5 Tips for Left-Hand Guitar Technique

Brushing up on your guitar playing abilities? One area where you might want to put in some work is the left hand.

While the left hand is less influential on tone than the right, good left-hand technique is a must for clarity and precision. The left hand is the source of buzzing and incorrect notes.

So here are five simple tips for improving your left-hand technique:

  1. Stay relaxed. While the job of the left hand is to push the strings down all the way to the fretboard, it does not follow that you must have a grip like a vice. Tension and unnecessary pressure in the left hand will just wear you out. Strive for a loose, relaxed feeling in your left hand and fingers at all times.
  2. Play on your fingertips. Playing on the flat part of your fingers may cause a muffled, buzzy sound. It also practically ensures that your fingers will get in the way of each other. Keeping your fingers curled and playing on the tips allows for a clean sound.
  3. Play low on the frets. Every fret is bounded by two metal fret strips. No matter what note you are playing, you will want to place your fingertip just above the lower of the two fret strips, the one nearer to the body of the guitar. This results in the cleanest sound with the least effort.
  4. Keep your pinky finger close to the strings. If your pinky finger is aimlessly wiggling around at some distance from the fretboard, it is not terribly useful to you. Keep your pinky close at hand where it can be called into service at a moment’s notice. This involves playing with the palm of your hand parallel to the neck of the guitar rather than at an angle, but it also involves keeping the tip of the pinky low, just a fraction of an inch above the strings.
  5. Watch your thumb position. In classical guitar playing, the proper technique is to keep the thumb completely hidden behind the neck so that the fingers can easily reach up and over to the sixth string. With other styles of music, a compromise is typically in order, partly due to the slim necks of many acoustic steel-string guitars and partly due to the preference of some musicians for fretting bass notes with their thumbs. The ideal position will depend on the size of your hands and the width of your guitar neck. Bear in mind, however, that it should always be easy to fret the sixth string with your fingers with minimal rearranging of your hand position.

While it is always best to build good technical habits early on, all is not lost if you have developed some sloppy tendencies. Here’s a good practice routine for improving your technique:

  1. Choose one technical aspect to work on at a time.
  2. Practice your chosen technical challenge on simple scales, playing very slowly so that you hit every note correctly and with the proper technique the first time. Use a metronome for this step.
  3. Once you can play a scale smoothly and with the correct technique at a slow tempo, gradually speed up the tempo a few beats per minute. Take the time to master proper technique at the new tempo before speeding up some more.
  4. Start implementing your new technical skill into your repertoire, playing your songs as slowly as you need to at first to get it right.
  5. Gradually speed up your songs until you are playing at performance tempo with consistently correct technique.
  6. Choose a new technique to practice and start the process over.

Have fun!