Beginner Guitar Lessons: Left Hand


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The hardest thing when beginning to play guitar is how to properly fret the strings with your left hand, that's the reason why it's often recommended to begin with a nylon string guitar. Steel strings will bite into your un-calloused fingertips and give you a hard time and possibly some blisters.

This is perfectly normal, so don't worry and just take a break when your fingers feel sore, don't overdo it at the beginning. In a few weeks you won't even think about it.








This is the way to play an open A minor chord: see how the tip of the fingers fret the strings at about a right angle. The thumb is jutting out from the neck and helps the grip and the wrist is on the same line as the forearm. Again, if you're not playing Classical guitar, there are no fixed rules: your thumb may be behind the neck or the palm could wrap around it with the thumb sticking out even more. The important thing is that the fingers fret the strings in a way that produces a good sound. If possible, keep your fingers close to the fret on your right (looking down) like the index and ring finger in Fig. 1: this is where the sound is produced, not where you put your finger and the closer to the fret the easier it is to press down the string and get a clean tone.

Keeping your finger at a right angle to the fretboard makes it also easier to fret just the string you're supposed to without touching the one below and producing unwanted buzzs and noises or, worse still, muting the string altogether.

From your point of view (Fig. 2), you should see the forearm and the hand on the same line: this ensures the maximum spread for your fingers. The muscles and tendons that move your finger are actually in your forearm (if you practice too much or don't warm up properly, that's where you'll feel the strain) so bending your wrist sideways will shorten some of the muscles and limit the movement of the relative fingers.



In Fig. 3 you can see how the palm of the hand is not touching the back of the neck and the wrist is not turned inwards: this is another position that shortens the muscles so avoid it unless you're playing some very simple and easy stuff and you don't need to spread your fingers.


See the effect for yourself: hold your hand in front of you with your fingers spread out and slightly bent. Then pull your wrist towards your face and bend your hand down: see how the fingers tend to bunch up in a claw and you can't spread them out anymore. Bend the wrist sideways in both directions and see how limited the movement of your fingers has become.

The fingers must be free to play and to spread over the fretboard, so the wrist and forearm must allow it and the arm and shoulder must follow: when you're closer to the headstock your arm should move away from your body so the wrist is straight: the shoulder follows the arm, follows the forearm, follows the wrist that follows the fingers.

As for the right hand, try to eliminate all tension in the whole chain.


In Fig. 4 we see a G major chord played with a Barre: the index finger frets all the strings at once: it's like the nut has moved to the third fret. The remaining fingers fret a E major chord position that is transposed to a G. This is the way to play a lot of chords that can't be played with open strings.

Notice how we can't see the thumb anymore as it has slid behind the neck to grip it tightly: you won't be able to play a barre chord without it's force contrasting the fretting fingers on the other side of the neck.

Barre is another difficult stepping point for a beginner so you shouldn't try it before you can play normal chords with enough confidence. You will need patience and time to build your muscles so don't get discouraged if it doesn't sound clean at first.

In Fig.5 you can see the opposing forces of thumb and index at work from your perspective.

We can use the thumb behind the neck when we need to really stretch our fingers, especially on the lowest strings and we also bring our wrist down at an angle with the forearm: remember the fingers lead and the arm and shoulder follow.

We will review all these positions when we discuss the single techniques.


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There are times we we just don't have enough fingers... In this F major7 chord we use our thumb on the first fret of the sixth string to play a low F: it's not very elegant but it does the job. As always the fingers have to be in the right spot and the rest follows. I know I'm repeating the same thing over and over but it's very important to understand this concept from the beginning. When you learn a wrong posture it's very hard to correct later: if you always keep your elbow close to your hip you'll have problems playing on the lowest part of the neck, if you keep it too far from your body your hand will be twisted and tense. What you should achieve is a flexible, coordinated system of limbs that always makes your playing comfortable and relaxed.


I took these pictures a few weeks ago so I really can't remember what Fig. 7 should teach you.... Maybe just not to procrastinate and finish what you're working on before you forget what you were doing....

So go grab a guitar and start playing!!



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