Clean Up Your Technique (Part One)

Rock Guitar

As a guitarist, you’ve got a lot on your mind. On your fretting hand, you’re trying to get your fingers on the right frets and sound the right note as clearly as you can. Meanwhile, your other hand is struggling to hold a pick, strum in time or pick with your fingers and hit the right strings. Your brain is also working to memorize chord progressions or remember (and sing!) lyrics or to simply keep the rhythm steady. It’s no wonder that we often feel like bobble-head dolls!

We’re so used to see guitarists perform in wildly exaggerated styles during concerts or in videos that we forget most of the theatrics are part of the “show” and not part of the actual playing. Guitar mastery starts with finesse. And we often lose sight of tiny little details that, given a bit of attention, may help you in quite a big way when it comes to playing. Since a lot of players tend to be self-taught, these little aides are usually (but not always) picked up along the way. But it’s not too early to counter those bad habits and learn some new ones. They not only will help you help you play comfortably and cleanly, they can also keep you from falling into bad habits that later on you’ll wish you’d avoided in the first place.

Stand At Attention!

Your parents may not have had guitar playing in mind when they told you it was important to sit (and stand) straight, but they couldn’t have given you better advice. Good playing starts with good posture. You want to sit or stand so that your fretting hand can move freely up and down the neck with our strain or reaching too far. Your other hand wants to comfortably reach all the strings with a flick of the wrist.

Remember that the ultimate goal is to be able to get your fingertips on the frets so that you can sound clean, clear notes. To do this, you need to pay attention to the little things you might be doing that hinder getting the best possible finger position. Some guitar players learn the “classical” style of sitting, where the guitar rests on one’s “opposite” leg (left leg for right handed players and right leg for left handed players). The instant advantage of this position is that your fretting hand is automatically ideally placed to finger notes and chords.

The down side of the classical position is that it’s not always comfortable, especially if you play a bigger guitar like a dreadnaught. So if you play in a more conventional style, with the neck at an angle closer to 90 degrees from your upright position (sometimes referred to as “folk” position, you want to watch out for one major stumbling block – don’t use your leg as a wrist rest. When you do this, the resulting angle cuts down your fingers’ ability to arch well on the strings. Plus, you’ll find yourself with an incredibly sore wrist after repeated practices. When you play “folk” style (whether with an acoustic or an electric guitar), you want to have your fretting hand about chest high so that it can easily roam about the neck. Don’t hunch over your guitar. Sitting straight will help you get a better position for your fretting arm.

Using a guitar strap, when you’re sitting as well as when you’re standing is another way to insure good guitar positioning and posture. Plus, you’ll have fewer worries about your guitar slipping away on you. Try, as much as possible, to not tip the face of the guitar back towards yourself. Yes, you really want to see where your fingers go on the neck. But when you tip the guitar you’re putting a lot of strain on your wrist and, again, your fingers won’t be able to arch well and get a good position. So after you look to see where your fingers go, set the guitar straight and get playing.

We’ll look at more in “Part 2” of this series. See you soon!