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lw9 - Right hand Left hand technique - cont.

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Previous page: Development of Chords from Scale Tones in Thirds Next page: Lesson 10 - How Chords work

Lessons of The Week was a series of guitar lessons circulated in "News", in the pre-web days of the Internet. 29 lessons were written before it died out, and I happende to write the first three. They represent a little bit of internet history, as they may have been the first guitar lessons written for the internet.

The lessons were all written in txt format - they were written around the same time as Tim Berners Lee were sitting in Switzerland specifing the first version of html. I have converted them to html, and may have added a few links from the lessons.

Lesson: 9
Title: Right hand Left hand technique - cont.
Level: Beginner
Style: Technique
Instructor: Tim Fullerton

This is part two in a series of how to develop good right and left hand technique for pick-style guitar.

PART II -- left hand position

This series is the approach that I use to teach pick-style technique to all of my students. For best results, take these articles to an educated and experienced teacher who is stylistically broad based and who is acquainted with this approach, so that(s) he may coach you.


This approach is to attain the maximum possible cleanliness and articulateness in ones tone. It will also give, ultimately, the greatest speed with the least health risk. I am careful to never say that it is the CORRECT way to play. There is no such thing, and a lot of people do great things with really sloppy technique. Wherever possible, though, I will indicate the exact benefits of each technique.

If you are left handed, please excuse my right-handed bias, and reverse all of the relevant direction and hand indications.


Place your fingers on the bottom string like so:

E|-1-2-3-4--------|  FRET
   1 2 3 4      <--- FINGER

With your fingers in this position, the TIP of your thumb should be touching the midline of the neck; that is, behind the G string. Most people tend to have the thumb peeking up over the top. Also, most people tend to squeeze much too tightly, grinding in with the knuckle of their thumb.

Now place your fingers on the top string:

E|----------------|  FRET
   1 2 3 4      <--- FINGER

In this position, the tip of your thumb should be behind the top E string, directly behind your fingers.


In all cases, the left hand wrist should be straight. Many with bad thumb habits tend to rest their palms against the back of the neck. Avoid this! Also, many who adapt the "good" thumb position tend to jut their wrist forward. You should be able to place a straight edge from the back of your forearm to any of your last knuckles. Benefits:

The thumb position is required so that:

  1. the wrist can be straight.
  2. The fingers can come down straight and not mute the strings beside what they are actually fretting (remember the first time you tried to make a "D"?).
    1. With the thumb low, the average full sized person can reach across eight frets. With the thumb high, the average person can barely span four frets.

Low thumb pressure reduces strain on certain muscles and tendons. It will also increase your endurance dramatically.

The wrist position is a matter of your health. If you practice a lot, especially with any speed, and you have a bent wrist, your tendons and carpal nerves are obstructed and you run a greater risks of repetitive strain injuries.


Some styles, blues for example, demand having the thumb over the top to assist in muting strings. Here it is often appropriate to pick all six strings and mute all except the ones you want to ring. Also, the thumb should come over the top to give you leverage in a bend. In neither case should the palm touch the back of the neck. Just the webbing between the thumb and the first finger.

There are certainly other examples of specific tones that you would want to get that demand a thumb-over-the-top technique. In general, though, for pristine tone, avoid it.

Class Assignment:

Play this as an exercise:


Make sure that you assign 1 finger per fret... just like they were set up a page ago.

Continue this pattern up the neck until you can't get clean notes out anymore. As you do this, do not stray from this checklist:

A) Guitar Position (see part I)

B)1. Left Hand Thumb Position and range of motion (midline [G string] to edge)

2. Left Hand Thumb Pressure If this continues to be a problem, take a couple of passes of this exercise without your thumb touching at all. This will give you an idea of exactly how little pressure it takes. Then put your thumb back down WITH NO MORE PRESSURE. It is just there as a guide.

C) Left hand wrist.

Stay Tuned, and be patient. There is a lot left!

copyright 1993 by Tim Fullerton
   1987 Upper Chelsea Rd
   Columbus, Ohio 43221
   (614) - 488 - 9322
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