Guitar technique Part One

The left hand.

An often misunderstood area of guitar technique is the correct functioning of the left hand. Left hand thumb position is the most important aspect of left hand technique.

Let us start with the open position. Most rudimentary guitar work is usually in the open position.

Firstly place your left hand thumb behind the second fret in the middle of the neck on a 45 degree angle (ie the thumb tilted slightly towards the headstock) A common mistake is to place the fingers on the strings first and then place the thumb in position. ALWAYS place the thumb in position BEFORE you place the fingers on the strings.

The thumb should not be bent or sitting on top of the neck (unless you are string bending blues or rock lead licks)

The wrist should be slightly arched in a natural and comfortable position. Fingers should be placed on the strings on their tips (not too close to the fingernail -but half way down the finger tip) Observe Maryanne (pictured above) who has superb left hand technique.

When playing on any string at each fret (ascending pattern) eg we leave each successive finger pressed down – Never release your fingers until we change strings – of course, these rules do not apply to descending patterns.

Please feel free to leave comments or questions in the space provided. I am always happy to hear from anyone on any matter.


Brendan Hains


8 Responses

  • Jayden Genuis 12 Aug 15 @ 8:17 AM Reply

    Left hand technique in my opinion is crucial to developing any kind of speed and accuracy on the guitar, many times I find students struggle with keeping fingers on the tips, but also how hard you need to press onto the fretboard, beginners tend to press harder than they should when it comes to warm ups, scales, chords etc. Particularly students striving to learn complicated solos or aiming to build speed, I find left hand fingering is very important and keeping a finger ready for each fret as apposed to using a finger that is nowhere near the fret being played. I always make sure my students use correct tension and fingering when playing most things on guitar, you just might find it makes all the difference when it comes to nailing that tricky section in a song.

  • Brendan Hains 17 Aug 15 @ 3:57 AM Reply

    Using the minimum amount of left hand finger pressure to sound notes is essential to achieving even moderate levels of dexterity.

    • Brendan Hains 17 Aug 15 @ 4:10 AM Reply

      Varying amounts of finger pressure should be experimented with for vibrato, pitch bending and sustaining notes.

  • Michael V 26 Aug 15 @ 2:44 AM Reply

    Good points by all. Developing solid technique in both our left and right hands is extremely important. Another area which is less often talked about but also requires ongoing attention is the coordination and balance between our two hands. This can be tricky as both hands have completely different physical roles and bringing certain musical phrases to life often can mean one hand doing ‘heavier’ work than the other. Coordinating our hands while making sure they retain independence in their own roles requires daily attention and can sometimes be as elusive as developing sound technique in each hand by itself. It can make a world of difference when it comes to timing, quality of sound and bringing a phrase to life. These are all issues that many guitarists (myself included!) seem to struggle with a lot of the time.

    • GTM 31 Aug 15 @ 5:19 AM Reply

      Very good points Michael. It takes a lot of work and patience to obtain good synchronization between the hands.

  • Cristian 06 Sep 15 @ 11:51 AM Reply

    Left hand pressure is so vital. Something I realised not that long ago is that practising unplugged on an electric guitar can potentially be a very bad habit. I realised I was using more tension to try and hear myself more (even though I know left hand has nothing to do with volume). I guess I was using more pressure in my left hand because I was using more pressure in my right hand as well. It occured to me that this technique has been making its way into my playing when plugged in too. These days I make sure I stop being lazy and plug in!

    • GTM 07 Sep 15 @ 4:30 AM Reply

      Very interesting Cristian. We should always “train how we play”
      Thanks for your comment, after hearing some of your latest playing, it is clear that something is working for you!

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