Okay, it’s not really a game. But it is a way to make something that could be really boring a bit more interesting and engaging. And it will help you to get to the fun stuff faster.
The goal is to switch between chords precisely as required by the music, rather than when your fingers get around to it. What is happening right now is that you are hesitating when moving from chord to chord. We are going to slow the music down to the point at which you no longer will appear to hesitate, because the time between beats will take so long that you can’t help but get to the next chord on time. Then, we will make that gap between the beats smaller, so gradually that it will be almost imperceptible.
For our example, we will imagine that you are working on switching back and forth between G and D, although you can play the game with any other chords.
Set your metronome to 60 beats per minute. Once you are used to that tempo, play this:
G (click click click click), D (click click click), G (click click click)…
In other words, you will play G on beat one, strumming it only once. You will then spend beats two, three, and four switching as quickly as possible to D, then spend beats two three and four of the next measure switching as quickly as possible back to G, and so on. Remember, you are not playing whole notes – just a quick “brrringgggg!” and then get out of there.
The goal is to be precise and clean, strumming exactly on each downbeat, neither late nor early. Aim to place all of your fingers down at once, and do not strum until all fingers are in place.
How many times do you switch back and forth? That will be different for each person. As you play, rate your comfort level on a scale from one to ten (one being “I am desperately scrambling from chord to chord like a drowning person trying to stay afloat with various small pieces of driftwood” and ten being, “G and D chords alike bow down before the magnificence of my chord switching prowess.” If your score is seven or below, keep working; if your score is eight or nine, stop and move the metronome a notch higher (or two beats-per-minute faster if you’re using a digital metronome). Keep going! Don’t try to get to ten or you will go mad and begin to see visions of animated, human-sized metronomes laughing and jeering at you like something out of a scary out-take from Walt Disney’s Fantasia. You’ve been warned.
Continue the process of gradually getting faster until you reach 120 bpm. This may take you more than one session, more than one day, or even more than one week. If it makes you feel better, track your progress in your music journal. Suppose you get to 90 bpm in one day – the next day, try starting at 75 bpm. Say you get to 110 bpm that day; the next day, start around 90. In other words, don’t feel like you have to keep pushing forward all the time. You might find that you’ve got to stay at one tempo for awhile. That’s okay! All the time, you’re training your fingers.
Once you get to 120 bpm, drop back to 60 bpm. Then play this:
G, click, D, click, G, click, D, click….
You may notice that this is exactly the same tempo you were just doing, except that now you are only allowing two clicks per chord. Continue until you can do 120 comfortably. What happens next?
If you guessed “one click per chord,” you are right! Go back to 60, and play this:
G D G D G D…
You are now switching a chord every second, which is pretty fast. If you were playing a song that has a tempo of 60 bpm, you would be able to switch from G to D and back again, right in time.
Continue to play and get gradually faster until you reach 120. You are now switching to a new chord every half-second. Congratulations - you have won the game!
By the way…
You won’t have to go through this game with every chord there is. You have now trained yourself to move faster on everything that you play, as long as you know where your fingers are going. If you do decide to do the game with two new chords, you will get through the whole process much more quickly.