An Overlooked Basic of Left Hand Technique

Here's a statistic for you: 98% of guitarists play with too much tension in their left hand and arm.

Ok, I made that up, but it's probably not far from the truth.

One of the most rudimentary (yet overlooked) facets of left hand technique is efficient muscle tension.

The overwhelming majority of guitar players use entirely too much muscle tension (see above statistic), especially in the left hand and arm. A tight grip on the neck is the norm. In fact, I have not had a single student that didn't have issues with this. I still struggle with this myself, especially in high pressure playing situations.

"What's the big deal?" you may ask.

Off the top of my head...too much muscle tension will slow you down, make you less rhythmically accurate, decrease your stamina, increase your chances of injury and pull notes out of tune. I'm sure there's more, but that should be enough to get your attention.

Let me show you a simple exercise that will help correct this improper left hand technique. I call this the Focus Exercise.

  • Play the 1st fret of the 6th string with your index finger.
  • Gradually release the pressure you're applying to the string with your left hand index finger and continue picking the note.
  • Release pressure until the note starts to buzz.
  • At this point, apply just enough additional pressure to allow the note to ring out clearly again.
  • Go back and forth between buzzing and a clear note.
  • At this point you know exactly how much force is required to play that note...you've dialed in your focus.
  • Now repeat the process with all four left hand fingers and on all six strings.

    Many of my students have been amazed at how little force is required to play notes that ring out clearly. When practiced consistently, this simple exercise will literally transform the way you play the guitar. Over time, efficient muscle tension will become habit.

    Have you ever noticed how your favorite player's hand seems to glide around the fretboard with ease and finesse? Have you ever wondered how professional guitarists have the stamina to play all day? Use this exercise to retrain your left hand and you can experience it for yourself.

    In short, playing guitar is physically easier than you think. Stop trying so hard. Ease up. Breathe. Relax.

    Give the Focus Exercise a try. Let me know how it goes.


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