When you’re learning how to play the guitar, it’s crucial to form good habits. If you can make correct guitar finger placement a regular part of your practice routine, you’ll soon find it comes second nature to you. Learning the right fingering technique and sticking with it early on is much easier than trying to correct bad habits later on!
Why is Correct Guitar Finger Placement Important?
Do you ever notice buzzing, muted notes, or muddy pitches when you’re playing guitar? All of these annoyances can be caused by poor finger placement.
Holding your hand and fingers in the right position helps you play notes clearly with a clean tone. It also helps you to maneuver your fingers faster, so changing chords and playing riffs gets that much easier.
Getting Started with Correct Placement
Before we get into more specifics about how to position your hands on the guitar, it’s important to know a bit of guitar terminology. For most right-handed guitarists, you will use your left hand to hold down the strings. Your left hand is often referred to as your “fretting hand”.
To make guitar notation simpler, the fingers on your left hand are numbered one through four, starting with your index finger. In the rare event that your thumb is required, it is notated with a capital letter T.
It’s a good idea to keep the fingernails on your fretting hand short so you can position your fingertips properly. Long nails will cause you to press more with the pads of your fingers than with your fingertips, which can result in a muffled sound and make it much harder for you to maneuver. For the best sound, keep your fingernails short enough that you are able to press down with the top of your fingertip without your nail making contact with the fretboard of your guitar.
Mastering Correct Guitar Finger Placement
Start by sitting with good posture and make a loose fist with your left hand with your palm facing up. Your thumb should be resting between your first and second fingers. Now, straighten your thumb and start to uncurl your fingers so your hand is almost making a C-shape. Your fretting hand should maintain this shape as you play guitar.
Keeping this shape with your hand, rest your thumb gently against the back of the neck of the guitar. Your thumb should stay straight and relaxed.
You should see wire inlays dividing the fingerboard of your guitar. These dividers are called frets and they indicate where you need to press your finger down to play a note. In order to play notes as cleanly as possible, press your finger tip down as close to the fret as you can without actually pressing on top of the fret.
When fretting a note, try to press down vertically, from the tip of your finger. This allows you to push down with greater force and prevents your finger from muffling other strings.
If you’re a beginner, it will take you some time to build up strength in your fingers. The skin on your fingertips will also be a bit sensitive until you develop callouses. The best way to build up strength and callouses is to just keep playing! Don’t be fooled into buying devices for hand strength!
As you’re practicing, you might get fatigued. Feel free to take breaks or practice for short sessions to start with. Also, notice if you’re tensing in other places besides your hands when you play. It’s very common to experience tension in your shoulders and neck because you are concentrating. After you play, do some gentle stretches to relax these muscles, and try to keep them as relaxed as possible when you play.
Practice Using All Four Fingers
Practice correct fingering and use all four fingers to play melody lines. Many beginners will try to play every note with just one finger. You’ll be able to play much more quickly and easily if you use all four fingers.
To practice playing with all four fingers, start with your hand in first position. First position means that your index finger is in line with the first fret. Now, playing any string you choose, hold a note on the first fret with your first finger. Play that note, then hold a note on the second fret with your second finger. Next, play the third fret with your third finger, and finally the fourth fret with your fourth finger. Practice playing from one to four and back down, moving one fret and one finger at a time.
Your hands might get tired quickly and it’s okay to take breaks! The most important part of practicing with this exercise is to build up your strength slowly. Your fourth finger, or pinkie, is usually the weakest finger. You can angle your hand slightly toward your pinkie as you use that finger to fret notes. This gives you a little more leverage.
Avoid These Common Mistakes
Don’t clench up your hand, “choking” the neck of your guitar. Let your thumb rest in a relaxed manner and make sure there is some arch to your fretting fingers.
Don’t rely too much on your vision to help you play. Close your eyes and pay attention to what good guitar technique feels like in your fretting hand. Knowing the feel of good technique will help you maintain good guitar finger placement even when you are focused on other things.
Don’t try to play too fast! As you’re getting started, give yourself permission to go slow. Often, when you’re rushing, you’ll forget to use good technique. It’s far better to go a little slower and play the right way than it is to rush yourself and develop bad habits.