The Efficient Guitarist - My Left Hand Epiphany

A few months ago, I disavowed technique all together. I was basically tired of playing fast and trying to play faster. As I started to slow down, I began to notice that once the flash was gone, I was making more mistakes than I was comfortable with. This was not a fun realization on a Sunday evening. It wasn’t that I was playing badly, I just wasn’t playing accurately.  Some notes would buzz because I was too far from the fret. Some notes wouldn’t ring because I was on the fret. Other times, I just simply missed the target I was aiming for. I took a few videos with my phone to try to understand what was going on. As I looked back, it hit me: my first finger was dragged along for the ride. Rather than hovering over the strings like my other left hand fingers, my first finger literally dragged across the strings. In reality, it didn’t have to lift up since it was the lowest finger and once a higher finger played on the same string, it wasn’t heard anymore. Why was it dragging along? It was weak. Scrawny. Puny. The real joke was when I tried to trill between the open string and the second fret with my first finger. I lasted about 4 seconds before my hand hurt. Pathetic.

So, what am I going to do about this? Not a huge deal, I thought. I’d just practice. I thought that the best thing that I could do was exercise the up and down motion for my left hand. I came up with a plan: every note I’d play would be very short. It would always be from a relaxed position hovering over the string. I’d play the note, focusing on hitting on the right part of my fingertip and as soon as I’d made contact, I’d release. For a few weeks, everything would be very short and staccato. The good news is that it worked really well. In a short time, I was becoming much more accurate and making far fewer mistakes. My hand was getting stronger, too. All good, I thought. And then I tried to play fast. Oh my. What happened to me? I’d never played so fast in my life. It had never been this easy. Why?

As I sat down and thought about it, it made tremendous sense. For one thing, I had worked on my accuracy, and you can’t play fast without playing accurately. The speed wasn’t the part that really shook me—it was the ease at which I was playing. It was light and easy. Why was it so easy? I had practiced resting and relaxing my fingers in between each note. I had deliberately done something that I thought I’d never really play on purpose (the epitome of practice at times). When you start to play faster, the space between the notes shrinks. It becomes really, really important to relax between the notes. By forcing myself to relax between the notes, my hands were able to play at any speed with ease. It made playing slower easier, too.

To play faster and more relaxed, I played as slow as I could, focusing solely on accuracy. If you take a few minutes each day and practice this way, I know that you’ll play better, no matter what you play, which style, genre or what kind of guitar you have. Here’s a video that shows you the different drills that I practiced to give you some ideas.

As always, when you’re practicing exercises, it’s good to use scales, arpeggios and other musical material to make it sound good and interesting to you, rather than just playing  finger patterns.


You can always visit with Marc on his Blog - The Efficient Guitarist. Marc has a ton of valuable information there as well as access to his book, The Efficient Guitarist Book I.

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