Sven's Guitar Site
Left hand technique
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I will add pictures to this page later. I just have to find somebody who takes some photos of my left hand, when I am playing.

The left hand is the hand with the craftsmanship in it. The use of it can be learned and is a matter of training. Playing guitar will first build up some callus on the finger tips (that will be just thick skin when you play for a long time). Then you will learn al the strches and gain speed. This does not mean that there is no "music" in your left hand. It does require some disciplin and practice to learn a good left hand technique. The speed you don't have in your right hand can be "faked" with your left hand. The speed you don't have in your left hand is a handicap. A good left hand position gives you the readyness and the speed of a predator on the hunt.

The positon of your fingers should be kinda vertical related to the fretboard if you would draw a line through the knuckles, it should be parallel to the neck. This way, you have more power and more control. You should try to fret a string as close to the fret as possible. Just imagine you would play a fretless instrument. A player with a decent left hand technique will be able to play a fretless bass, that has some fret markers on the neck without many problems. Fret the string with the tip of the finger. Callus on other parts of your hand will people make think, you don't play guitar, but too much with yourself!

 A common problem I have seen is that some players don't pay much attention to the fingers they don't use for playing a tone or a chord. Use all four fingers and keep them in readyness for being used. That means, don't curl them under the neck or let them stand up straight. Just imagine your fingers to be like the little felt hammers in a piano. A good attack is the basic criterion for playing fluently and for a good sound.

It is obvouis that the best position of the thumb is in the middle of the back of the neck. No, not your neck! The neck of the guitar! Just try it out yourself. Put the thumb in the middle of the neck and try to move your fingers as far laeft as you can, then move them as far right as you can without changing the position of your thumb. Now hold you thumb at the top side of the neck and try again. You will reach more frets when your thumb is at the center line of the neck. That does not mean, that you are not allowed to use the thumb for fretting the E or A string in case it serves the music.

Try to keep your wrist straight. This way, you don't put too much stress on the tendons that operate your fingers, thus the precision will be higher and you don't bend the strings either. Bending strings unintendedly means that you play out of tune on a perfectly tuned guitar. If you play while you are standing on a stage, using a guitar strap (always recommended, even when you play while sitting on a chair), the position of your guitar shouldn't be too low. You should be able to fret the strings without stressing your wrist or bending the strings. If you play with the guitar at about your knees, you might look cool, but you have to be really great that your playing doesn't suck.

After you have mastered a good basic left hand technique, you can learn some more techniques, that help you to gain speed and expression.

One is hammering on and pulling off: Actually it means to indroduce enough energy to the string to keep it vibrating without picking it with your right hand. That will not only increase your speed, but also gives you more means of expression. These techniques produce a tone that has not that much attack, but still enough sustain. If you want to check somebody out that is a great "legato" player, I can recommend you Allan Holdsworth recordings (great Rock and Fusion player). He can play forever without even using his pick and his distorted guitar sounds nearly like some synthesizer.

The hammering on is accomplished by playing the first note with a pick and letting a free finger of the left hand fall energetically on the fret of the next tone - just like a hammer of a piano. This is introducing enegry to the string and it will keep vibrating.

Pulling off means that you already fret the next note with e.g. the index finger while you pull off another finger, so that the next note can sound. This is acoomplishe by slightly bending the string you play downwards before you let it go. This is also introducing some energy to the string that keeps it vibrating. Think of the pulling off as picking the string with the left hand.

Practice hammering on/pulling off combinations withall four fingers. fret a note with the index fingers and hammer on/pull off with the middle finger, the ring finger etc.

Tapping is nothing else than an enhanced hammering on/pulling off technique making additional use of the fingers of the right hand. Preferably the index finger of teh right hand performs a hammering on/pulling off movement. The pick can be held with the middle or ring finger inside the hand. This technique is used to play lightning fast three or four note combinations, those are usually notes of a chord and follow a chord progression.

Bending a string detunes it. If this is performed in a coordinated way, it adds some more or less spectacular effect to your playing. It can be either kinda shaking movement that slightly bends the string and results in a sweet vibrato - just like some violin dudes do all the time, or means detuning the string in a range of one or more semitones. If you do that, it should end in a tone that is in tune again, that means you e.g. fret an A and bend it till you get a C (three semitones higher). This is accomplished by moving the fretted string towards the middle of teh fretboard preferably using more than one finger. How far you can bend a string depends of the string gauge. Light strings are easier to bend than heavy strings (but break more easily, too). Keep in mind that you have to develope a good hearing for it - a bend that doesn't end in a tone that is "in tune" doesn't sound very good.

Sliding is probably one of the easiest effects that can be achived with the left hand.It sounds interesting when used in the right way. Jazz players slide into the tone quite a lot. It is acomplished by not fretting the tone you want to end on, but one maybe two frets higher or lower (one or ttwo semitones higher or lower) picking the string and then sliding the finger over the fret(s) to the final position.

Slide guitar is something different. It is also called bottle neck playing. You can't do it just with your hands, it requires a slide or bottle neck. A lighter works too, but not very well. For playing slige guitar you tune the guitar other than normal. That are usually the notes of a chord like in an "open G" tuning. Then you slide up and down the neck with a glas or metal pipe that you put over your middle finger playing intervals or chords. I have to admit that although I own a slide, I have never bothered to learn playing slide guitar, so I can't tell you much more about it.

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Last modified on Friday, 2. January 2009