What’s the deal with guitar technique anyway? Guitar teacher Alexander A. explains a few of the fundamentals and why they are so important…
If your teacher is cracking the whip every lesson because your hands aren’t in the proper position you may be asking yourself, “Does my guitar teacher hate me?” The answer is “no” – at least, I certainly hope not! More than likely, your teacher is trying to make you a better player by guiding you to play with good technique.
We’ll be looking at effective techniques to use for guitar and bass players, though these principals apply to most other instruments as well. Before we get into specifics, let’s talk about what we’re looking for and why.
In case you haven’t noticed yet, playing music can be very physically demanding. Guitar and bass players face this demand with our hands, as this is our primary interface with the instrument. Ever play barre chords on guitar or an F# major scale on the low end of the bass? These tasks are challenging and require a great deal of power to accomplish. Much like in martial arts, power is not achieved with brute force but by taking every advantage we can find to deliver the most power with the least effort. This isn’t laziness; it’s a fundamental necessity of our instruments.
Like they say in Spiderman, “with great power comes great responsibility.” I think Spiderman must be a rock star. But it’s true! All that power that you’ve harnessed will go to waste if you don’t have proper control over your strings. Among other things, this means letting them ring when they need to and being able to mute them when they need to be silent
Going green isn’t just for electric cars and paperless billing. Guitar players need to conserve our energy as well. Almost all players will push the limits of their physical stamina at one time or another, so it’s important to make every action count. Work with your hands, not against them.
Here are some simple guitar technique guidelines for guitar and bass players. These just cover the basics, so be sure to ask your guitar teacher about progressing your technique by using more advanced methods when you’re ready.
1) Fingers on the string
When holding down a single note using the second, third, or fourth fingers practice using your other fingers to hold down lower notes at the same time to build strength. For example, if you play a C on the A-string with the second finger (third fret), the first finger should be holding down the note B at the same time (second fret). If you reach for the D above the C with the fourth finger (fifth fret), you should have all four fingers holding down the string. (Of course, guitarists will need to abandon this technique when playing chords.)
By letting more than one finger do the work we are conserving energy and maintaining control over the string. If you are a new player (or just have some old habits to break) this technique will feel strange for a little while, but if you use it consistently you should be forming good habits within a few weeks. Before you know it you will have more power in your fingers; it will feel strange not to have all your fingers on the strings. Just stick with it!
2) Stay close
We can further conserve energy and maintain control by keeping fingers close to the fretboard when not in use. Let your fingers “hover” over the strings just high enough to let them ring, but low enough to be ready for action! Reach for the stars with your music, not your fingers.
3) No negative angles
We need to always have our finger joints at positive angles, curved as if holding a ball. One of the greatest losses of power for new players often occurs in the last joint in each finger – the one by the fingernail. They should never be bent backwards as this greatly diminishes your strength.
4) Maintain your reach
Always maintain a reach covering three or four frets. If you play B-C-D on the A-string (in that order, one note at a time) your first finger should still be reaching the B (second fret) as your fourth finger plays D (fifth fret). By maintaining this reach and not letting the first finger “scrunch up” against the others we keep control over four frets of the instrument and conserve energy by keeping our fingers stationary.
Energy, power, and control are all intertwined. What’s good for one is good for the rest. Let these pillars of success be your focus as you move forward with your guitar technique.
Now, let’s rock!
If you want to learn more about guitar technique, or get help correcting some bad guitar habits you’ve picked up, nothing beats taking lessons with a private guitar instructor. Search for your guitar teacher now!
Alexander A. teaches guitar, bass guitar, ukulele, upright bass, and music theory in Tacoma, WA. He earned his bachelor’s degree at Berklee College of Music in bass performance and composition. Alexander offers lessons in-person as well as online via Skype. Learn more about Alexander.
Photo by Daniel Hoherd