In Part 1 of “Clean Up Your Technique” we looked primarily at posture. Here are some more basic ways to clean up your playing:
Loosen Your Grip
Try this experiment: Take a blank sheet of paper and pick it up so that your thumb is on one side and your fingers are on the other. Hold the paper up to the light, thumb facing you and the silhouette of the fingers coming through the paper. You see that your thumb positions itself somewhere between your index and middle fingers. It’s where your fingers tend to fall naturally, and what you want to do when you hold the guitar as well.
Ideally, you want the neck of the guitar to lightly rest on the thumb. You don’t want to grip it like a baseball bat. Gripping the neck hard pulls your fingers down and away from the strings, away from their optimal position. An easy way to spot-check your grip is to see if you feel the lower edge of the neck along your palm. You should almost always have some space between your palm and the neck. If you can feel the neck pressing into your hands, then you definitely need to ease up on your grip.
Shorten Your Strumming
As I’ve mentioned in numerous articles here on Guitar Noise, just because you have six strings, you don’t need to play them all every time you strum. Help yourself to a great habit early on by learning how to zero in on the strings you want to play. On chords like E, Em and G, as well as most barre chords, you can freely strum across all six strings, but when playing position chords like A, Am and C, it sounds better if you start your downstroke on the fifth string. For D and Dm, try to start from the fourth string. Targeting your strumming like this helps you develop picking-hand discipline that will stay with you forever.
Similarly, you don’t have to hit all the strings on your upstroke. When you hit the bass strings on your downstroke, they’re going to ring out for a long, long time. So when you make your upstroke, just hit two or three of the high strings. They’re all you need. Also, striking only a few strings will allow you to get your hand cocked for the next downstroke.
As you get better at fingering chords and at strumming, you’ll find that you can often “cheat” a little – maybe you’ll not need to have your fingers in precisely the optimal places to finger notes, or maybe you’ll be able to hold the guitar slightly lower or higher. As you learn, try to keep your motions and movements simple and to a minimum. This will help you to quickly get better at your instrument. When you’re confident you can play, then you can be as theatrical, or stoic, as you’d like. Taking time with these little details – posture, guitar position, fretting grip and thumb position, and easy, fluid strumming – will pay off big time in the long run.