Guitar Jar contributor, Ed Peczek takes us through the importance of Fretting Hand Positioning, highlighting the contributing factors of finger & thumb placement & pressure.
…at a basic level, the fingers are responsible for fretting notes and creating different pitches…
Note: For this article, the “Fretting Hand” will be focussing on the “Left Hand”, using diagrams that feature a guitar players left hand positioning.
The thumb plays a vital role in ensuring the fingers are in the optimum position in which to perform the correct movements. Without correct thumb position, the movements of the fingers will be less efficient.
The thumb should be positioned somewhere behind the first or second finger, and placed in the centre of the neck.
The position of the fingers becomes easier when the thumb plays slightly on the side as opposed to placing the pad of thumb flat against the neck. This helps to rotate the fingers to be parallel with the fret board and strings, resulting in a much better playing position.
The role of the thumb is simply to support the fingers and maintain its position as described above, so as to allow the fingers to move freely.
The thumb does not squeeze together with the fingers or act like a vice. There should be absolutely no forward movement at all from the thumb. The only pressure it should feel is that of the neck as the fingers fret the strings.
It should stand its ground but never push forward, much in the same way a punch bag does not fight back, it simply stays in the same position and absorbs any pressure.
The movements and positioning of the fingers obviously play a crucial role in a guitarist’s left hand technique. At a basic level, the fingers are responsible for fretting notes and creating different pitches. The fingers also have more complex roles when employed in other techniques (such as slurs) however we’ll stick to basics for now, as what follows forms the foundations of every left hand technique.
Position and Movements
Playing in the correct way ensures you do not expend more energy than necessary and also allows you to play faster, cleaner and with better intonation. Another common mistake is to place the finger on top of the fret you wish to play. This will sometimes result in the note sounding out, however it will sound muted in comparison to playing directly behind the fret, and will have much less sustain.
It is important to remember the role of thumb at this point. The thumb does not apply any pressure itself; it simply absorbs any pressure which the fingers apply to the fret board. By moving from the knuckle joint, you are engaging the tendons in the arm which helps to keep the hand relaxed. If you ‘squeeze’ the string (I.e. apply pressure from your thumb and your fingers) the hand becomes tense and does not allow your fingers to move freely.
In order to figure out exactly how much pressure is needed to fret notes efficiently, position your first finger on the first fret of the 6th string. At this point, do not press the string down towards the fret. Simply let the finger touch the string lightly in the correct place behind the fret. Begin playing the string with your right hand, you should hear a muted note and not the actual sound of the note itself. Slowly begin to apply a bit of pressure as described above (‘Finger Movements’), eventually you should hear a buzzing sound, this indicates that you are close to hearing the note. If you keep applying a bit more pressure the note should eventually sound.
This is the minimum (or most economic) amount of pressure needed in order to fret the note. You should aim for this every time you want to fret this note. You can repeat this exercise for each of the other fingers, as well as repeating it for different frets up and down the fret board, and also for each string.
The reason for this is that the amount of pressure required for each fret/string is a little bit different, but well worth getting used to if you want to build an efficient left hand guitar technique. It sounds like a lot of work and the truth is that you are likely to fine tune your efficiency as you become more experienced, whether you practice this particular exercise or not. However I would practice this quite a lot to begin with to the point where you are happy with your ability to control the amount of pressure you apply to the strings.