Left Hand Accuracy and Positioning

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Left Hand Accuracy and Positioning

If you have trouble getting your 3rd and 4th fingers in the left hand to behave, accurately placing your fingertips at the fret, or maintaining the left hand position…  you are not alone.

I am going to provide you with some useful exercises to improve your left hand technique, but first let’s talk about the key issues.

 

Left hand finger placement

If you develop the habit of good finger placement in your left hand, you are going to make everything else easier.

Accurate finger placement helps produce a clear sound, it uses less energy, relieves tension, aids agility, and it will encourage consistency with other movements in your left hand. These compelling reasons make it well worth your time to focus on left hand finger placement as a priority in your practice session.

Over the years I have come across many beginner and intermediate students that say they “can’t” make the stretch, or their fingers simply “won’t” reach that far. This is simply not true.

While we all have different shapes and sizes, and even peculiarities from person to person I have never come across anyone who cannot develop reach, flexibility and accuracy with dedicated and focused practice. Developing a habit takes time, and so does developing flexibility within your hands. Remember that we are dealing with ligaments and tendons in our hand, not just muscles, and they take a considerably longer time to adapt.

Perhaps an experience that we have all shared is figuring out how to play the first position G Major chord. This basic chord involves a stretch from the sixth string to the first and for all of those who encounter it for the first time it seems difficult if not impossible. Did you manage to make the distance with some perseverance?

The number one culprit that might be holding you back is a lack of consistency in your finger placement and this is down to your attention to detail. If you are unaware that your fingers are placed too far back in the fret, then you won’t be able to make a change for the better.

Have a look at the following examples, record a quick excerpt of your left hand playing and evaluate whether or not there is room for improvement.

 

 

Some exceptions to bear in mind

A-Major-exceptionTo be clear, there are many instances where the fingertips cannot always be neatly placed up against the fret wire. A good example of this is the common A Major chord that squashes three fingers onto one fret. There is no need for each fingertip to be exactly snug against the fret in this case. There are plenty of other examples of this being the case too, but in general we should be striving for a consistent closeness to the fret.

 

 

Exercises to improve your finger placement

The first step, as was mentioned earlier, is to be aware if you are placing your left hand fingers accurately or not. So, record your left hand playing a variety of material and have a look. Record for long enough that you fall back into your regular playing style, not one that is hyper aware of being analyzed.

After having a look you might notice that your finger placement becomes inconsistent with specific movements. For example, it might be that when you shift your left hand position, the finger lands without consistency. Or, it might be that when more than one finger is used at the same time results get messy.

See if you can identify some specific reasons that it is happening.

If your overall finger placement is sloppy it will be important to take a very simple exercise to start building accuracy and consistency.

For this I recommend playing a very simple sequence of fingerings in the seventh position. This involves the left hand playing finger 1, 2, 3, 4, sequentially on one string then moving the the adjacent string. It looks like a chromatic scale, but it isn’t as we are playing in the seventh position.

Why the seventh position? Because the frets are closer together and it is more conducive to the majority of hands.

Accuracy exercise_0002

(play this sequence in reverse once you reach the first string so you head back towards the sixth string)

As you work through this basic but effective exercise focus on each finger being placed snug up against the fret each time, using the same small pad of your fingertip each time and keeping the fingers down as you play 1 – 2 -3 -4.

After you have spent fifteen minutes on this, you can give yourself a rest (yes try and spend a full focused fifteen minutes!). When you return to the exercise, perhaps that day perhaps the next, you can move it down to the sixth position. Over the span of a couple of weeks move it down to first position and your left hand will have enjoyed and progressive habit building exercise that encourages accuracy and flexibility.

Following on from this exercise, you can move to a full chromatic scale in the first position that then shifts up on the first string towards the twelfth fret.

 

Scale Practice

Focusing on accuracy of finger placement is a perfect example of how we can use scales as tools to develop our technique.

Regular scales that have one single note after another provide the challenge of every single note having accurate and consistent finger placement. We can also start to think about the consistency of weight/finger pressure we use.

A scale in one position is great for the variety of finger combinations it uses and a scale that shifts around the fingerboard will give us a chance to work on shifting, extensions and contractions.

The key of the scale does not matter too much in this process but choosing a variety of locations on the fingerboard and a variety of scales (which therein have a variety of fingerings) will be a comprehensive way to approach your accuracy.

 

A two octave scale with accompanying arpeggio will give you a variety of challenges with which to monitor and improve your accuracy.

C MAJOR - 2 octave_0001

 

 

Scales in thirds, sixths, octaves and tenths

These scales require you to play two notes at a time, so our challenge of accuracy and consistency is greatly increased. I would recommend staying on single note scales until you can see that you are very accurate and consistent in your left hand recordings.

The goals will be the same in terms of finger placement and shifting but your finger independence will now get a substantial workout.

 

These two scales provide a compact area to work on your accuracy, albeit in in the first position where the stretches are the greatest.

C MAJOR - 3rds 1 octave_0001

 

Over a two octave scale we get the opportunity to shift, and traverse the fingerboard which includes a variety of distances between frets. A great exercise!

C MAJOR - 6ths 28ve_0002

 

Take all of these exercises at  a slow tempo, perhaps quarter note equals 50 or slower. Why? Because if you you set a fast tempo you will not be able to notice or correct your finger position. Use a metronome to keep you on track, and remember that speed is not a goal here just accuracy and consistency.

 

If you want access to all of the exercises, scales, and demonstration videos that build left hand technique, you can become a member and get instant access.

Start your membership here

 

 

2016-10-24T00:19:47+00:00 21 Comments

21 Comments

  1. Truman May 16, 2016 at 1:20 am - Reply

    I love how this was described. Honestly, this is the first place I have seen it explained to start this exercise higher up on the fret board to ease into the stretching. I am looking forward to trying this out in my next practice!

  2. Arthur Milholland May 16, 2016 at 1:52 am - Reply

    LEFT HAND ACCURACY. In your examples, what do the tiny numbers above the staff mean, and also the numbers below that are in circles?

  3. Mark May 16, 2016 at 5:31 am - Reply

    Tiny numbers above the staff refer to which left hand finger is to be used to play that note. The circled numbers designate on which sting to play that note.

    • Arthur Milholland May 16, 2016 at 2:34 pm - Reply

      Which finger is “0” ?

      • Arthur Milholland May 16, 2016 at 7:57 pm - Reply

        Sorry, Never mind. I thought there were “0” ‘s used in higher positions, but now I see that is not the case, only in First position. Obviously, in first position, a “0” is the open string.

  4. Caryl Cox May 16, 2016 at 7:30 am - Reply

    I’ve been warming up with the Segovia scales (all of them – major and minor) for several years now, very slowly – for this very purpose – to focus on left hand accuracy. I struggle with a very uncooperative left hand pinky, and scales serve to help it know who’s boss.

  5. Adrian Bold May 16, 2016 at 7:58 am - Reply

    Thank you for these exercises – the reasoning for them is useful and the description is very clear and helpful. A concern, though, is how to do the exercise with the right hand. If this is not known then a lot of time could be spent learning incorrect technique to the detriment of future playing.

  6. Bob Vasquez May 16, 2016 at 12:10 pm - Reply

    I like how you’ve approached this practice at the 7th position; we all (beginners) need more experience in upper positions. I found a small inexpensive book that also helps me, viz., “Fingernastics” (a therapeutic exercise book for hands) by Dr. L.R. Quercia & Anthony Crescione. I would enjoy reading your opinion on this book.

  7. Mark Featherstone May 16, 2016 at 2:26 pm - Reply

    Simon, I’ve printed out these exercises and have been practicing them this evening. They’re great! Thank you so much!

  8. Renato May 16, 2016 at 3:14 pm - Reply

    Simon,
    I study classical guitar as an amateur. I have 74 years. Lately my left hand trembles when I play. It would be essential tremor and loss of muscle mass in the arm. Can you tell me anything about it?

  9. Jonathan May 17, 2016 at 7:36 am - Reply

    sir, with regard to hand stretch and flexibility i hope what you said will be true to me. Even now i cannot reach properly one chord i encountered in the piece by beethoven transcibed by tarrega ie adagio cantible. It spans from the sixth string 2nd fret Fsharp to the first string 7th fret! Is there a slight hope that i may someday be able to do it? I love the piece so much. Or is it a physical limitatiom that cannot be solved?

  10. Kevin June 14, 2016 at 12:05 pm - Reply

    Is stretching exercises like this a good thing or rather bad?

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TSrfB7JIzxY

    • Dave Belcher June 15, 2016 at 11:30 pm - Reply

      Hi Kevin,

      Yes, I think stretching before playing is useful and important. The only thing I would add is a few words of caution:

      1. Be sure to breathe just like you would stretching any other muscles—very important to get oxygen to your muscles while you stretch them.
      2. Most importantly: don’t overdo it. Don’t stretch to hard, too fast, or for too long. You will continue “stretching” your muscles as you warm up on the guitar.
      3. The commentator is right that stretching is something you should “feel,” but do not push your muscles to the point that you feel pain (tips number 1 and 2 will help with that). Any pain at all and stop. (Good tip for while you’re practicing as well.)

      It’s really easy to injure yourself if you overextend your muscles, so be sure NOT to overdo it. (sorry, guess I repeated no. 2 twice!).

      Peace,

      Dave B (CGC team)

  11. VinceMac62 June 19, 2016 at 3:07 pm - Reply

    Pure gold. These exercises woven into my daily practice routine have probably done more good than anything I can recall for a while. Slow, focused practice like Simon recommends is disorienting at first (or was for me) but once past that the pace allows you to really concentrate on how the LH fingers go down. If you haven’t already tried these exercises, or have and gave up because they’re a little gruelling to begin with, IMO they really are worth persevering with. My thanks to all involved.

    • VinceMac62 June 19, 2016 at 3:10 pm - Reply

      I should also mention I found a real RH benefit from them too even though that’s not mentioned here. The slow pace gives a chance to choose the RH stroke too.

  12. Kyaw Soe Lwin June 20, 2016 at 11:53 am - Reply

    Hi Simon,

    It is really work and feeling better by doing this exercise before start playing guitar.

    Thanks for sharing.

  13. 6Strings June 20, 2016 at 3:32 pm - Reply

    This info is precisely why I invested in becoming an annual member :)

  14. Art M September 29, 2016 at 3:34 am - Reply

    I am blocked from starting the “1 Octave Scale in Thirds” exercise. I can’t figure out how to play the C and the E notes on string 5, using fingers 1 and 2. Also, if both notes are on the same string, how to play them both at the same time? Is there a video demonstration of this?

    • Dave Belcher September 30, 2016 at 12:23 pm - Reply

      Hi Art,

      The string number there only refers to the lower note, the C—you play the E on the fourth string. When the string number changes the higher note will always be one string above. Thus, the E on the fourth string is paired with its third, the G, on the third string. I hope this clears things up, but let me know if you have any other questions!

      Peace,

      Dave B (CGC team)

  15. Lily October 17, 2016 at 11:46 pm - Reply

    This looks great. I have been feeling like sounding a note correctly was a matter of chance and luck. Not the feeling I want. Like VinceMac62, I find slow and focused practice very disorienting. But today I noticed that if I go slow enough I can hear the changes in a notes’ tone as I make even the smallest change in the pressure and position of my fretting finger. That is great feedback for learning. I am encouraged!

  16. Will Kelley February 3, 2017 at 3:26 pm - Reply

    Dave and Simon,

    This is great since I am having problems with my fingers on the fretboard.

    Thank you for all great instructions in learning to play.

    Will

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