For Beginning Guitarists: Right- and Left-Hand Basics


Want to improve your coordination and guitar technique? Here, Goodyear, AZ guitar teacher David A. shares two simple guitar exercises to try out… 


Do you love listening to guitar music and do you want to learn how to play? Well, in addition to having a passion for guitar, it is important for you as the aspiring guitarist to maintain a consistent practice routine that incorporates guitar exercises to improve your right and left hand coordination and timing, which will, in turn, boost your overall musicianship and enjoyment of the instrument!

The Mechanics of Playing the Guitar

Guitar exercises involve the right and left hands doing two separate things at the same time. The challenge can be just that: get the right and left hands to do those two things at the same time! The right hand, hovering over the body of the guitar and using a guitar pick or just the fingers, strums, plucks, or picks one or more strings, while the fingers of the left hand press down on the appropriate strings at the other end of the guitar on the neck fretboard. (Note: I am describing hand movements from the point of view of a right-handed guitarist, so if you are playing a left-handed guitar, the actions of the hands are reversed.)

Exercises to Strengthen the Hands & Improve Coordination

Although it is not possible to cover all of the many guitar exercises or go into specific detail regarding proper technique within the scope of this article, I will describe a couple of drills that would certainly be a great start for the beginner. For the following examples, let’s assume that you will be using a guitar pick. You hold the pick between your thumb and index finger, with the pointed end of your pick striking the strings. There are three basic picking patterns to strike the strings: downstroke (toward the ground), upstroke (toward the sky), and alternate (down, then up).

To fret with the left hand, make a loose fist with the knuckles bent. Place your thumb along the back of the guitar neck. Place the other 4 fingers on the front of the neck. The finger assignments for the left hand are as follows: index is 1, middle is 2, ring is 3, and pinky is 4.

If possible, use a metronome to help keep time. A good starting metronome speed is at or around 60 beats per minute (BPM). Allow at least 5 to 10 minutes to complete each exercise and practice them daily!

Exercise 1: This is a simple drill on the high E string. Fret this string on the first fret with finger 1 of the left hand. Try to use the tip of your finger to fret the note. (You will build up calluses on the tips of your fingers.) With the right hand, play downstrokes with the pick with each click or beep of your metronome.

Repeat this exercise by playing upstrokes, again hitting the string on each metronome beat. Finally, play a repeating alternate picking pattern. You can gradually increase your metronome speed as you feel more comfortable. Since this exercise does not involve moving the left hand to fret different notes, try experimenting by using a different finger on a different fret to fret the E string, while you play the downstroke, upstroke, and alternate picking patterns with your right hand.

Exercise 2: This time, you will play the 3 right-hand picking patterns, but we will add left-hand finger movement. Start with finger 1 on first fret, and with each consecutive click of the metronome, place finger 2 on the second fret, then finger 3 on the third, then finger 4 on the fourth. Increase your metronome speed as you feel more comfortable. The goal is to coordinate the timing of the picking of the right hand with the fretting by the different fingers of the left hand.

Repetition is the Key

Practicing the guitar resembles, in some ways, practicing a sport. Just as baseball players have to develop the mechanical ability to throw and catch a ball through repeated drills, guitarists have to acquire the ability to sound the correct notes on their guitars through continual practicing. The trick is to develop technique through the repeated execution of guitar exercises that promote hand coordination and timing.

While there are many exercises that you can practice, it is important that you play them slowly and evenly at first, and then gradually build up speed. With regular and consistent practice, you will notice that as you gain greater control over your right and left hand picking and fretting technique, your speed of execution will increase. As your guitar technique improves, you will start being able to learn how to play the music that YOU enjoy and ultimately, achieve your guitar lesson goals and beyond!

DavidADavid A. teaches guitar, piano, singing, songwriting, and more in Goodyear, AZ. He has performed in numerous and varied musical situations, including with The University of Maryland Jazz Orchestra and the Pavement Chasers Tribute to Adele. He currently performs as a freelance keyboardist and guitarist in the Phoenix metro area.  Learn more about David here! 


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Photo by David Masters

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