Do you need to be able to change chords at a random point in a strumming pattern

This may sound like a strange question but it relates to the situation where you playing along with others at say the guitar club. You are working from a chord sheet that only shows where the chords change with the lyrics, no indication of bars and you are not in control of the tempo. So you have to change at a random point in the pattern you are playing, when the lyrics dictate. Must confess I tend to play a very simple pattern but would like to try something more complicated.
If you are going to do this then you may end up with open strings but I think it is more important to keep the rhythm going, am I right and is there any other advice.


I wonder about this too as I’m reading from Justin’s beginner songbook. It just has the chords with lyrics and I’m left wondering when exactly do the chords change.

Also, the songbook doesn’t indicate how many bars of each chord.

1 Like

Michael, I have exactly the same problem. I am getting better at changing chords at the right time by using the lyrics and changing at a particular word. I have to keep the strumming simple else it all goes wrong. I go to a jam session at a community center and there can be 4 of us. I managed to get a white board with the intention of writing out the chord sequence for each bar, which would help me plus everyone can easily see it. Not had a session with this yet but it may help… hopefully.

Things go much better when I lead a song as I know it so changes happen at the right time and I can play a more complicated strumming pattern. Offer to lead a song you know and see what happens.

Be interested to see what more experienced players say.

1 Like

Hi Michael, my humble opinion…for what it’s worth…the only way to do that is to train your self to tap your foot when practicing your strumming, and tap your foot on the beat while jamming…in this way if your hand is consistent, the fretting hand will follow…I’ve been guilty to make the strumming hand follow the fretting hand, but it seems to me exactly the other way round. No matter if you miss a chord, just stay in the groove while strumming…if you could have the chance to prepare in advance you could work that out with a metronome until you get used to it. One thing that worked for me when I encountered this same problem has been to add strums if the pattern was synchopated like Old Faithful…adding beat 3 (usually when the chord changes unespectedely) helps me to keep timing.


Hi Michael,

When that happens, the rhythm is always the most important … but sometimes you just have to change very quickly, like with Faith by George You :smile:

It is the best way, but not the only one :sweat_smile:…I have only recently been able to move my foot a little and not even every day…



Ciao Rogier! :hugs: Your time feeling must be at the top level (the lesson about this is in the strumming sos course) when you don’t need to tap to feel the time. That actually shows in your improvising videos. Ideally we want to develop an internal time feeling…if I look at my favourite classical guitar players they don’t move at all and can be so accurate and so very expressive at the same time. Me: I still need to tap and work everyday with my friend the metronome . But I do agree with you, it’s one way, not the only one and each one of us needs to find out his/her individual strategy.


Buonasera ragazza :smiley:

is something that I have a lot :smile: (I need to learn to cross out words from texts like Brian does so often :grin:)

and for example, I have practiced myself crazy with that song and in/with my head I tap along or something like that …not totally sure what I do when playing fingerstyle or else , and it also goes wrong when I play alone with other songs of course … I have to work with it this way from the beginning and it is not ideal, it takes me more time. But with this handicap things often go well, and what if I am soon able to do so when my feet/ankles improve a little and I can “just” tap along ??? :smiley:… so far I have done everything without it, so if you Sometimes you will soon hear that it is going out of date, you know why that is …
But there are already practice sessions where the foot can sometimes tap a bit… and I have also seen people without legs who play (okay, even without hands :see_no_evil:).
and yes a lot of that classical folk ??? mmmm… If you can tap tap taperdetap
I have to stop tapping… on the keyboard now , eyes tired, head full and tummy is hungry :hugs:


@MAT1953 Michael, I am not sure what level you have progressed in the course, but Justin provides a lot of strumming advice in the grade 1 lessons. As others have said, the important thing is to maintain the steady rhythm but continuing to move your hand up and down for the strum. In module 6, Justin says: “1. Keep your hands moving. Even if you miss a chord, just keep going with the rhythm. Skip a chord if you need to, but don’t stop the strumming hand from moving. I promise - the majority of people won’t notice if you miss a chord!”
When you have learned to add “up strums” you have more options for playing a chord, since you can start playing the chord on the up strum at any point in the measure to match the lyrics. If you are playing with a group, it helps to play the song a few times by yourself ahead of tune and see where the chord changes and strum patterns sound most natural. I tend to overuse THE strumming pattern from module 4, since if I am not thinking, that is the strum that I use automatically, but I will add extra up strums sometimes to make the rhythm match the lyrics. With practice, this will happen automatically for you.


Strumming patterns are over rated. When playing with others you need to fit in with what they are playing and most songs don’t adhere to strict patterns. This is the down side to learning from the internet, people have forgotten to listen to music and watch it instead.

It is good to learn strumming pattern but like scales they are only suggestion not the rule. Listen to the original songs you want to learn(live performance videos are the best) and learn to feel what’s going on. Try and strum along with the original while muting the string with your fretting hand. It will be hard at first but will become more natural the more you do it.


When you don’t know haw many bars of a chord there are, you’ll have to listen to the melody. When more experienced you’ll hear the chord change coming. But usually you should know the chord you’re playing, people you play with should tell you…
And if you don’t really know the chord, just mute the strings and you’ll have a percussive sound

1 Like

What @stitch said.

Also, to answer the question. Yes, you should be able to change chords whenever throughout a bar. It’s not a random point though, it will be on a beat (or eighth, or maybe 16th) of a bar.

I’ve noticed some statements in this thread that make me think a couple of you might be thinking about music & strumming backwards. Chords don’t change at a certain point in the lyrics. The lyrics are sang over the rhythm and chords laid down by the band (or just the guitar).


Yeah its not at random but it helps being able to change chords quickly.

When you start its usually a chord every bar or two, but not all songs go that way.

1 Like

:+1: :+1: I’m going to steal this from you JK. This is a very good point that most don’t think of.


Steal away, everything I know I’ve stolen/learnt from someone else…


Theres some caveman who started all this a bit angry at everyone stealing their stuff

The caveman:


This is a really good point @MAT1953. I seem to done a 360 on my strumming recently. Originally I used to strum whatever pattern or mix of patterns that I thought felt and sounded like they fitted the song.
Then I became all focussed on using a set strumming pattern, and that has been really good for my progress, but when I’m actually playing a song most of the time I have come back to strumming and changing chords in keeping with what feels good and sounds good.
I only work from lyric sheets with chords over the lyrics, and I’ll usually play through and alter this slightly with what feels better.
I’m liking what @stitch says, the only place this may fall over is if I were playing with someone else, as I would then need to follow a set pattern really to fit in but we’ll see how that goes when the time comes.

1 Like

For a lot of songs the chord changes are going to happen at the end of the bar, or half way through. Use that as a starting point.

You can try looking at proper sheet music as that will clearly show the bars and where the chord changes happen. Even if you can’t read sheet music, you’ll be able to see where the chord change happens.

Keeping the rhythm is most important. Open strings may or may not work, depending on the song. You can always skip a strum in order to make the chord change in time. For example, if the strumming pattern is 1, 2, 3 & 4 & then you could skip the & after 4 to give yourself more time.

You can also use different fingering for the chords in order to make the chord changes easier. Just google the chord and you’ll see the different options.

Your chord changes will eventually get very fast.

1 Like

This is a solid point.

We notice hiccups in rhythm far far more than the wrong chord.

1 Like

It’s all about the timing.
If the song is in 4/4 time then everything - the tempo, the chords, the rhythm, the melody, the lyrics - should all fit this simple structure……

One two three four

One is king.
Align everything with one and you won’t go far wrong.


If you’re using chord sheets, I’d simply ask before starting:
How many bars for each chord? and make a note of it.
As @jkahn said upstairs, it’s the singers job to work out the phrasing of the lyrics.

(and an off-topic lesson for @roger_holland:

  1. You get the strikethrough effect by typing two ‘squiggly lines’ ~~ (tilde symbols) before and after the relevant section.
  2. Notice the way I used the work ‘typing’ when referring to a keyboard, instead or the word ‘tapping’ which I do with my foot when playing music :wink: