Learning guitar online has many advantages when it comes to flexibility, budget, and more. But one of the disadvantages is not having a teacher around to point out bad habits before they become problematic. In this video, I will highlight some of the sticking points I’ve noticed with my students. Making sure you’re using the right technique can help you avoid a lot of the frustration and pain that many beginners experience.
When you’re learning to play guitar, especially if you’re not taking guitar lessons, there are a lot of bad habits that can easily be avoided if you know what to watch out for. In this video I’ll be discussing how to avoid these habits, along with some basic tips that will help you become a better guitar player in less time.
The first thing to keep in mind is the guitar is very easy to play…when it’s played correctly. Granted, there’s plenty of advanced material out there, but as a beginner, a lot of frustration occurs from playing the guitar with poor technique, which can make it difficult to play anything, at least anything that sounds good.
Stretching & Warming Up
Guitar playing is actually very athletic, so we want to stretch before we do anything that might cause an injury.
Before you even play your guitar, you want to make sure that you have a comfortable chair. Just sitting on your bed or on the sofa will give you terrible posture, which will have a negative impact on your hand positions, as well as affecting your viewing angle of the fretboard.
Ideally, you want to situate yourself so that when you’re sitting down, the angle of the guitar neck and the position of the body is very similar to its position when you’re standing.
This is achieved by using your guitar strap. You’ll notice that it doesn’t matter if I’m sitting or standing, the guitar is virtually at the same angle and position. And there’s a very good reason for having the guitar in this position.
Left Hand Position
Having a high neck angle such as this, keeps the wrist very straight. What is to be avoided, which is a common error (and unhealthy), is holding the guitar low like this. This forces a harsh angle in the wrist, which puts pressure on the carpal tunnel…
Not to say that if you have perfect hand position you won’t sustain an injury, but you’re much more liable to hurt your wrist by hanging the guitar around your knees. It doesn’t look cool.
You’ll hear lots of opinions and sometimes arguments about thumb placement. The fact is, it’s not the thumb that’s really the concern so much as it is your overall hand position.
To create a good hand position, lets start with a fist. Notice when you bring your thumb in front, it’s mainly in front of your second finger. Now slowly relax the hand, and lets line up your first, second, third, and fourth fingers all on the third string, on frets 5, 6, 7, and 8. Now there’s essentially two angles of approach here, and this affects your wrist as well as how well you’ll be able to stretch.
Right Hand Position
There’s different approaches to holding the pick, and the method that I use is derived from being a classical guitarist. Just as we did with the left hand, let’s start with a tight fist. When you relax your fist, the thumb moves to the tip of the index finger. That’s where we’ll place the pick. With this hand position, the pick acts as an extension of the index finger.
Notice that only a very small portion of the pick actually extends beyond my index finger and thumb. This allows for more picking control. If too much sticks out, then the pick can easily get hung up between strings and you won’t play accurately.
Once I have my pick situated, I can then get my hand position set. With the guitar neck at a high angle and the right hand placed roughly in front of my stomach, the pick should rest at an angle against the strings. The flat part of the pick should lie on the same plane as your forearm. This is important because if the pick is flat against the strings, more tension is needed to pluck a string. It also means that your wrist might be turned at an awkward angle. Having it so that only one side touches the string, the pick can glide across effortlessly. Now too much of an angle will not produce a good tone, so keep that in mind as well.
Anchoring the Right Hand
I get this question all the time: is it okay to anchor the pinky? In short, no.
Anchoring implies weight, and weight implies tension. We want to have the least amount of tension possible. Tightening your muscles will only slow down your playing. Also, the forearm and the wrist need to be able to rotate. They can’t move properly if you have a finger anchored.
To properly stabilize the hand, rest this point of the hand around the bridge. This will still allow for some rotation, and will also aid in muting unwanted string noise. Now if you’re playing something where the strings need to ring, then your hand needs to float so that nothing gets muted.
The first thing to do once you’re ready to play is tune. Every time. If you play an out-of-tune guitar, then you’re not going to properly train your ears. Not to mention it’s painful for anyone listening.
This problem happens with so many students, holding down a note with one finger and the other fingers move far away from the fretboard, as if that extra tension is somehow helping that one finger to fret the note. Terrible technique. Here’s an exercise that you can do to focus on individual finger motions.
These are just a few tips to help you develop good playing technique and avoid bad habits. And the whole purpose of having good technique is to make playing easier, which in turn, makes learning music easier. If you haven’t already, be sure to check out my other videos as well as my Metal Guitar Method course. I’m Matthias, now go forth…and rock.