Hello everyone,

I've been trying to practise the guitar in my free time. I'm not in a hurry to "learn to shred" or anything of that sort, and got quite excited about finding a whole plethora of dexterity exercises that might bore other beginners. I'm just a sucker for that kind of task. I mention this because I am trying to be sure I am not doing my left-hand technique a disservice. The wrist pain and thumb-metacarpal seems to suggest something I'm doing is a bite off. So I've been reading a lot on literature and watching videos the best I can on proper left hand positions. Here's some points I seem to have noticed:
  • Generally best to keep elbow not clung to the body.
  • Keep the thumb on its pad, about halfway up the neck or so. 
  • Fingers often suggested to be perpendicular to the strings, with some angling on the 1st & 4th finger occurring if using all at the same time. 
  • Keep the forearm-wrist line more or less straight, and use the fingers to curl to the strings. That is, don't hook the wrist like a preying mantis. 

On the bottom strings (e.g., strings 1,2,3) these are often not a problem and if I'm conscientious I can do most of the above without too much stress or frustration and pain. However, once I try to use all four fingers on the 2nd string (mostly upon applying the 4th finger) and the 1st string (3rd and 4th finger) my wrist automatically goes into this bent/preying-mantis shape that strains the wrist. 

If I try to pull the wrist up to bring it into a straight line with the fore-arm again, then the neck of the guitar is definitely wanting to contact the pad of my 1st finger metacarpal (pad of the palm, before the finger begins, I'm trying to describe) or the whole palm. 

TL;DR -- It seems like my fingers cannot reach the top/6th E string without hooking into the preying mantis shape, and when I try to fix it by bringing the wrist out of that swan-neck shape, my palm is in contact with the neck of the guitar and I can no longer reach each of the four frets. My spread is limited to like fret 2 & 3, with the index and pinky finger straining but not able to reach 1st/4th fret with that straight wrist and palm contact.

Is this to be expected? Is it typical for the 5th and 6th strings, when engaging all four fingers, to practically require the hook-hand to obtain the stretch to reach around the neck like that? I'm very confused on how others' anatomy seems to accomplish this without any strain.

Hopefully this wasn't too confusing. I know this is a common issue and there seem to be many resources on it, but so far nothing I can find can address my particular combination. 

Sling your guitar high and out to your left so your picking hand is over your navel. This will put the neck out where reaching it with the left hand provides the best geometry and mechanics. It will help do this if you run your guitar strap so that it comes over the corner of your shoulder.

Between playing from fret 1 to fret 15 the elbow will go from being away from the body to coming close to the body and the angle of the forearm to the neck will progress from 45 to 90 degrees. If you keep the wrist straight with the forearm, the fingers' angles to the frets will stay the same - straight across parallel to the frets, not angled up the neck.

Here is a simple test to put this all together:

- sit and set the guitar on your left leg
- put your left hand at first position as if to play the cowboy chord C7 using all four fingers
- don't play the chord, but slowly slide your hand up to beyond the 12th fret and then back down a few times

Look at what happens to:

- your elbow distance from your body
- your forearm angle to the neck
- the wrist angle to the forearm
- the orientation of the hand to the neck
- the direction of the fingers to the frets

You should notice a progression...

- big change in elbow distance
- moderate change in forearm angle to the neck
- minor change in wrist-forearm angle
- minuscule change in the orientation of the hand to the neck
- no change in the direction of the fingers to the frets

Try this and see if it helps.
Quote by reverb66
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PlusPaul Thank you for the reply! I have been practising almost exclusively sitting down since I currently lack a belt/strap, and have been using my right leg, but have indeed read a few people suggest the left leg for the same reasons.  Just wasn't sure if it was applicable or something wonky I'd regret later, so I was toying with it, but not sold yet. So, I did the exercise you outline above, somewhat speedily just to give my first impressions (I'll continue practising this way to see what I feel and experience as I go), and I did feel and experience most of what you outlined. That chord gave me no problems or strain. And I was able to keep my wrist relatively straight (or at least straight enough that I witnessed no pain and any strain was due to my fingers still gaining strength and callouses as I am a new player). 

So then I went to try to do the same dexterity exercises I've been doing where I use fingers 1-4 to press down frets 1 through 4 in order, keeping fingers down as I apply the next one-- first on the 1st string, then the 2nd, etc. I noticed with the guitar on my left leg (and that left foot propped up flat about 6-10 inches) and  guitar highly angled upward) it was substantially easier, but some urge/necessity to hook that hand on that sixth string, with all four fingers. So, being a scientist, I started to play around and discovered the following:

  • I can play the same without popping that left foot up, but then I must lean forward-- perhaps to stabilise the guitar against my body.
  • Playing any of the above, on my left leg, with only three of the four fingers seems to provide a straight enough wrist. Adding the fourth is when the wrist-bending seems to occur. 
  • Using the left-leg technique and playing "over my navel", etc seems to potentially have allowed me to switch from the crazy-painful 90-degree preying-mantis hook-hand of death to a more-relaxed version that is about at 120-degrees wrist-forearm relative on the sixth-string. This seems more tolerable, although I'm interested in seeing if I might be able to play with the left-leg positioning in a way that will let me bring it closer to the straight 180-degrees +/- 10-30 if this is possible. I watch videos of other plays and they seem to also have to lose their straight wrist-forearm character with using their 4th finger on that sixth string though, so I wonder how much I need to actually worry about this.
  • I can seem to play the Gmaj chord fine (again, apart from stamina/callouses) on left leg. 

So, your recommendations seem to have helped quite a bit in general playability. I'm going to have to look into the angling of the guitar neck relative to my back/vertical body/ how low I let the body sink, lest I soon realise I'm playing the "upright acoustic guitar", hehe. 

Thanks for your advice and practise exercise. I will keep using it and try to be very aware of how everything is lining up on me. Very interesting!

Your upper body should be relaxed.  Elbow neither pressed in nor stuck out (espcially not stuck out).

Fretting hand position;  depends how far up the neck you are.  Also depends whether you have your palm effectively grasping the neck, with thumb over the top (which shouldn't happen unless bending or applying vibrato.  If your thumb is like this, then its easy to reach the bass strings without bending your wrist (depending on how high the guitar is slung).  But for scales, legato, your thumb should be behind the neck.  Away from the guitar, place the back of your hand on a table top, and then bring your finger and thumb loosely together (don't make a fist), with your thumb touching the tips of the 2nd and 3rd fingers.  When you have a guitar in hand, experiment with the angle of your hand, from where the fingers are parallel to the frets, to angled,   Regardless look at where your 2nd and  3rd fingers are, and your thumb tip/pad should be roughly in line between the two.  Experiment with how far either side (or in the middle) of the neck to place your thumb.  As you play bass strings your thumb should move away from the neck edge towards the middle of the neck.  As you play treble stings, your thumb moves back towards the bass string edge.  The exact positioning really depends up how comfy it feels, and how your fingers can get a little more energy going into pull-offs and hammer-ons  (pull-offs especially).  As you move horizontally along the neck to various positions, keep your thumb lined up as above, relative to wherever your hand is.  Don't play with your thumb pointing horizontally towards the headstock.

As for angle of fingers onto strings ... try and use finger tips rather than pads, so your fingers will curl to do this. Some can do this just with the top joint; others using top and middle joints.  Aim for as near to the fret as possible ... less effort needed to cause the string to contact the fret, compared to pressing down further back.

This really is a very personal thing ... bodies are different.
jerrykramskoy Thanks mate, for the reply. I tend to do what you said correctly for the mooost part, heh. I don't wrap my thumb over the top of the neck (never really occurred to me to think of that, since it definitely restricts your other fingers' agility doing other things). I do keep my thumb about with my 1&2nd finger when I can. Sometimes it'll go off and point toward the head, but I can usually catch that habit and correct it as soon as it does so. 

I find what you say about experimenting with fingers angled vs. straight interesting and will do so, especially on frets 1-4, as it is those that make my hand want to angle like a violinists almost, and make going perpendicular to the strings difficult, I think. 

I'm slowly getting the fingertips, rather than pads, accustomed to being used. The only problems I get with this is maybe the 4th finger because the 1st string can be so sharp into it when I try, haha. But that callous will come in time, so I usually just practise until I get some string pain, then set the guitar down and watch an episode of netflix or maths on Khan Academy, then pick guitar back up once I realise my fingers no longer pain me (I kinda like the pain though, like when I had a loose tooth as a child-- yikes, masochistic leanings? Haha. )
thefogspirit Rock players tend to use angled fingers (maybe at an angle of 45 degrees to the frets).  Part of this is because the edge of the 1st finger (joint nearest palm) is often touching the edge of the neck, to be used as a pivot.  Watch this for more details ... the player was (is?) one of the top guitarists in the UK, though these days he's more involved in running a chain of music schools.  He's a great friend of mine, and taught me a lot.  His technique is ludicrous.

For thumb, try between 2nd and 3rd finger, rather then 1st and 2nd.  It's then evenly balanced for action either side.