Right And Left Hand Technique. Part 2 - Left Hand Position

With your fingers in this position, the tip of your thumb should be touching the midline of the neck; that is, behind the G string. Most people tend to have the thumb peeking up over the top. Also, most people tend to squeeze much too tightly, grinding in with the knuckle of their thumb.

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Ultimate Guitar
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This is part two in a series of how to develop good right and left hand technique for pick-style guitar. This series is the approach that I use to teach pick-style technique to all of my students. For best results, take these articles to an educated and experienced teacher who is stylistically broad based and who is acquainted with this approach, so that (s)he may coach you. This approach is to attain the maximum possible cleanliness and articulateness in ones tone. It will also give, ultimately, the greatest speed with the least health risk. I am careful to never say that it is the correct way to play. There is no such thing, and a lot of people do great things with really sloppy technique. Wherever possible, though, I will indicate the exact benefits of each technique. If you are left handed, please excuse my right-handed bias, and reverse all of the relevant direction and hand indications. B) Left Hand Thumb Position. Place your fingers on the bottom string like so:
E|----------------|
B|----------------|
G|----------------|
D|----------------|
A|----------------|
E|-1-2-3-4--------|  FRET
   1 2 3 4      <--- FINGER
With your fingers in this position, the TIP of your thumb should be touching the midline of the neck; that is, behind the G string. Most people tend to have the thumb peeking up over the top. Also, most people tend to squeeze much too tightly, grinding in with the knuckle of their thumb. Now place your fingers on the top string:
E|-1-2-3-4--------|
B|----------------|
G|----------------|
D|----------------|
A|----------------|
E|----------------|  FRET
   1 2 3 4      <--- FINGER
In this position, the tip of your thumb should be behind the top E string, directly behind your fingers. C) Left Hand Wrist. In all cases, the left hand wrist should be straight. Many with bad thumb habits tend to rest their palms against the back of the neck. Avoid this! Also, many who adapt the "good" thumb position tend to jut their wrist forward. You should be able to place a straight edge from the back of your forearm to any of your last knuckles. Benefits. The thumb position is required so that: 1) The wrist can be straight. 2) The fingers can come down straight and not mute the strings beside what they are actually fretting (remember the first time you tried to make a "D"? ). 3) With the thumb low, the average full sized person can reach across eight frets. With the thumb high, the average person can barely span four frets. Low thumb pressure reduces strain on certain muscles and tendons. It will also increase your endurance dramatically. The wrist position is a matter of your health. If you practice a lot, especially with any speed, and you have a bent wrist, your tendons and carpal nerves are obstructed and you run a greater risks of repetitive strain injuries. Exceptions: Some styles, blues for example, demand having the thumb over the top to assist in muting strings. Here it is often appropriate to pick all six strings and mute all except the ones you want to ring. Also, the thumb should come over the top to give you leverage in a bend. In neither case should the palm touch the back of the neck. Just the webbing between the thumb and the first finger. There are certainly other examples of specific tones that you would want to get that demand a thumb-over-the-top technique. In general, though, for pristine tone, avoid it. Class assignment: play this as an exercise:
E|------------------------------------------1-2-3-4-5-4-3-2------------|
B|---------------------------------1-2-3-4------------------5-4-3-2----|
G|-------------------------1-2-3-4-------------------------------------|
D|-----------------1-2-3-4---------------------------------------------|
A|---------1-2-3-4-----------------------------------------------------|
E|-1-2-3-4-------------------------------------------------------------|...etc
Make sure that you assign 1 finger per fret... just like they were set up a page ago. Continue this pattern up the neck until you can't get clean notes out anymore. As you do this, do not stray from this checklist: A) Guitar Position (see part I) B)1. Left Hand Thumb Position and range of motion (midline [G string] to edge) 2. Left Hand Thumb Pressure If this continues to be a problem, take a couple of passes of this exercise without your thumb touching at all. This will give you an idea of exactly how little pressure it takes. Then put your thumb back down WITH NO MORE PRESSURE. It is just there as a guide. C) Left hand wrist. - Tim Fullerton.

17 comments sorted by best / new / date

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    emperor_black
    When playing barre chords, dont I need to apply pressure so that all the notes barred by the index finger ring out ? At that time, shouldnt there be a counter force from the thumb? If yes, then your last statement "It is just there as a guide" is not true. Also, during power chords, there will be some pressure. What you said about the wrist position is true and thanks for teaching me that.
    omgiplayguitar
    In the beginning, you said fret number is the same as finger number right? So what do you do when u go pass the 4th fret?what finger do you use for the 5th and 6th fret?
    zoulation
    kevC4 wrote: Could you post pictures regarding the thumb position? It would help alot seriously
    yo look...thats the way i got it from what ive read..when you hold in the fretting position..always maintain a straight wrist and touch with the TIP OF THE THUMB...he stressed on the "TIP" ...once you TOUCH with the TIP you are set...dont put too much pressure ...according to him.
    zoulation
    THANKS !!...man for a long time..i swear i never knew the right technique. I wasnt sure of anything...!! Keep up the lessons !
    kevC4
    Could you post pictures regarding the thumb position? It would help alot seriously
    Penelope005
    Hi, I was reading up on your guitar technique page that said your left hand should be straight (as in ruler going from back of forearm to front knuckles) and the tip of your thumb should be pressing behind the g string on the neck. My delema is that I cannot do both those at the same time... I've tried all the positions possible, changing my stance, how I angle my hand AND guitar, raised my guitar and none workey. I discovered that when I put my thumb high on the neck I can straighen my wrist to make it in-line with my forearm for some of the bottom strings and some chords. My question is... which is more of a priority? Having your thumb behind the g string? or having your wrist straight? I think it's just my fingers that are small or something...
    Inf1n1tY.
    u can also play any barre chords w/ this thumb postion otherwise train ur strengh
    AceRoom
    8 frets my ass... i can get 5 normally and 6 when i lower my thumb... then again im 15
    He means across the fretboard, not up and down. If you extend your fingers past the low e string, you can definitely get past the place where the 8th string would be if a guitar had 8 strings.
    Archon473
    ^That example in the lesson was very vague. On high E, I can stretch from the 12th fret to the 24th. On low E, I can only stretch from the 1st to the 6th fret and be able to play comfortably. String and starting fret make a major difference.
    Annihilator
    Camdon wrote: 8 frets my ass... i can get 5 normally and 6 when i lower my thumb... then again im 15
    wow, i can easily get 8, you must not play enough guitar... if you check your left hand to your right hand, you'll find that your fret hand gets slightly longer as you play. Oh, and being 15 has nothing to do with it, im only 17.
    Chairoi
    Good article... usually I play with a bent wrist... But now that I know not to, thanks for the tip I'm going to go practice it
    Camdon
    8 frets my ass... i can get 5 normally and 6 when i lower my thumb... then again im 15
    tfullert
    I am the original author of this series. I published it to usenet newsgroups twenty years ago. Imagine my surprise to see it here! Forgive my non-responsiveness up to this point. Time permitting, I will review it and answer your questions as best I can.