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Queen Guitar Rhapsodies

Three Basic Rules of Left Hand Technique And How To Stay Clear of Pain

My left hand: photo by Roy Stedall-Humphryes, Spain, 2004

My left hand: photo by Roy Stedall-Humphryes, Spain, 2004

Left hands are like right hands, they come in all shapes and sizes...
...some small, some large. And this goes for fingers too: long, short, slender, fat, straight and curved. Even the relative lengths can vary a lot. Take half a dozen fellow guitar players or friends and see the differences:

- Is the ring finger shorter or longer than the index finger?
- How much longer (if at all) is the middle finger than the other fingers?
- How long or short is the thumb compared to the other fingers?

You will be surprised by the results. No two hands are the same. These differences have to be taken into account when devising and developing a technique for they can have far-reaching consequences.

Take the position of the left-hand thumb on the back of the neck. A long thumb can be more flexible and supportive than a short thumb. The same goes for the right hand thumb: it greatly affects the overall position and inclination of the hand.

...And yet they have a lot in common
Now let me focus on the similarities. Huge or tiny, left-hand fingers have something vitally important in common. Close your hand into a fist. Keeping the fingers together half open the hand. Now slowly separate the fingers a few millimetres. The middle and ring fingers are more or less parallel, while the index and little fingers point inwards at an angle. If your hand is shaped liked this, then you have something in common with 99% of fellow pluckers, regardless of differences.

Three basic rules of left hand technique
Let me focus on the requirements of left-hand movement, bearing in mind too the differences between our hands. These three basic rules will go a long way to avoiding stress, tension, pain, and even tendonitis, and other problems associated with playing:

When moving across the strings in the same position the fingers should keep the same shape relative to the fretboard, whether they be on the 6th string or the 1st string. This means a supportive movement by the thumb, and a subtle movement from the wrist and arm. Tell-tale signs of not following this simple rule are indicated when the hand loses its rounded shape on the first string, and the tension that occurs as a consequence. A fixed thumb on the neck is another indicator of trouble ahead for it will frequently lead to losing the relaxed rounded shape of the hand.
How do the differences between our hands affect this?
Short thumbs can move across towards the first string less than long thumbs.

The index finger can often throw a spanner into the works. Why? Because it wants to be the same as the middle and ring fingers: nice and straight. But this is not possible, because as we have already established, it is made differently. The best it can hope for is to lie on the side of the tip, which really is good enough. When it tries to be as parallel to the frets as the other two, it throws the whole hand position into disarray.
How do the differences between our hands affect this?
Double-jointed players have more flexibility as to how the fingers align themselves on the fretboard, and can sometimes present them almost parallel to each other without a problem.

The left hand fingers can pivot on their point like dancers, and that is a good thing. Better still, they can do so with the sympathetic movement of the wrist and arm. In this way not only do they share the work-load but also avoid tension.
How do the differences between our hands affect this?
Hardly at all. The relative lengths of the fingers make little difference.

This has been my rough guide to left hand technique. I hope it serves as an introduction to its complexities. Better still, I hope it helps avoid discomfort and pain, and that it leads to dazzling technical prowess!

16th March 2014, London

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Printed from: http://www.carlosbonell.com/blog/?p=3098 .
© 2019.

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