This lesson is terrifyingly huge. Get ready.

Well, assuming that you’ve read Complete Your Technique 1, the previous, and probably most important article of this series, it’s time to continue on to some simple left hand technique pointers.

Basically, what you want out of your left hand is flexibility, strength and speed. You want to be able to reach the notes (flexibility), sound them or be able to fret them to pick them (strength) and the ability to change between them quickly, so that you can sound like Yngwie or something. That’s speed, for those of you who weren’t paying attention.
Finally, the left hand also has to do more than just create notes, it has to stop unwanted notes ringing out. More on that later.

Flexibility is developed through correct posture and practice. Strength can be developed by challenging your stamina and playing with strong, even tone. Speed is a by-product of accuracy - the less you move and the more correctly you hit the strings, the quicker you can produce notes.

This is a article that means to be comprehensive, not flashy, so the "shred" stuff is at the bottom, and what's coming up is "beginner" stuff. Obviously, I'd recommend reading it all!

What I’ll do is lead you on with this basic material, and then push on to megachords of death. Then, and only then, lead guitar technique, and then advanced lead guitar technique. Okay?



There’s the 5 basic open chords. All major chords, they’re called D, C, G, E and A. The chord at the end is a alternate fingering for G that a lot of people like (and it comes into play later in the lesson, too!) The reasons for those names can be found out in the Musician Talk forum. Anyway, lets get onto the technique again, shred junkies.

You want to be able to move, cleanly, clearly and quickly between all the chords, in any order – not just D to A, but A to D, and all the combinations. If you are really a beginner, this is going to seem quite hard. Especially D.

To move from one chord to another, we want to move in one fluid motion – the fingers all come off, in “mid air” they change to the right shape, which then lands in the RIGHT PLACE (some embarrassing and wonderful chords can happen if you don’t follow that advice). If you’re a beginner, you probably move from chord to chord like this –

Look at the chord for a while, put one finger down on the correct fret, shift your hand a bit, then stick down another finger, and then another, and another.

This teaches your body to do just that – hesitate, then put the fingers down one by one. Considering you’re planning to change between chord strums, that’s quite a feat. So, using what we learnt from the previous article/thread – we should first familiarize ourselves with the fingerings for the chords. You wouldn’t believe how much easier it is for you to practice chords when you know them. First port of call, memorize the chords.

You shouldn’t have to look up the tabs if you want to concentrate on technique, so make sure, once again that you DO this – a lot of pupils I’ve had in real life can’t be bothered to learn chords, and somehow expect to be able to play. Suits me, I can get a years wages from one lesson – but you’re getting this free, so I’d appreciate you follow my lead and make the effort, eh?

Now, take it slow! If you don't seem to be making progress go to the first column and re-read it.

One of your big problems will be the G chord, if you’re a beginner. If the stretch is too much (for the note on the high E string), try adjusting your posture – I’m afraid I can’t really help in detail, because I’m not there, this is one reason that real-life lessons help!

Also, remember what I said about stopping unwanted notes? The first step to that is not hitting extra strings with the right hand, but to improve on any extra notes ringing through, try to make sure that the tip of your index finger is touching the string lower (in pitch) so that it doesn't ring. For some chord shapes, you can also put your thumb over the neck to acheive the same muting effect.

Alright, remember I said to lift all your fingers, make the right shape and plonk em down in the right place? Well, there’s a few exceptions to this as well. Changing from the alternate G chord to the D chord, for example –


There, it makes sense to keep your ring finger down on the 3rd fret, second string (highest pitch string is the 1st string, not the lowest, remember it well). But the principle is the same. You don’t want to move fingers one at a time, you want to take the fingers that move OFF the G chord at the same time, and have them land ON the D chord at the same time. The third finger doesn’t move, and that’s the only difference.

Okay, so have we got an idea about open chords? Great!

Next – barre chords. These are the ultimate challenge for guitarists. You either conquer these and some basic theory and can then play in every key, all across the neck with a huge variety of chords…or you can sit on E A D G C open chords. Your choice. (Okay, there are more open chords than that, but the point stands)

A barre chord uses a technique called barring. This chord change for example –


Is an E to an F#. Pretty simply, its E, and then a chord exactly a whole tone up in pitch. To get that, we move all the notes in the chord up a whole tone – 2 frets. Trying to finger the second chord as you would a open chord (one finger for every fretted note) is pretty difficult if you don’t have 6 very flexible fingers. I don’t, so I learned to play barre chords.

What you do, is you lay your index finger along the second fret, pressing down enough (and in the right places) to get the notes on the 2nd fret of the E, B and low E strings to sound out. Then you put your 3rd finger on the 4th fret 5th string, your 4th finger 4th fret 4th string, and your 2nd finger 3rd fret 3rd string.

Play the chord one string at a time and see how it sounds. The trouble is getting the notes you’re barring to sound out, so a few tips to help –

Your thumb needs to be behind the neck, supporting your fingers.
Posture! Make sure to experiment to see how you can most comfortably barre, as it can save you weeks of agony to experiment for 5 minutes.
Use a bit of the side of your index, not just the pad, as the finger is bonier there and applies pressure better.

Anyway, as you journey through chords, you will find that some require more barres than just one, such as this monster –


These essentially just use the same techniques for individual fingers. Sorted.
Last edited by Freepower at Jun 20, 2008,
Lead guitar left hand technique

Ah, a huge subject, and not much fun at that. Lets get started.

Legato means smoothly – no gaps between notes. Whenever you pick, that short click when your pick hits the strings is a gap, so you want to minimize picking for a “legato” guitar sound. We produce notes without picking using two techniques.

A) The hammer-on. This is where the finger comes down on a string with enough force to either start a note (this is called a “hammer on from nowhere&rdquo or to keep the string vibrating but at a new note. To put this into practice, fret the 5th fret of your high E string. Pick it, and bring your 3rd finger down on the 7th hard enough for a note to come out and sound clearly. Obviously, you don’t want to take a swipe at it from an inch away, so work on a small, powerful movement. Finger strength and good fretting (just a bit behind the actual metal fret) will reduce the effort you need to make with practice. To try a hammer on from nowhere, try fretting the 5th fret of the high E again and picking it, but this time bringing the 3rd finger down on the 7th fret of the B string, hard enough to sound out clearly. Obviously, this is a fair bit harder, so it’s a bit more advanced.

B) The pull off. Not quite a hammeron in reverse, but close. Go back to our first hammeron example and play it again. Now pick the 7th fret, and then remove your finger while leaving the 5th fret fretted by your first finger. Not enough volume, right? So what you do is you slightly “pluck” the string with a slight “pull” as you come “off” the string (hence, a “pull off” ). This allows you to descend lines without picking and with consistent volume. Watch out that the motion you make isn’t too big, or you can actually pluck strings, which can be embarrassing if they’re the wrong ones!

Great! With a combination of these two techniques, (three counting the hammer-on from nowhere) should only have to pick the first note on every string – and that is exactly what you do when you play legato. Take a look at this – http://youtube.com/watch?v=oW1JveshnJg about 1:46 into this, that’s what you want to sound like!

Alright, you’ve got the idea. Now, one of the most common devices in legato is the “roll”. That’s where you just get a row of notes on a string, go up them and then down them – or vice versa – and that’s a roll of notes. This works absolutely great with any kind of simple scale shape, like the 3 note per string ones.

Here’s a 3nps scale.


That’s A major, and you want to play it all legato for this lesson.

Now, here’s a way of “rolling” all the way through the scale.


As you can see, with very little imagination at all, we can get a fluid, impressive legato sound. Rolls also make for odd note groupings. If you play each string’s worth of notes to a single metronome click (evenly spaced, obviously!) you’ll get groupings of 5. This kind of thing is a very simple but effective exercise for basic legato technique and rolls in particular.

Here’s a lick in 11s that’s slightly more subtle about rolls – but they’re there! Once again, all legato, one picked note per string, and consistent volume. This one’s in G major.


For those who haven’t noticed, all it is is a very simple idea moved up twice. If you take the first 11 notes and move them up an octave, you’ve got a lick that’s twice as long without any brain power being used at all. Move it up another octave and end on a G, and that’s the whole thing over. You can try this approach with every mode, and it’ll WORK – that’s the glory of simple theory and simple technique.

You can see that I know you all want easy to remember licks.

Anyway, the main technical problem with this is keeping consistent volume on the long string of notes on the 1st, 3rd and 5th strings. The “s” symbol means to SLIDE, to fret a note, keep the pressure even, and just slide it up to the notated fret from the one before. An important single string legato weapon!

Here’s a descending lick that’s pretty similar, in 13s.


Okay, those’ll all be in a guitar pro file attached to the lesson. For the licks in 11s and 13s, it’s pretty hard to turn down the tempo slow enough to practice, so don’t be embarrassed if you have to turn it down to 20bpm or similar.

Those are some pretty simple licks – they ARE fast, they ARE nifty and they cover a lot of the neck – but they’re simple ideas, played simply. Now we’re going to start adding hammerons from nowhere. This lick took me a good day to get up to quarter notes (one note per click) at 60bpm, and that was about 4 or 5 hours of practice. (NB, before practicing at a tempo, I made sure I had every individual bit of this lick sorted. Then I started playing one note per FOUR clicks at 40bpm. That’s what I mean by starting slow.)


Shawn Lane fans will recognize this. Anyway, follow the directions stringently. A “t” means to use a hammeron from nowhere – I can’t find a guitar pro symbol for it so you’ll have to realize that I mean a left hand tap and not a right hand one. Believe it or not, it’s possible to play this lick (quite easily) without picking a single note. And that includes the very first. This is a C major scale in a fingering designed for simple fingering (not an elegant sentence, but it’s true).

Here’s a cool little fact for you. All your fingers do there is hammeron in this order – 124 124 124 124 124 124 124. This "super-complex death lick" is nothing more than 3 fingers hammering on. It’s not much physically harder than hammering on across one string – it’s just a new co-ordination for you.

There we go. Not too hard, eh? Probably not, if you don’t pay attention to the tone of the notes. Force yourself to get clean, consistent notes.

And don’t forget your muting technique – the right hand (which will be covered some other day, along with bending and vibrato and the like) mutes the bass strings with the karate chop side of the hand, the first finger is goalkeeper (see last section of this article).

Similarly, this can be played without picking any notes – although its easier to!


And finally, here’s a novelty lick – do you remember that simple rolled A major scale from earlier? Here’s a bastardized terror version.

Lets work on a few general tips.

For most lead guitar, you want to have your fingers stay as close to the frets as possible – this means they have to travel less distance to get the notes you want. Makes sense if you want to play either quickly, easily, or both!

Your first finger is slightly different from the rest. It’s the goalkeeper (for those who like football/soccer). Basically, while the rest of your fingers should usually be fretting with the tips, your first should be fretting with the pad, with the top of the finger muting the string lower in pitch than the one you’re playing. This means that it mutes the one string lower, and all the strings higher (as it should lie across them gently) than you are playing – making your playing supaclean. Or that’s the plan.

YOUR WRIST SHOULD BE IN A STRAIGHT LINE WITH THE BASE OF YOUR FINGERS AND YOUR ELBOW! There are many ways to accomplish this, and that depends on style. For example, watch this - http://youtube.com/watch?v=ut-9ERn9SwI and this - http://youtube.com/watch?v=57q5zdvMw58 . This allows the tendons that move your fingers to work properly – both quickly, and safely. This becomes ever more important as you challenge your reach to greater and greater stretches.

Obviously, it’s harder to keep them in line for the lower strings, but hey, that’s life. No-one said playing awesome legato would be easy.

Alright, that’s enough for today, I think.

The guitar pro file that should be attached to this lesson is attached to the thread here. https://www.ultimate-guitar.com/forum/showthread.php?t=631994

And ^ sorry for having to post this all in 3 different posts, this post is part of the lesson. As you can see it covers more than just chords!
Last edited by Freepower at May 19, 2008,