When to strum and change chord when playing from the song books?

I have the beginner songbooks but I’m not sure when I should change chords or strum in each song? Or what tempo I should be working towards?

Please help

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Hi Shane, welcome to the Community! If you haven’t yet, you might say hello over on the Introduce Yourself section. I can give you some information based on my experience. I’m a beginner myself, and assume your skills are in the beginner level as well. Hopefully some of the more seasoned folks here can jump in as well.

I have the Beginner’s Song Book that has Three Little Birds as the first song. The song lessons are broken into Stages. I think these stages follow the progress of Justin’s old beginners course. That is to say: they increase in complexity with each stage. I’d suggest you review the Introduction on pp. 4-7, wherein Justin explains the notation in the book. Also, you’ll find the songs each have a dedicated lesson on the website. Those are your best bet for getting the details. Finally, if you aren’t already doing so, it’s worthwhile to work through the free lessons on the website beginning with Grade 1. Even if much of it is review for you, Justin provides many good tips and practices routines! Loads of people have commented that they started at the beginning even though they had guitar experience, and were glad they did so.

As for tempo: for beginners, it’s suggested to start slowly to get the chords and strumming under your fingers, then increase the tempo. I confess I still don’t play many songs at the original tempo - they are too fast for my current skill level. That’s ok! As far as knowing the tempo the original was recorded at - I usually google the name of the song followed by bpm - for example, “Three Little Birds bpm” - and find it that way.

Hope that helps! There are many excellent resources and much good support here. Keep the questions coming!


Hi Judy. Thank you so much for your response. I am very much a beginner. I’m just about to complete Justin’s Grade 1. The main reason I ask about the books is because the Chords are offset so I didn’t understand where a Bar starts or where in the Bar to change chords. I will have a look at the associated video to see if that helps. :blush:

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Hello Shane, and a warm welcome to the community :hugs:.
Regarding your question about the chord changes: whenever a new bar begins, you can see the chord to play printed above the respective word or space.
Nonetheless, I struggled a bit at the beginning. So, I worked it out myself by carefully listening to the song over and over again. This way, I built up a feeling for the right moment to change chords.
Maybe this method could also work for you :slightly_smiling_face:.
All the best and have fun :smiley:.

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Hi Nicole. Thank you for the welcome. That’s a good idea. I’ll spend more time listening to the song, I must admit I do find it quite difficult to recognise the changes in a song. I’m sure that will come with time and practice :blush:

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Yes, definitely. It’s a practice thing as well :slightly_smiling_face:.
All the best.

Shane, if you are struggling with this from the song books, I would strongly recommend you try the Justin song player app.

The app shows very clearly where the chord changes happen… Including whether the changes are on the upbeat, the down beat, at the beginning of a bar, or in the middle of a bar.

I had a lot of difficulty with this in my previous attempts to learn guitar, But I think using the app was what finally got me past that stage.

One thing to watch out for, however… Especially if you’re using the app on a phone rather than a tablet.

The lyrics sometimes align with the chord changes, but not always. If there isn’t room on the screen to fit all the words, they may be misaligned.

Going by this post, I think what you’re struggling with is where the chords fall in relation to the lyrics?

The chords are positioned above the lyrics, to represent where the bar starts. The positioning often isn’t precise, but gives a good indication.

I’m just going to be a bit naughty, and use a couple screenshots from the online TABs (which use a similar layout to the songbooks) to explain a bit better.
First is the intro to Little Talks-
First line uses vertical bars to represent bars. Quite straight forward, with the x4 at the end to signify it gets played 4 times.
You’ll also notice the (Hey!) in brackets. That signifies it doesn’t get sung/shouted every time you play the 4 bar intro. It only gets sung on the final/fourth run through, which you’d pick up from listening to the actual song.
The first verse line has the chords just before the lyrics, which means the lyrics don’t start on beat one, they start slightly after. Also as there are no vertical bars in between the chords, it means you play a single bar of each chord (or in this precise song, you actually only play a single strum on beat one)

Second quick example, is Hallelujah-

Here you’ll notice the chords are after the start of the lyrics, which means the lyrics start on the previous bar.
Also, you’ll notice the vertical bars around the F and G. This is because they are played within the same bar. In this case, it’s a 50/50 split, but if the G was right up against the vertical bar, it would typically signify the chord change happens on the final beat of that bar.

The songbooks are brilliant references, but for beginners, I’d strongly suggest watching the corresponding video lesson if it exists for the song you’re learning, and take notes.

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That makes so much sense now. When I was l first looking at the books I was really confused about when and where to strum.

Thank you so much for explaining it so clearly and taking the time to also add the examples. I really do appreciate it. :pray: