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Atlanta, GA, United States
When I suffered a lip injury that ended my career as a classical trombonist, I thought my life as a musician was finished, but I fell in love with music all over again when Santa gave me a guitar for Christmas in 2003. Even as I was struggling with my first chords, I was planning a new performance career. As a trombonist, I performed with the Heritage of America Band at Langley Air Force Base, the Ohio Light Opera, and in pick-up bands for touring acts that included Rosemary Clooney, George Burns, and the Manhattan Transfer. Reborn as a jazz guitarist, I sing and play my own solo arrangements of jazz classics, am half of the Godfrey and Guy duo, and hold the guitar chair in the Sentimental Journey Orchestra. I have been a freelance music copyist since 1995, served as Director of Music at Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation from 2011 to 2017, and currently serve as Contemporary Band Director at the same congregation.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Chord Hammer-On Exercise

Here's a chord exercise that's great for beginners. (It's a pretty good exercise for advanced players, too.) If you are just beginning to learn how to play guitar chords, you probably build your chords by putting down one finger at a time. Eventually, you want to be able to have your fingers form a chord shape all at the same time. Once you can do this, you'll be able to move from one chord to the next more smoothly.

This exercise involves "hammer-ons." To play a hammer-on, don't pluck or strum with your picking hand. Instead, use your chord hand to come down on the string quickly enough to make it sound a note. Here's the exercise.

Step 1

  • Play any chord. Start with one that's easy for you. Try an E or an A minor chord.
  • Sustain the chord to make sure each string is ringing.
  • As you're sustaining the chord, let off the pressure of your left hand so that the strings that you are fingering stop ringing. Keep touching the strings. You want your fingertips to maintain contact.
  • Now, without strumming, pump your left hand fingers while maintaining the chord shape. Squeeze quickly, hold a little, and then let up, still maintaining contact with the strings. If you are able to squeeze quickly enough, you may be able to get those strings to ring softly.
Step 2
  • Form the chord again.
  • You're going to use the same pumping action in your left hand, except this time, raise your fingers so they're just barely above the strings. Without strumming, see if you can pump your left hand fingers quickly enough to get a chord to sound. This is the hammer-on. Your left hand "hammers on" to the strings to make them ring.
Step 3
  • After you're comfortable raising your fingers slightly and playing the chord hammer-on, try raising them a little bit more…just a fraction of an inch, then a little higher, and then a little higher. See how high you can raise your fingers while still maintaining the chord shape.
Quick Tip: Think of hammering on quickly rather than squeezing hard. If you focus on squeezing hard, you'll build up unnecessary tension in your left hand. That's the last thing you want. Try to keep your hand as relaxed as possible by moving quickly and loosely.

Practicing chords like this will help train your fingers to move as a unit instead of one by one. Once you can play one chord like this, try another one, and then see if you can move back and forth between the chords just playing hammer-ons. It's challenging at first, but you'll get better with practice. Soon you'll be switching from one chord to the next with ease!
If you live in Atlanta and are interested in private or group guitar lessons, please check my website at www.godfreyguitar.com for more information or email me directly.

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