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Teaching the left hand and basic ergonomics – Comparison of Popular Methods Pt. 2

Many guitar methods have different opinions of how left hand guitar technique should be learned.  In this post, I have picked four popular methods and have outlined or took excerpts of left hand technique.  This post is intended for reference purposes for people who may have questions about their technique.  It is interesting to see how each method focuses on different points as outlined in the chart below:

Age group
Left Hand
Adults – 11 to adult – Beginner/Intermediate/Advanced
Talks about barring
Adults – 11 to adult – Beginner/Intermediate/Advanced
Emphasizes the use of midrange motion
Adults – 18 +
Had most pictures, conflicted with Shearer’s ideas
Children/Adults – 7 to adult
Little to none 

It was most surprising to see how the Shearer method and Parkening method had conflicting ideas of what is “proper” technique.  I think the cause stems from the purpose of the books themselves; Shearer’s method focuses on “correct” technique through injury prevention/awareness.  There is useful information from all the methods selected but the Superbook did not really have any suggestions on left hand guitar technique.  This could be because of the intended age group that the method is designed for.
LH Technique
The left hand p33:

As a first exercise for the left hand try the following movements, which will strengthen and increase the stretch of your fingers.
1.  With the hand in position as below, bring the 1st finger firmly down. Just behind the 1st fret of the 6th string making the loudest possible sound.
2. Without lifting the 1st finger, hammer the 2nd finger down behind the 2nd fret of the same string.
3. Repeat the procedure with the 3rd string and 4th string fingers. Remember to leave each finger on when it has hammered.
4. Move to the 5th string and repeat the movements. Continue up each string in succession.    The most important points in establishing the left hand position are as follows:
a.     RELAX THE ARM AND WRIST. Do not let the elbow stick out and try to relax the whole arm from shoulder to wrist.
b.     THUMB BEHIND THE NECK. Do not let the thumb creep around the back of the neck, this cramps the left hand and reduces the distance your fingers can reach.
c.     VERTICAL FINGERS. When hammering, each finger should come down vertically on its extreme tip. At first you will find this difficult with the fourth finger, but practice will quickly remedy this.

P147 the full bar Rules:
1.     The left hand should exert the minimum pressure sufficient to produce clear notes.
          2.  Do not let the fingertip project unnecessarily beyond the
3.     Be sure that the crease below the final joint of the finger does not
coincide with the 4th string. For most people it will be possible to position this area between the 3rd and 4th strings, without losing contact with the 6th string,
4.     The finger should be right up to the fret and just be able to feel it.
5.     The finger is not completely flat across the strings, but angled slightly counterclockwise, looking at the fingertip. However, this should not be exert grated as that would limit the stretch of the other fingers.
The elbow should hang comfortable downward, wrist slightly arched, where the fingers are in midrange positions.
1.     Maintain the natural alignment of the wrist.
2.     Position the wrist, forearm and finger joints in their midrange
Keep the fingernails on left hand short so that they don’t touch the keyboard when you depress the string.
How to press the frets with fingers:
1. Place tip on string and depress firmly through a balance of pressure between thumb and finger. Do not pull with your arm.
2. For maximum leverage use the tip of the joint of the thumb against the back of the guitar neck at the point opposite of the I and m fingers.
3. Do not hyperextend fingers at the knuckle joints because the depressing movement should come from the knuckle joints.

4. Fingers not in use keep the joints in midrange motion comfortably suspended over the strings.
How to a become aware of counterproductive tension:
1. Alter the sideways position of the elbow.
2. Pay attention to the rotation of the forearm.
3. Look at the arch of the wrist.
ADM – aim directed movement – process of knowing where to move the fingers on the fingerboard before actually moving them.

1. Count slowly and evenly in twos. Watching the fret board, watch placements of fingers, then look away from fingerboard. Repeat.
2. Be sensitive to error. Notice how the fingers suspend in air and standby location in relation to the frets.
3. Maintain natural alignment to the wrist, fingerprints, forearm. Increase time intervals of when you are looking away from the fret board.
4. Practice until you can see movements through your mind’s eye.
Principles of efficient muscle function:
1. Muscular alignment – never deviate left hand wrist. When moving positions, move arm laterally from your shoulder joint. When lateral spreading of the fingers, try to rotate the forearm clockwise to increase angle at which fingers approach the strings.
2. Midrange function of joints – doing this minimizes tension. Always applied to the wrist, but not to the fingers.
3. Uniform direction of the joint movement – keep this in mind whenever possible.
4. Follow through – not a consideration to left hand but when extending. Do not overextend fingers; do not restrain them when putting them in suspension over frets. Do not over press the strings.
Increasing left hand mobility:
1. Avoid deviation or hypertension of your wrist.
2. For max leverage, do not let middle or tip joints collapse.
3. Let the pull of e fingers determine the position of your hand. Freely rotate your forearm and allow your elbow to move out or in to achieve max ease for your fingers.
Types of downward slurs:
1. Rest slur – lh finger executes slur parallel to the surface of the fret board, coming to rest against the higher adjacent string. Powerful but restrictive, useful in slow passages.
2. Brush slur – finger lightly brushes the higher adjacent string and passes over it in a follow through movement. The fastest and practical slur. The must be dampened:
A.   If formed with a finger, lean the finger against the higher adjacent string.
B.    If an open string, use an inactive lh finger to dampened the higher adjacent string.
3. Free slur – finger exciting slur plucks sharply outward, passing over
the higher adjacent string. Used when the higher adjacent string must continue sounding. Most practical when barring across multiple strings.
Notes – for max leverage and strength, use the midrange positions of fingers. In upward slur, do not restrict movement. Lift fingers enough for “hammering.” Utilize sympathetic movements when slurring.
Names the fingers of the left hand.
1 – Index
2 – Middle
3 – Ring
4 – little finger
0 – Open string

Positioning of the left hand and arm:
Fingering Principles:

It is possible to play a passage in more than one spot on the neck for tonal variety.  As a general rule, use the most natural fingering unless a more difficult one gives a better musical interpretation, ie tonal variety, more beautiful phrasing, etc.
1 .     Playing all the notes on the same string brings consistent sound and good for right hand; if played on the 1ststring is the brightest tone. 
2.     Playing on 2nd string in all notes brings medium tone.  Vibrato can be used on all notes. 
3.     Playing third string can sound muddy.  Vibrato can be used in all notes.
4.     String crossing the 1st and 2nd string bring a non consistent sound and harder for right hand. 
5.     String crossing that allows strings to ring makes a harp like effect. 
Notes – must consider context, other voices, tempo musical style, and whether to add slurs.  Must find a balance between technical and the musical elements.  Judge the merit of the fingering when it is at tempo. 
Left hand shifts:
Two main types of left hand shifts – those that use guide fingers, and those that can not.  Try to keep hand in balanced position.  If it is difficult make a exercise out of it.  Look for guiding fingers that act as a pivot into the next hand shift.
Left hand:
The fingers are numbered 1-4.  Place the thumb on the back of the neck opposite the 2nd finger.  Do not grip the neck like a baseball bat with the palm touching the neck. 

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