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Style Guide: Left-Hand Techniques

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Style Guide: Left-Hand Techniques

Finger Independence

The first example (Fig. 1) was a great way to look at finger independence, which is our first left-hand technique. Having your fingers do independent things is one of the most challenging aspects of playing the guitar. If you had trouble changing chords fast enough when you started playing guitar, you were dealing with finger independence issues. It turns out that out hands aren’t built equally. There’s an individual tendon for each of your individual fingers, except the ring finger and pinky. Those unfortunate digits have to share one, and now you know why most guitar players only use three fingers on their left hand: The pinky is a bit weak, short, and it’s sharing a tendon with the ring finger.

For a great example of this, place your fingertips on a table and make them all touch at the same time. Now, try to lift up just your third finger, making sure your pinky stays down. Hard, isn’t it? Have no fear—while the pinky may be weak and muscularly challenged, it can be beefed up! Fig. 2 is the first of our “spider” exercises. I learned these in college and when you do it fast enough, you look like a tarantula walking across the fretboard. It’s creepy and awesome at the same time.

Fig. 2 is all about pairs of fingers: first and third, and second and fourth. By moving them together, first in parallel, and then in opposing motion, you’re making sure that each finger can work independently from each other. While the exercise sounds pedantic, the motion is just what you need to get from chord to chord with ease. In the audio example, I’m keeping my fingers down as long as I can, forcing the other fingers to work independently.

If we break up the fingers and play them one by one, we get Fig. 3, which proves that you can apply finger independence drills to enhance your lead playing as well. I’ve added a string skip to each finger pair to make it a little more challenging.

I’ll do one last exercise based on the spider drill with Fig. 4. This time, I’m adding a string skip each time I use all four fingers. This one is tricky, but it really shows how wimpy most people’s fingers are.

Now let’s take the finger independence idea and make all four fingers play at the same time—you know, like you do with chords. These shapes are called mirrors because they are mirror images of each other. Much like Fig. 1, I’m intentionally making the fingers do something pretty unnatural here in Fig. 5.

Fig. 5 clearly sounds like gibberish, and that’s the point—it’s a pure exercise that you can do unplugged while watching the game. You can take it and really go to town with it by adding string skips between any of the fingers, or moving it to different strings. Fig. 6 ups the ante by only changing the two middle fingers every other chord. This one is really difficult!

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