize

If you have our flash cards pack, simply pick out four random cards. Choosing chords at random will stop you from choosing what already feels familiar to you and will help you memorize chords you normally wouldn’t try. It also means you can repeat the method over and over and constantly learn new chords.

Step 2: Study the chords

Quite often beginners will skip this step – it’s a big reason why many beginners have so much trouble actually memorizing the chords! So don’t skip it!

The reason why we study each chord is to create ‘links’ to help your brain memorize them. Below is the flash card for D Major. Have a look at all the information on the card for a moment before reading on.

Memorize chords using flash cards

As you can see there’s quite a lot of information on this one chord. Here’s a quick list of points you should think about when looking at this card:

  • The chord uses only four strings – D, G, B, E
  • The notes used are D, F#, A
  • The chord is a Major chord
  • Only the first three fingers are used
  • The finger pattern creates a triangle shape on the fretboard
  • The Guitar TAB layout for the chord (shown on the left of the card) creates a pattern 0 2 3 2
  • The lowest note is the low D string

Can you see how all this information help you memorize the chord? The more you understand the chord before you actually try to play it the easier you will find it to memorize. It’s not enough to simply know where to place your fingers, you need to really understand what is happening for your brain to memorize it faster.

After you spend a minute or two studying each chord you can move on to the next step

Step 3: Visualize playing the chords

Some people may read that and think ‘just play the chord!’, but remember that every time you add in these steps and involve more than one sense you will improve memorization. Visualizing the shapes you form on the fretboard and imagining playing them will actually help you play them! It may feel weird at first to imagine playing the chords, but it really does have an impact on how well you memorize chords.

Simply close your eyes and imagine playing the first chord. Then imagine changing your hand from the first chord to the second and so on until you repeat the four chords twice.

Step 4: Play the progression 20+ times

Now you can pick up the guitar and slowly move from one chord to the next. Notice how you don’t touch the guitar until step 4? That’s why this method is so effective – it makes use of all the available tricks to memorize chords instead of just trying to play them.

At this point it’s important you take your time and really focus on each chord. Remember to think about all your senses while playing as it will assist memorization. Play each chord four times before moving on to the next chord. Repeat the progression at least 20 times.

Step 5: Take a break

It’s important you give your brain time for the chords to sink in. Practicing them too much at the start won’t help you out. Simply taking a break for a couple minutes or having a quick walk is enough to refresh your mind. Don’t be fooled into thinking that an hour of constant practice will help you memorize chords. You’re better off with short and intense practice bursts rather than long and boring practice. If you really concentrate during the first four steps you should feel like you need a break at this point.

Simply take a couple minutes break from the chords to let them sink in.

Step 6: Repeat

Write down the chord progression you just practiced so you can come back to it later on. Plan on practicing the steps for that progression every day for the next week. At this point you can now start again at step 1 and pick out four new chords. Repeat the process with the new chords. Do this a few times until you feel like you can’t concentrate 100% on the task. Once you feel your concentrating fading it’s time to stop and move on to something else. Don’t overdo it as it will actually take you longer to memorize chords.

Why this method works to memorize chords

This method is effective in helping you memorize chords because it requires you to really think about the chords and not just play them. Too many beginners think that if they just play the chords that’s enough to memorize them. When you spend time thinking about the chords and studying them, you will actually find that you can recall the information easier and play them quicker.

Try out this method the next time you want to learn some new chords and you’ll find out just how effective it can be. If you haven’t already got our guitar flash cards pack, consider getting one as it contains 50 basic chords chosen specifically for beginners. It’s a great starting point when used with this method. Follow the advice and steps above and you will memorize chords in less time as well as learning more about each chord.

D Major Chord

Guitar FAQ: How long should you spend learning a chord?

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.

D Major Chord

When looking at the information on the card, there’s a few points worth learning:

  1. The chord shape and finger positions
  2. The notes used in the chord
  3. The chord formula
  4. 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.