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Real Guitar Tips: Bring a Natural, Relaxed Approach to Your Fretboard Hand

Steve Levy

March 22, 2018

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REAL GUITAR TIPS: FRETBOARD MECHANICS, LESSON 1

Guitar instructor Steve Levy returns with a series of new video lessons that focuses on the basics of approaching the fretboard. Watch the video carefully and follow Steve's tips to make sure that you don't fall into the poor habits that are commonly found with amateur or self-taught guitarists.

Holding the guitar

Steve's approach to holding the guitar while seated is different from most players who come from a folk, rock, or pop background. Most guitarists place their instrument on the right thigh, but Steve and places it on his left thigh, which is the traditional method that classical guitarists use. Either way works, but Steve believes that the classical approach can help to center the guitar and allows for more range of motion in the left hand.

Positioning the guitar on the left thigh 

Shape of the left hand

The shape of your left hand (fretting hand) is a critical to playing the guitar with efficiency, fluidity, and ease. The good news is that the best shape happens to be the shape that naturally occurs with a totally relaxed hand. Here's how to find it: 

  1. hold your hand up and extend your fingers out as far as they'll go and then hold it for a few seconds.
  2. then, just let your hand completely relax. 
  3. your hand naturally defaults to a 'neutral position,' with a natural arch in the fingers and the thumb behind the index finger.

Your fretting hand should have a natural and relaxed shape

Placing the tips of your fingers on the strings (not the pads!) 

Playing with the pads of your fingers rather than the tips is a bad habit that many amateur or self-taught guitarists fall into. If you notice that you're accidentally muting the other strings, check for proper finger placement, and be careful not to collapse the knuckles. 

Incorrect finger placement on the pad with broken knuckle 

Arching the wrists and elbow placement

Arching the wrists is one of the worst habits you can develop. When you arch the wrist, you completely limit your range of motion. At the same time, be sure to keep your elbow close to your body, naturally by your side. 

Incorrect wrist placement 

Finger placement 

Finally, when you're fretting, get your finger as close to the fret wire without actually touching it. If you're on top of the fret, you'll get a muted sound. When you're too far away, you'll get a buzzing sound (especially on an acoustic guitar). When you have poor finger placement , you'll have to squeeze much harder and your hand will get tired out much faster. So, be sure to get right up next to the fret wire to achieve a nice clear tone.

Bring a natural, relaxed approach!

Whether you're working on holding the instrument, shaping your hand, and positioning your arm, wrist, and fingers, the common theme is to relaxed and natural, without any excess strain. 

Thanks for reading and happy practicing! 

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