I find that my beginning students on guitar and ukulele sometimes have trouble getting their chords to sound clearly. Luckily, most beginners tend to share the same common mistakes, so you may be able to walk away from this article with all problems solved. If that's not the case, don't be discouraged! Becoming a good guitarist takes practice, and almost equally as important, time.
Lastly, before we start, the fastest progress comes with a patient and experienced teacher who is easy to work with. I reccomend myself for students in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia, or for those willing to schedule Skype lessons!
Trim Your Nails Properly
As innocent and benign as it seems, nails that are too long, notably on the left hand can cause some real problems with your chords! Because you need to stay on the tips of your fingers to get your chords to sound clear, nails must be kept trimmed as short as possible whenever you're going to be playing. Lazy nail hygiene can prevent the proper calluses from forming on your fingertips, making chords not only difficult, but painful to play. Long nails can keep your fingers away from the fretboard that strings must be pinned to while playing, so it's really important to keep them as short as possible. I reccomend that students clip their nails once a week, and always make sure they're short before lessons.
Play With The Very Tips of Your Fingers
Very often, beginning guitar students will flatten out their fingers while they try to play chords. This causes a number of problems, for one, while the fleshy part of your upper finger may initially feel more comfortable than playing on the tip, it takes significantly more for this part of the finger to callus, so you will end up with more discomfort in the long run, and when your chords do not sound clear, you will have to callus your fingertips anyways. I say that because playing on the inside of your finger rather than the tip causes your finger to mute the strings under the one you are trying to play. This makes chords sound "choked" and "muddy" and may cause you to lose a major chord's brightness or a minor chord's sophistication.
Place Your Thumb Properly Along the Back of the Guitar Neck
The aim of putting your finger atop the string at a certain fret is to play the pitch assigned to that place on the neck. Often, beginner guitarists will have their fingers placed for the right pitches, but can't hold the string down hard enough to make it sound clearly. This is because the pinch on the neck that holds down the strings must be dominated by the thumb. Students will try to compensate for the lack of this pinch by pulling their fretting fingers using their arm, rather than by pinching the back of the neck. Luckily, this is an easy fix. Around the back of the guitar, place the pad of your thumb against the center of the neck. You also want it placed towards the middle of your fretting fingers. This will evenly distribute the weight, and make your fingertips much more comfortable and your chord sound clearly. This also helps relieves stress on the joints in your fingertips, giving you a more sustainable way to play guitar in the years to come.
I hope you all enjoyed this article and I hope its helping some improve their playing! You can contact me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions. If you have tips for clearer chords, comment them below! Also, consider lessons in person or via Skype if you're having trouble!
Brandon Giltz is a Bassist, Guitarist, Flutist, Composer, and music teacher operating in New Orleans. He works with students of all ages, plays in a number of classical and contemporary ensembles, and has scored music for trailers and games.