Everyone’s aspirations, abilities, and physical attributes are different. I want to let you know up-front, however your hands are built, you can use their size to your advantage. So, if you’re going into guitar thinking that yours are too big, too small, or too whatever– just know that they are just right! No matter where you stand in terms of size, don’t stand in your own way.
So with the intro out of the way, let’s clean up your left hand!
- Check your thumb. Do you have monster hands like Hendrix, or Vai? If so, your thumb may be able to slip over the top without a ton of added tension. But for mere mortals like myself, It’s best if I keep the pad of my thumb flat against the back of the guitar’s neck.
But even players with gigantic hands will have to pull their thumb down for a big stretch!
2. The baseball bat grip. Stop it. Stop holding your guitar like a bat. Unless the zombie apocalypse comes, and you need to use it as an improvised weapon. The palm of your hand never needs to touch the neck of your guitar. Seriously. This goes hand-in-hand with step one. Pull your thumb around the back of the neck, and create space (enough that you can stick a pencil through) between your palm and the neck of the guitar.
“But wait,” you say, “Now my wrist is curved, and it feels weird!” Take a look at problem #3.
3. Poor playing posture. Position your guitar so that it’s comfortable to hold and play, and eliminate that wrist tension! That means you’ll have to do a few things:
a.) Scoot up in your seat. It’s nice and all, to be leisurely and sit back in your couch and play. Do it sometimes, whatever. But if you’re trying to grow your skills, you’ll need to make sure you’re seated upright, and whichever knee you prefer, you need to make sure that your guitar’s neck is elevated enough that your wrist is more or less straight when you’re holding down a G chord. Typically this means your guitar’s neck will be tilted slightly upward
b.) Find a comfortable spot for your strap. I wish I was Jimmy Page. I really do. A six-string, slung low, in the best band in the world, melting faces. Unfortunately, I can’t play like that. I mean, I can play some things, but extended chords–forget it. Shredding? Maybe not! I’m not saying that you have to wear your guitar up to your chin, looking like rock ‘n’ roll Urkel, but find the spot where it’s easiest on your hand to do your basic day-to-day jamming.
4. Crushing the strings. Have you ever heard an acoustic player pick up an electric guitar? Unless you’re in practice on both, when you move to an electric with skinny strings, you’re going to be bending every string that you’re holding down. Now, this isn’t limited to electric guitar, of course–it’s a symptom of a bigger problem.
Holding down strings is not the most intuitive thing that we do. When we first begin, it’s easy to just push as hard as you possibly can to fret a note–you pretty much have to. But once you build calluses, and those fingers aren’t quite so squishy anymore, it’s easier to do something that comes natural–let your hand fall. Put your hand up to the neck and let it fall; let gravity do its thing. If a string takes between 17-25lbs of pressure to push down, well, how heavy do you think your arm is? I dunno. Pretty heavy. Let gravity do some of the work for you–I’m not saying pull your strings toward the ground, but I am saying that if you learn what it feels like to let your arm hang, you’ll release some of the tension you’re creating by holding it up all the time, and be able to use a combination of finger strength and the weight of your hand and arm to fret the notes. This should minimize some of the cramping that we get when we’re holding down chords.
5. Not using your pinkie. I know, the thing is goofy. But it’s (maybe) the most useful finger on your hand once you get used to using it. You need it for chords, big stretches–pretty much any aspect of the guitar outside of playing open chords. It won’t be at first, but you can train your pinkie to be as strong as any other finger on your hand–or you can ignore it, and have a weak pinkie. I don’t know about you, but the former sounds like what I want–the latter seems extremely silly. If you’ve got it, use it!
Guitar is just like anything, the better you get, the more fun it is–and the more fun it is, the more you play, the better you get. Take care of yourselves and let me know what you think!