left hand position

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tarrega_fan

left hand position

Postby tarrega_fan » Thu Jan 10, 2013 8:00 am

Hello to all classical guitar lovers
well here is my problem; i have been playing guitar for two and a half years now and i somehow feel something is wrong about my left hand position.
So this is what i learnt about left hand position
1)the wrist should be aligned straight enough that you could put a ruler on it
2) the thumb should always be positioned at the center of the palm of the hand and move accordingly along the fretboard while the hand moves
3) the fingertips should form an angle of 90 degrees while hitting the strings like a hammer hitting a nail

Can anyone correct me if i was taught wrong and i find it very difficult to keep applying these techniques while playing especially the third technique!!

Frank Nordberg

Re: left hand position

Postby Frank Nordberg » Thu Jan 10, 2013 10:32 am

tarrega_fan wrote:1)the wrist should be aligned straight enough that you could put a ruler on it


Definitely not. At least it is not an absolute rule and for most people it's better to bend the wrist very slightly inwards. What really matters is that your wrist is relaxed and that your hand is positioned in a way that gives the fingers space to move whilst keeping them in contact with the strings.

tarrega_fan wrote:2) the thumb should always be positioned at the center of the palm of the hand and move accordingly along the fretboard while the hand moves


Ummmm... Welllll.... There is something to that rule but it's not strictly speaking correct. You see, the problem is that many learners tend to stretch their thumb out towards the guitar's head. The center-of-the-palm rule is an attempt to fix that but unfortunately it's taking it too far. For most people the natural thumb position is somewhere between the index and middle finger but it depends on exactly how your hands are built. Here's a very, very simple test:
Pick up a pencil. Hold it lightly between the fingertips of all your left hand fingers. Take a look at it. This is the perfect left hand position for you! (Edit: or perhaps not quite - see the posts below)

As for moving the thumb along when you move the hand, that's literally true but I think it can be a bit misleading sometimes. The point is that the whole hand including the thumb should move as a single unit when you change position. There shouldn't really be any need for or reason to give the thumb any special attention during position changes. What usually happens when people take the move-all-finger-together rule too literally is that their hand tenses up and tension is the enemy of all good technique.

tarrega_fan wrote:3) the fingertips should form an angle of 90 degrees while hitting the strings like a hammer hitting a nail


Yes, although there's no need to be frantic about it. The point is that the fingers should work downwards onto the fingerboard, not from the side of it. The default left hand position (apart from what I've already mentioned) is:
1 ) Palm of hand well away from and more or less parallel to the neck.
2 ) Fingertips almost but not quite touching the strings when the finger are bent in a natural and relaxed way.
But please note that I said default position not a position you should lock your hand into.
Last edited by Frank Nordberg on Sun Jan 20, 2013 2:05 am, edited 1 time in total.

tarrega_fan

Re: left hand position

Postby tarrega_fan » Thu Jan 10, 2013 9:41 pm

Your advice is much appreciated!!! thx :)

Frank Nordberg

Re: left hand position

Postby Frank Nordberg » Thu Jan 10, 2013 10:17 pm

You're welcome! :)

SAB

Re: left hand position

Postby SAB » Thu Jan 10, 2013 11:18 pm

This video should answer your questions, I find it to be excellent advice

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5KydzlD2 ... _Q&index=1

Sab

Frank Nordberg

Re: left hand position

Postby Frank Nordberg » Thu Jan 10, 2013 11:55 pm

SAB wrote:This video should answer your questions, I find it to be excellent advice


That's a great video, thanks!

One detail that surprises me though is that Kevin Gallagher says most guitar students tend to bend their wrist too far downwards. In my experience the opposite problem is far more common. Nearly all my pupils tend to bend their wrists upwards, locking their entire hand onto the guitar. Both mistakes are equally bad of course. I'd love to hear what experiences other teachers have with this.

Perhaps I wash to harsh on that wrist-straight-as-a-ruler rule. It's not literally correct - the wrist angle depends on what you play and the players exact physiology and under no circumstances should the wrist be locked in one position - but it's certainly closer to the target than both the extremely bent wrists Gallagher warns about and those I've experienced with my pupils.

Come to think of it, the warning against holding your thumb too low was a also little surprising for the same reason. He's absolutely right but it's the exact opposite of the problem I usually encounter.

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Pat Ross
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Re: left hand position

Postby Pat Ross » Fri Jan 11, 2013 6:25 pm

Thank you for addressing this topic so well.

Much Appreciated,

Pat
La Patrie Collection/LaBella 2001 Extra Hard Tension

~ You don't have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body ~
C.S. Lewis

Pat Patterson

Re: left hand position

Postby Pat Patterson » Sat Jan 19, 2013 3:06 am

(1)Probably Not. You might be so rigid that you will not be able to function. If it is comfortable and natural to play with your wrist that straight, then by all means play that way. Most people are more relaxed with some degree of bend. You have to find this amount of bend yourself through experience.
(2)I dont know what you mean here, but again the hand must feel relaxed. Never force the thumb to be in a place where you feel discomfort just to satisfy someone's imagined technical requirement. By the way, my thumb is almost always even with my index finger. This may or may not be where your should be. Again you have to discover this out for yourself.
(3)This actually is a good idea. Playing with the fingers mostly perpendicular to the fingerboard is the most relaxed hand position. Its all about the left hand being relaxed. But again, dont be fanatical about this, just adhere to the general principal, and relax.

The point is that you must eliminate tension in the left hand. Tension in the left hand comes out in the music in a very bad way. I hope it doesnt take you 25 years to learn this, like it did me.

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Larry McDonald
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Re: left hand position

Postby Larry McDonald » Sat Jan 19, 2013 5:24 pm

Hi Tarrega Fan,

I agree with moth that has been said here, some very good advice. Let me give you another perspective, which most are tired of me championing on this forum.

1) Yes, the wrist is generally straight, as Kevin G. shows in his excellent video. But as Frank N. says, it should be "gently flexible " when it needs to do so.
3) Yes, the fingers deliver more force when the tips are perpendicular to the strings. It is generally not possible to do this all the time, though, but extreme angles to the string should be avoided.

2) This is where I must disagree with most teachers. My apologies to everyone I'm about to offend. For beginners, the thumb should be behind or to the left of the first finger (or behind the first fret). This thumb position is a companion to the 4th finger approach (which is the practice of using the 4th finger on the 3rd fret of the treble strings, again, for beginners.)

In the video at 9:46, when Kevin is demonstrating poor technique, you can just see the thumb has moved into the palm, behind the second finger/fret. When Kevin demonstrates proper technique at 11:56, you can see that the thumb is behind the first fret. Kevin, like Sor, is teaching the 4th finger approach.

Here is a more detailed explanation from my site.
http://larrymcdonaldguitar.com/instruct ... sample.pdf

After using it for several years, I came to believe that the pencil demonstration is not a valid analogy since you need to have at least two fingers and the thumb to make it work, 3 points of force shaped in a triangle. In guitar playing, one of those points is the counter-force from the right arm, which is way, way to the right. So, only one finger needs to be "on the top pencil", and the thumb can assume a more natural position to the left, supplying much less force.

If you use the "'older' third finger approach", then the thumb needs to move into the palm.

All the best,
Larry
[editied for spelling, twice!]
Dr. Lawrence A. McDonald, D.M.A., Art Kaplan Fellow
Author of The Conservatory Tutor for Guitar
2008 Michael Thames Cd/Br
Royal Conservatory Advanced Guitar Instructor
Royal Conservatory Advanced Theory Instructor

Frank Nordberg

Re: left hand position

Postby Frank Nordberg » Sat Jan 19, 2013 5:59 pm

Larry McDonald wrote:My apologies to everyone I'm about to offend.


I can't speak for the other guitar teachers who have replied here but it takes a lot more than this to offende me. :)

I love chatting with the people here and I love helping guitar students figure out how to play (that's why I'm a guitar teacher in the first place) but in the end, my justification for all the time I spend on this message board is that I know that I still have (and will always have) a lot to learn myself. Such as:

Larry McDonald wrote:After using it for several years, I came to believe that the pencil demonstration is not a valid analogy


I guess I was wrong there. I made the mistake of repeating an old "truth" without doing a reality check. I still think it is valid in that it can help visualize many aspects of a good left hand position but yes, you can't transfer that hand position directly onto the guitar neck. It's close but not exactly correct.

Larry McDonald wrote:If you use the "'older' third finger approach"


I know this is nitpicking but I think it's the third finger approach that is the old one. It was used by lutenists as far back as the 16th century.

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Larry McDonald
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Re: left hand position

Postby Larry McDonald » Sat Jan 19, 2013 6:06 pm

Frank Nordberg wrote:
Larry McDonald wrote:
If you use the "'older' third finger approach"


I know this is nitpicking but I think it's the third finger approach that is the old one. It was used by lutenists as far back as the 16th century.


Nit picky? Hardly, the understanding is in the details. I'll have to do more research.
See? We can all learn something here, especially me!
Thanks Frank.
Lare
PS. My family is from the Lofoten Islands.
Dr. Lawrence A. McDonald, D.M.A., Art Kaplan Fellow
Author of The Conservatory Tutor for Guitar
2008 Michael Thames Cd/Br
Royal Conservatory Advanced Guitar Instructor
Royal Conservatory Advanced Theory Instructor

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robin loops
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Re: left hand position

Postby robin loops » Sat Jan 19, 2013 6:28 pm

About the pencil test: A better one is to use a tennis ball (provided you have average size hands it is the perfect size for natural curvature to the fingers. (of course the thumb will be closer to the fingers but for the overall narual curvature of the wrist/hand/fingers when held lightly out in fron of you.
One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them.
-James-

Frank Nordberg

Re: left hand position

Postby Frank Nordberg » Sat Jan 19, 2013 7:58 pm

Larry McDonald wrote:Nit picky? Hardly, the understanding is in the details. I'll have to do more research.


What I can tell you for certain is that Besard recommended using the fourth finger on the third fret of the two highest courses. His instructions were translated into English by John Dowland and published under Robert Dowland's name so obviously those two great lutenists must have agreed. Not sure if anybody used strict one-finger-per-fret positions earlier than that though.

Have to admit I've never paid that much attention to that particular aspect. My students starts on the 5th string and by the time they get to the high d, they're already quite experienced in position playing so I usually let them choose whatever system feels the most natural to them. They have to learn both ways eventually so it's only a question of which one to learn first. Hmmm... come to think of it, it may be harder for those who learn the third-finger system first to switch between the two later. Need to do some thinking and a little bit of research there.

Larry McDonald wrote:My family is from the Lofoten Islands.


Really? That's just across the fjord from where I live!

Beatriz Martin

Re: left hand position

Postby Beatriz Martin » Tue Aug 13, 2013 11:29 pm

I needed some information on the left hand position, that was great video from Gallagher and interesting experiences about finger positions that the teachers shared.
So, I have been working on putting my wrist straight, curling my fingers and hitting at 90 degree angle, it won't be an easy task at all. I was on my way to carpal tunnel.
Now I wonder about how what direction to point elbow, I think you have to keep it pointing to the floor, is this right?

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robin loops
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Re: left hand position

Postby robin loops » Wed Aug 14, 2013 6:48 pm

For the elbow make sure that it is out away from the body and kind of out in front of you with the forearm more vertical as opposed to pulled behind with the forearm almost horizontal. The tendency we want to avoid is pulling it way in close to your side and too far back back (behind the neck away from the guitar).

First play around with holding some barre chords and move your elbow towards the body (to the right). At some point you will feel a lot of tension in the hand. Now move elbow out away from the body (to the left) and at some point it will cause tension again. Somewhere in the middle is the 'sweet spot'. Now move a barre chord around in different positions and notice that the optimal angle of the elbow (where it feels most comfortable and has most strength) changes. Do the same thing with forward and back position and find the sweet spot for different playing positions (lower frets, higher frets, etc.). I usually try to pay close attentionto this during my daily warmup because slightly different sitting positions will change it slightly so it also helps me find my sweet sitting position as well.

Edit: Also note how when you move your elbow forward the barre finger naturally straightens out and requires much less pressure to hold the strings down firmly and frees up the tension in the other fingers..

A big part of positions is that they are all dynamic, meaning that they are constantly changing. There's something of an 'ergonomic balance' between all the parts of the body and as the fingers move around the fretboard tiny modifications to them are needed to retain the balance. So rather than point the elbow at the floor (or any given spot) think about pointing the elbow exactly where it needs to be at any given moment to provide the most strength with the least amount of effort needed in that given moment. So in summary keep it out and forward, and make adjustments to keep the perfect ergonomic balance between it and other positions.

A rather unrelated thing: when we tune strings sometimes we go up past the pitch and back down back and forth a little to find the point in the middle where we settle on in tune. Or the same when setting hte levels on our surround sound system. You go up and down a little find the 'edges' of too loud and too low and settle in the middle...

Try experimenting with things, like pointing the elbow in all different directions as you hold a barre chord (for example). Don't be afraid to exaggerate the movements to the extreme point of 'looking goofy'. Find the ranges that work well and become familiar with the sweet spots. Observe what changes/adjustments are helpful when playing in different positions or doing various types of stretches, or that one really difficult barre chord, etc. Then when actually practicing your pieces, incorporate the same experimentation more subtly (as well as the what you've already discovered from doing this) to refine your technique. Studies are really good for this kind of work because you don't have to think so much about what notes to play next as they are somewhat repetitive and use similar structures, positions, changes, etc.
One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them.
-James-


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