Private

Effortless Left-Hand Technique

(6 posts)
  1. silverwater
    Member

    Hey all,

    I've been doing a lot of overhauling of my technique lately (a scary thing to do after 14 years of playing). I had been focused mainly on the right-hand, but after seeing Ben Monder last month I've been thinking a lot about how to get my left hand to play more effortlessly (not surprising after one sees Monder!). I had always thought I had good left hand technique with the thumb well behind the neck like all my teachers told me, but there was too much tension in my left hand because this led to me constantly "pinching" the guitar, and for the past few years my hand got very weak after only a few hours of playing.

    So here are a few things I've done that have helped:

    1. Shifted my position so the tip of the thumb is visible from behind the neck.

    2. Played with a piece of tape around my 4 fretting fingers, above the knuckle and just below the first bend in the fingers. It's totally weird feeling and not exactly how one would play for real, but it's taught me how keep my fingers closer to the fretboard, and to get around the neck without pivoting off my thumb.

    3. Trying to get the fingers to work independently, meaning the force that applies pressure to the string comes from that finger alone, and not from leaning or pivoting off another finger.

    So anyways, I'd like to hear what other people have learned about this subject, or if someone can point out some good books/videos that hit on this topic that would be great too. I'd especially like to hear if someone has heard Ben Monder talk about how he developed his left hand technique!

  2. snowaltz
    Member

    Hi Silverwater,

    The topic of technique (right or left hand) is very interesting to me. I have spent a lot of time searching for instructional material and also coming up with my own solutions to problems similar to your tape on the fingers.

    Here are a couple of published materials that you may find interesting: John McLaughlins' DVD "This is the Way I Do It," (close-up shots of both his left and right hand) Mick Goodrick's book "The Advancing Guitarist," (the everything book, has an article on proper left hand finger pressure) Pebber Brown's Youtube Videos (anything by this guy is cool, he has an enormous amount of material posted) also, if you are willing - check out the following guitarists: John Petrucci, Steve Vai, Frank Gambale, Paul Gilbert, Shawn Lane, Rusty Cooley, etc. There is a lot we "jazzers" can learn from rock guys. They spend a huge amount of time on technique. You can find short instructional clips on youtube as well as many blogs.

    Here is my own suggestion for improving left hand technique:
    I work on doing trill exercises (rapid hammer-ons and pull-offs) using all of the finger combinations of the left hand 1-2, 1-3, 1-4, 2-3, 2-4, 3-4, 1-2-3, 2-3-4, 1-2-4, 1-3-4, and 1-2-3-4. Try and isolate the finger groups that are the weakest. Also, remember to do this on all strings and different positions to get the most out of the workout.

    I sincerely hope this has been informative.

    All the best,
    James

  3. silverwater
    Member

    Hey James -

    Thanks for all that info, very informative. I'm definitely gonna check out that McLaughlin DVD. I've gone through pretty much every possible way to pick: palm on bridge, pinky leaning on pickguard, freehand, picking from the joint, picking from the elbow, picking from the forearm...but I think I've settled on Johnny Mac's (and Monder's and Hekselman's and many others) way of picking mainly from the wrist, string-to-string movement from the elbow, and palm lightly muting unused strings. It seems like the most functional way. I've never heard of Pepper Brown, but I'm definitely going to check out his vids as well. I also didn't realize that Mick Goodrick talks about left hand technique in his book, I hadn't pulled that book out in ages, but it's a great exercise he has in there with regards to using energy in the most economical way, in both hands!!

    And I agree with you about checking out the shredders for tips on technique. I've just started with John Pattuci's Vid, and I've been working with Frank Gambale's books a little bit. Do you know Shaun Baxter's Guitar Gym? He's a shredder that constantly cites Paul Gilbert. If you haven't seen this, give me your email address. I'll send you the PDFs. You'll definitely like his legato workouts among other things. He's an advocate of Economy Picking, something I had never tried until a month ago. (I was a strict Alternate picker because of growing up on god damn Bill Leavitt books). What are your thoughts on Alternate vs. Economy picking? It seems that economy picking is great for triplets, sixteenth notes, and playing eighth notes uptempo, but I don't always like the articulation I get when playing medium tempo swing eighths. But I guess since they have different sounds, the only solution would be what Mick Goodrick would say: Learn how to do both.

    I found a couple things online recently that you may like as well:

    http://www.scribd.com/doc/24165811/R-Iznaola-Kitharologus

    Exercise 12 and 14 have been useful for me when focusing on left hand position and getting the fingers to move independently without pivoting off each other, minimizing the energy exerted to fret a note. I've come up with a way to use Ex 12 to work on economy picking as well. One of the challenges coming from strict alternate picking is it's difficult to upstroke on the downbeats and downstroke on the upbeats. If you play each note in EX 12 twice, as 1/8 notes, and keep the strict rules in economy picking, you'll end up going down/up down/up down/up on the E string, then up/down up/down up/down on the B string...etc. etc. etc.

    http://tinyurl.com/33a2tcu

    Wow that's quite a link, but it's for an online version of "The Natural Classical Guitar: The Principles of Effortless Playing" by Lee Ryan. I just found this one two days ago. It's focuses more on mental techniques than physical. I haven't finished reading it yet, but there's some great stuff in there about concentration, and how to not use more energy than necessary, two things that I desperately need improvement with.

    Long post, but hey it's a worthy subject.

    Cheers,
    Jon

    Admin
  4. snowaltz
    Member

    Hey Jon,

    Alternate Picking v.s. Economy Picking:
    I practice both regularly, because my lines are typically rather jagged and change direction often. So, using only one technique will hinder my creativity. When practicing alternate picking I enjoy working with different subdivisions of the beat. I focus on 1:1 Quarter Notes, 2:1 Eighth Notes, 3:1 Triplets, 4:1 16th's, 5:1 Quintuplets, 6:1 16th Note Triplets, 7:1 Septuplets, and 8:1 32nd notes (obviously the metronome is set low!). This helps me really internalize the sound of the subdivision. When practicing economy picking, I use "The Guitar Grimoire," by Adam Kadmon. This book focuses on 3NPS patterns. In my opinion, economy picking works really well with repeating shapes on the fret-board.

    I'll have to check more into the links you posted, to really have an opinion.

    The John McLaughlin DVD is a gold mine! Check it out if you get the chance.

    -James-

    Private
  5. as far as effortlessness goes here is my experience-

    it seems that getting to the point of effortlessness is sort of a two step process. when you are learning new things on the guitar that your muscles arent strong enough for yet you have to exert strength over and over again until your muscles are strong enough to play whatever it is that you want to play. we all do this.

    the next step and the one that is forgotten sometimes is cutting out the physical exertion. because your muscles are now strong enough and your fingers know what to do you no longer have to exert muscle strength. it's already there! now it is time to relax and play effortlessly.

    i figured this out in a sort of roundabout way that i definitely don't encourage because there are better ways to get there. back in the day when i used to smoke pot (no longer) i would play the guitar. one day i was playing something that i had been working on and i realized it was really easy and there was no strain. i was relaxed and it was effortless! (i knew one day something useful would come out of smoking. ha!)

    any sort of relaxation or meditative practice will remind you what it feels like to be very relaxed and loose. sometimes we just don't realize how tense our muscles etc... are because we are like that all of the time. once you know and can remember what that body state is like then try to play the guitar while maintaining that relaxed state. try to notice the instant that your body starts to tense up when you are going for that run you are scared you are going to screw up and then stop and try it again but this time remembering what that relaxed feeling is.

    it's always a work in progress because this two part deal happens over and over again as you learn new things. i still have to remind myself to relax relax relax relax relax. unless im playing in my sludge metal band. i still havent figured out how to be relaxed while i play that music and im not sure if i should. ha!

  6. Matt
    Member

    i agree with that two step process. I didn't even think about facility, relaxation, etc until five years into my playing (and i also only knew very basic jazz theory, chords, etc). now, going back has really helped me.

    i feel like not focusing on technique in the beginning also helps the development of a relationship with the instrument.

    Email

Reply

Edit page

You must log in to post.