Shape Connect Resource
- While training, the strumming hand – the engine – does not stop moving down and up, until the end of the progression, exercise, or song. Keep it moving. Many drummers watch the motor hand for tempo and to make sure you have rhythm. This hand, to start, will determine if you stay in the band. For Shape Connect, we are working in sets of two chords. Back and forth. This is the system. We will play all changes in measures of 4 beats, but they can be played in 3/4, 6/8, 2/4. Also, if a change is challenging for you, play each chord for 2 measures [8 beats]. This will give you more time to plan and nail the change.
- We synchronize the action of the fretting hand – the steering wheel – to this non-stop strumming motion. We will be strumming in 8th notes the entire time [hitting on down and up for every down and up beat]. We will do this for all (or at least at the beginning) of our changes. This can seem monotonous, yet we are trying to log enough hours of strumming to make our engine automatic. At any point, when you know that your strumming hand is not pausing, then it is time to try experimenting within the strumsphere [I also recommend working the elements of the strumphere on a single chord].
Engine & Steering
Our core idea, as mentioned, for mastering strumming and changing chords is that when training, the motor hand will not stop, even when or if the fretting hand may falter; and, we synchronize the fretting hand to this non-stop motor.
The motor hand [strumming hand] is the engine. It does not stop until the exercise or the song is over.
The fretting hand is the steering wheel. We are creating shapes with the fretting hand to guide the harmony. We are synchronizing the fretting hand to the non-stop motor. The steering wheel should not turn off the motor. If it does, we will never get anywhere.
If the fretting hand is not nailing the change, we don’t ‘just keep trying’. We stop strumming and work the fretting hand individually using the ‘take away the strum’ for any pair of chords. If a change is super challenging, we use super slow motion for the snap.
The slower we go, the more information we are giving our hands. We are programming an exact path for what it takes to make the change happen. Chords are a consequence of correct travel. The change [when fingers are moving] is where all the action is located. Do this part right, chords happen.
We can certainly get to the bottom of the stairs by falling down them. We can repeat this process, but very rarely replicate our exact fall. If this is how we train to play guitar, we are training mistakes. When we learn to take simple steps, we get down the steps in a decent time-frame & can recreate the process again & again. This is how we train to strum & change chords. We take our time, work smart, be deliberate, & enjoy ease in our learning process. We don’t train mistakes.
I have seen folks strum for months on end, only to still not strum and change chords in time. This is rare, yet does happen. And, I have seen children [and adults] do exactly what is described here and be able to strum basic changes within a single coaching session.
Basic Starter Tips
- Experiment with different combinations of motors and surfaces [log a lot of down-up strumming time]. Use pre-chord sounds, when/if needed.
- Take your time. Start at a comfortable tempo [slow], strumming steady, evenly.
- Watch as many guitarists strumming as possible [tv, internet, DVDs, +].
- Consider weight [accent] and timbre [tone color]. The timbre will change along the string plane [brighter near bridge, warmer over sound hole and over the fretboard].
- Experiment with range. We don’t have to hit all 6 strings on every down or up. For the down strum, target the 6, 5, 4 strings, and for the up, the 1, 2, 3 strings [general guideline].
- Listen to the ‘shapes’ you make; your ear is your main guide. Different situations call for different types of strumming, and this takes time to develop.
- Focus on simple strumming first – hitting down-up all the time in 8th notes – then start creating gaps in the sound through missing. And, once our hands are synchronized, it becomes easier to change chords on any down or up beat for tunes which need that. Be natural. Be exact.
Song as a Chain
Strumming a song requires us to make smooth connections between chords. We have to know how to finger some type of voicing [whether the one that is actually recorded for a song or some other version], know how to connect adjacent chords, & know when the chords change.
In a song, we look for every necessary chord change & make sure we connect those chords. Then we know the song will not break. We have a strong chain via linking.
For any song, we make a list of the chords within it, then look for which chords go to which chords. We practice going back and forth between each pair [change] until we know that we can connect every pair. This is in contrast to ‘just keep trying’ to make the changes as they appear in a song. We build a strong chain by working in pairs. This makes good sense & can save us countless hours of training mistakes.
For particularly challenging chord pairs, we utilize the ‘touch-press-touch-hover’ for single chords, & the ‘touch-press-touch-snap’ for pairs.
Chords are consequences of correct travel. A chord change is the transition between chords.
Types of Changes
- Lift & Land – This is where an active finger or fingers will need to lift on time to land somewhere else in time. For our training, we will lift on the and of the 4th beat, and land on the downbeat of 1. There may or may not be staying fingers. We will synchronize the lifting and the landing with our strumming engine. Be as exact as possible with this. For lifting and landing type changes, our chord connecting will eventually be a snap. A snap is when you lift your finger or fingers into the shape or location of the next chord, as soon as you lift. Whatever is lifted, comes down, on the beat.
- Add & Subtract – This is where an inactive finger or fingers will need to be added and subtracted. For our training, we will add on the downbeat of 1 [or later in the measure if/when necessary] and subtract on the downbeat of 1 of the next measure [or later in the measure if/when necessary]. Yes, we are lifting and landing the finger, yet to differentiate from Lift & Land, we are calling this Add & Subtract [ADD/SUB]. There may or may not be staying fingers.
- Guide or Slide – This is where a chord shape moves up the board. When we lift the pressure, but stay on the tracks [strings], this is called guiding. When we keep the pressure and connect the shapes with a sound between [passing positions], this is called slide. We can guide or slide single tones as well.
- Combinations – This is where any of the first three combine. For example, we can lift & land, plus an ADD/SUB happens. Things can happen once we get to a chord too. We can add/sub, slide in tones.
Take Away the Strum
If you want to maximize your practice time, these exercises do exactly that. Rather than ‘just keep trying’ to get a chord in the hands or making a chord change, we work smart. This means that we program the motion through space using controlled motion.
Touch-Press-Touch-Hover is for a single chord. It acts as a way to ‘take a feeling picture’ of a chord. We are telling our hands, through a sequence of events that ‘this is an E chord’ or ‘this is what an E chord feels like’. We say what the chord name is and when necessary, make a camera clicking noise.
Touch-Press-Touch-Snap is for a chord change. It programs our hand the exact path to travel to get to the next chord. Fretted chords are the consequence of correct travel, so mapping the change is where all the action is.
We can also mix them as in the video. We Touch-Press-Touch-Snap, but when we get the new chord, we Touch-Press-Touch-Hover for as long as needed, then hover to the next chord, repeating the cycle.
This exercise is for a single chord, yet can be mixed into the 2 chord exercise.
Start by touching the chord. We can use any chord [we will mention C Major]. By touch, we mean that you put your finger tips on the strings in the shape of the chord, but don’t press. Once you are lightly touching, press. This press is ‘taking a feeling picture’ of the chord. You might want to say “C Major” when you press. I like to make a camera sound too [“ch-ch” – chord tactile photography!]. Then, go back to a touch. Then, hover above the chord, keeping the shape in the air [we often find out if we have had too much coffee]. Repeat this process as many times as needed to know that you know the chord. And, repeat this process for any and every chord that is challenging to you.
This exercise is for a chord change between any 2 chords.
We begin as we begin the T-P-T-H exercise. We touch, then press, then touch a chord. This time, when we hover, we slow motion ‘snap’ to the next chord. We’ll use C to D in this explanation. We touch-press-touch the C chord, then when we lift, we map the space in slow motion to the D chord. By using slow motion, we are telling our hand exactly how to get to the D chord. We then touch-press-touch the D chord, then slowly snap back to the C. We repeat this as many times as necessary to ensure we have the change. We have mapped the space.
Once we use slow motion enough times [1-10 times – whatever it takes], we are now ready to try the quick snap. A snap is snapping into the chord. As soon as we lift the chord after the touch-press-touch, we snap our hand into the next shape. In real time, this is how we will play changes. As soon as we lift, we snap into the next shape, then land it on the downbeat of the chord [we are already in the shape, we just land it].
We can also mix in the touch-press-touch-hover on each of the chords to take extra pictures within the exercise.
The more chords that we use to snap into a chord, the less we will have to use this exercise. If we did this exercise using 3 or 4 different chords into a D chord, we will find that D will happen automatically from any chord. By taking our time and mapping the space, our work pays dividends in other chord scenarios.
This is another way of saying that if we do these exercises with care and precision, we don’t have to do them for very long [or hundreds of chords]. Our whole playing system benefits from doing these things right. We are doing things right, from the start, and we avoid ‘just trying’ to get the changes.
We take our time; map the space; nail the changes.
Shape Connect video is fretting hand only. The strumming is down-up, hitting all of the time. We give a 3 – 4 count-in, then play the change twice. For any change, strum with me, but keep strumming as long as you need to make the change happen. You can also extend either of the 2 chords for 2 measures (8 beats rather than 4).