How To Fix Fretting Hand Guitar Technique Problems And Play Guitar Fast
by Tom Hess
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Then you better make your fretting hand guitar technique as efficient as possible.
Because an efficient fretting hand position allows you to move less when you play guitar.
And efficiency = speed.
But what can you do if you have a lot of fretting hand guitar technique problems?
How do you find the correct fretting hand position for playing guitar fast?
And how do you develop proper fretting hand guitar technique that makes playing guitar fast feel easy?
That’s what this fretting hand guitar technique article is all about.
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Now that you know how to develop an efficient left-hand position for guitar…
… here are a few more fretting hand guitar technique secrets that make it easy to play guitar fast.
Fretting Hand Position Tip #1 For Playing Guitar Fast: Think In Principle While You Practice Guitar. Here Is How:
The best way to find the correct fretting hand position for playing guitar fast is to… not think about your left-hand position or fretting hand guitar technique at all.
“What? How can that be?” I hear you ask. How is it possible to not think about your fretting hand position when trying to solve your fretting hand guitar technique problems?
Answer: Easy. Think instead about the bigger picture of what goes into playing guitar fast.
Things like: the principles of economy of motion, efficiency and tension control.
These principles dictate the details of what should happen in your fretting hand position.
Watch this video where I explain exactly what it means to think in principle when you practice guitar and work on being able to play guitar fast:
Question: “Tom Hess, does this argument apply only to fixing your fretting hand guitar technique problems?”
Answer: No, of course not. It applies to all areas of your guitar technique, guitar playing and musical skills.
For example: thinking in principle allowed me to settle on using directional picking in my lead guitar playing.
If you don’t know, directional picking means: pick in the direction of where the next note is. So, when you are playing on a single string, you use strict alternate picking. And when you do an ascending string change (in pitch), you always make it with a downstroke. When you do a descending string change, you always make it with an upstroke. (This is done to move the pick in the most direct path to each note.)
Directional picking is consistent with the larger principle of efficiency. Just like the elements of left-hand position I laid out in the video at the top of this page are also consistent with the principle of efficiency.
This way of thinking enables me to always know the correct fretting hand position for playing guitar fast (in any situation). And that is how I help my guitar students to find the correct fretting hand position for playing guitar fast as well.
Fretting Hand Position Tip #2 For Playing Guitar Fast: Fix Your Thumb Position. Here Is How:
Most fretting hand guitar technique problems can be traced back to poor thumb placement. That’s because poor thumb placement often causes inefficient (or tense) fretting hand position.
And there are 4 common mistakes guitar players make in their thumb positioning that create an inefficient left hand position and get in the way of playing guitar fast.
Mistake #1: Playing with your thumb wrapped around the guitar neck all the time.
How does this hurt your fretting hand position when you play guitar fast?
Simple: if your thumb is wrapped around the guitar neck, your fretting hand position makes it impossible to spread your fingers when you play scales and guitar licks. (Especially 3-note-per-string scales and scale sequences that you’ll often be playing when you are playing guitar fast.)
The solution? Slide the thumb down, so it is in the center of the guitar neck (along the imaginary line from the 6th string to the 1st string). This allows your fretting hand to open up and make it easier to stretch your fingers to play guitar fast.
Watch this video to see what this looks like:
Mistake #2: Never bringing the thumb over the neck.
This is the opposite of the above problem. And while it doesn't necessarily impact your ability to play guitar fast, this left-hand position does make it harder to bend strings (and do vibrato) in tune.
And that means: your guitar playing never sounds as good as it could (and should) sound – even if you are able to play guitar fast.
You want to wrap your thumb around the neck of the guitar when you are bending guitar strings and doing vibrato. This gives you a lot more control over those phrasing techniques and makes your guitar playing sound better.
It looks like this:
And after you are done bending the string (or doing vibrato), bring your thumb back behind the guitar neck to get in the left-hand position that’s ideal for playing guitar fast.
Tip: as you practice guitar licks, plan out the ideal thumb position changes (and other details of your fretting hand position). Then, once you settle on the ideal fretting hand guitar technique for a certain lick – practice it over and over to burn it into your muscle memory.
Question: “But Tom Hess, changing the thumb position over and over in my fretting hand guitar technique seems to violate the principle of efficiency you described earlier. Isn’t there a better (single) fretting hand position that works for everything?”
Answer: No. The efficiency principle (as it relates to fretting hand guitar technique) doesn't mean there is only 1 proper fretting hand position. It means: you want to uncover the optimal hand position for whatever you are playing on guitar. Then, you need to practice getting into those positions as you work on playing guitar fast (or as you work on reaching some other goal).
Mistake #3: Having your thumb point towards the tuning pegs.
This thumb position also causes a number of fretting hand guitar technique problems that are similar to mistake #1. When your thumb is in that position, stretching (and playing guitar fast) is very difficult.
But the solution is the same as it is for mistake #1. Simply move the thumb to point upwards towards the ceiling (and have it aligned roughly with the middle finger of your fretting hand). This simple left-hand position adjustment will solve many of the fretting hand guitar technique problems right away.
Question: “But Tom Hess, it’s very hard to keep this fretting hand position you describe on the higher frets! Should my thumb still be behind the middle finger when playing past fret 15 on guitar?”
Answer: No. When you play on the higher frets, the thumb position is slightly less important. (On the highest frets, you can get away with not having textbook thumb position and still play guitar fast without any fretting hand guitar technique problems.) That said, when you want to play guitar fast on frets 1-12, your thumb placement affects your fretting hand position (and ability to play guitar fast) a great deal.
Mistake #4: Not using the thumb at all.
This one is a bit odd. But yes, some guitar players manage to play guitar without using their thumb for support.
Needless to say, this causes all kinds of fretting hand guitar technique problems. The biggest of which is: excess muscle tension (from having to squeeze the strings with more force than necessary). And that tension kills your fretting hand guitar technique and makes playing guitar fast nearly impossible.
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Flailing fingers are, without a doubt, the most frustrating of all fretting hand guitar technique problems.
And they can affect you, even if your fretting hand position is generally good.
The problem with flailing fingers is: they make your fretting hand guitar technique very inefficient, thus making it nearly impossible to ever play guitar fast.
This happens for 2 reasons:
1. Your fingers have to travel further to return to the strings after each note. This inefficiency in your fretting hand guitar technique makes you work harder to play the same notes.
2. Because flailing fingers have to move more to fret notes, there is a much greater chance of wrong notes, muted notes or buzzing notes or other fretting hand guitar technique problems.
What causes this fretting hand guitar technique issue (flailing fingers)?
The answer could be many things, but the main one is excess muscle tension throughout your body.
If all you did was relax excess tension, you’d instantly get better fretting hand guitar technique, even if you did nothing else to improve your left-hand position.
There is a simple technique for controlling excess tension in your fretting hand guitar technique (and the rest of your body).
It’s called “tension audit”.
And it works like this:
As you play any note, run through your entire body (but especially focus on your fretting hand position) and check for tension everywhere.
The most obvious body parts to relax are your fingers. That’s the only way to get them to stop flailing and come down closer to the strings.
(One easy way to check for finger independence is to feel your fretting hand fingers with your picking hand. If you can wiggle your fingers – it means your fretting hand guitar technique is quite relaxed and your flailing fingers are coming under your control.)
But that’s not all.
You also need to relax: your jaw, your neck, your shoulders, biceps.
If you do this, in combination with the other adjustments I described in this article, you’ll have a much easier time fixing flailing fingers (and any other fretting hand guitar technique problems) caused by faulty fretting hand position.
Watch this video to learn even more about how to fix flailing fingers (and master fretting hand guitar technique):
Fretting Hand Position Tip #4 For Playing Guitar Fast: Work On Hand Independence. Here Is How:
After you find a proper left-hand position (that helps you achieve very efficient fretting hand guitar technique)…
… the next step to playing guitar fast is to work on hand independence.
What’s “hand independence”?
It’s your ability to keep your fretting hand relaxed, no matter how hard you are picking the notes.
This skill combined with all the fretting hand position tips throughout this article is going allow you to play guitar fast with very little effort.
Here is how you can train it:
Step 1: Get in a proper fretting hand position to play notes (described throughout this fretting hand guitar technique article) and fret 1 note.
Step 2: Start doing tremolo picking on that note, picking very softly. The goal is to keep your fretting hand position (and levels of tension) intact.
Step 3: Start gradually doing tremolo picking louder (without playing faster). Keep your fretting hand position (and levels of tension) intact.
Step 4: Start gradually doing tremolo picking softer (without playing slower). Keep your fretting hand position (and levels of tension) intact.
Go back and forth between soft and aggressive picking hand tremolo (all the while keeping your fretting hand relaxed). This is a great drill for training your fretting hand guitar technique.
Fretting Hand Position Tip #5 For Playing Guitar Fast: Work On 2-Hand Synchronization. Here Is How:
It may seem odd to talk about 2-hand synchronization in an article about fretting hand guitar technique and fretting hand guitar technique problems. But I'm including this point here, because…
… fretting hand technique and speed in isolation means nothing (even with the best fretting hand position) if your 2 hands aren’t in sync.
So, on top of implementing all the left-hand position tips throughout this article, also schedule time to practice 2-hand synchronization (while paying attention to the fretting hand guitar technique tips that make your playing feel easy).
Now that you know how to fix your fretting hand guitar technique problems, the next step is to master all the other elements that go into playing guitar fast. I show you how in my free eGuide called: “Double Your Guitar Speed While Cutting Your Practice Time In Half”. Download your copy today and discover the secrets of playing guitar fast most guitarists never know.
About Tom Hess: Tom Hess is a guitar teacher, music career mentor and guitar teacher trainer. He teaches rock guitar lessons online to students from all over the world and conducts instructional live guitar training events attended by musicians from over 50 countries.Master your guitar playing by studying with the best online electric guitar tutor.
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