Guitar Lesson – Basics Part 4 – Left Hand, Right Hand

If you are a beginner and you’ve looked through the first few lessons, hopefully at this point you’ve memorized a few of the chord shapes.  Holding chords and notes are basically left hand technique (if you’re a right-handed player like most).

Tip for Left-Hand

One of the things I often forget to point out is that even though you learned to hold the chords one finger at a time, in practice you’d want to fret them all at the same time.  You can think of it kind of like putting your fingers into the correct shape and applying or stamping it down on the fretboard.

Right-Hand Technique – Strumming

Now let’s talk about what to do with your right-hand or strumming hand.  For this lesson, we’ll assume that you’re using a guitar pick.  So let’s look at how to hold the pick.

(Disclaimer – these are not my hands)

This is the way I usually hold the pick.  I try to get the pick pointing down almost perfectly perpendicular to the thumb.  And I usually allow my other 3 fingers to spread out a little (comfortably).  I find that this works well for me when strumming chords and getting the right feel.  I also like having my middle finger out ready for tapping.

But I’ve since learned that this is not necessarily the best or recommended way to hold the pick.

It seems that the way most people recommend is to hold curl your fingers back (almost like holding a fist).  Again, the pick is held perpendicular to the thumb.

I’ve been using this technique a bit more when I need to play faster licks.  The other fingers don’t get in the way as much.

Previously, when we talked about chords and notes, we were talking about pitch.  In music notation, this would be the “vertical” axis.

When we talk about strumming, we are talking abot rhythm which would be the “horizontal” or “time” axis.

There will probably be future lessons on how to read music where we’ll talk specifically about whole notes, half notes, quarter notes, etc.

Playing The Beats

For now, let’s just talk about quarter notes.  In other words, we’ll take a “measure” (some block of time) and divide it into 4 equal parts.  At the start of each part, we’d count: 1, 2, 3, 4.

Let’s call these the “down beats”.

When you first practice, try playing just the down beats using a down stroke (play the strings from top to bottom).

Let’s use this simple progression:  

            ||E       |A     :||

And we’ll repeat this over and over.

So you’ll play: 
       |E  E  E  E  |A  A  A  A  |     (and repeat)

Once you get the hang of this, try playing the strings while moving your hands up (play strings from bottom to top).  This is the up stroke.

In guitar notation, the down stroke is noted by a down arrow head while the up stroke looks like a box without a bottom (or an “n”?).

Let’s split the measure up even further into eighths.  But instead of counting 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, we’ll count: 1 n 2 n 3 n 4 n (“n” = “and”).  To write this out so that each “n” is associated with a specific beat, you can think of it as:

     1  1n  2  2n  3  3n  4  4n

     D  U   D  U   D  U   D  U   <— D = down stroke, U = up stroke

Now, let’s play a more interesting rhythm.  Instead of playing just downs like before, we’ll mix them up like this:

     1      2  2n    3n  4 

     D  —  D  U  — U   D —     

In this case, we’re only playing the beats: 1, 2, 2n, 3n, 4.

If you try to play this with a electronic metronome, set the metronome to 4-beats per measure.  Each time it beeps of flashes, it’s the down beat.  Some metronomes will beep/flash differently once.  I usually use this as the 4th beat (ie “about to change measure!”).

You should find yourself playing down strokes with the first 2 beeps/flashes (1, 2), playing an up stroke between the 2nd and 3rd beep/flash, skipping the 3rd beep/flash, then playing an up stroke before the 4th beep/flash and finally down stroke with the 4th beep/flash.  Try to play the up strokes equally between beeps/flashes (otherwise, you’re not playing the “n” beat!).

Right-Hand Technique Tips
Here are some tips for practicing:

  • Start SlowWhen you first start playing, you might find that it takes you a long time to shift from one chord/shape to the next.  The temptation will be to play the 4 beats quick, then change chord slowly, then play the next set of chords quick again.  Try not to do this.  🙂  Instead, try to space each strum out evenly.  If you have to play slow at first (each measure is taking more time), then do that.  In fact, you might want to use a metronome to keep pace.
  • Keep Your Hand Moving — Another habit that I see some players get into is not moving their hands during the beats that they don’t play.  I find that many players with this habit also have timing problems.  The easiest way I find to overcome this is to simple keep your hands moving up and down.  In the example above, your hand should move down at each down beat and move up in between.  Also, try to move in an even pace.  For instance, instead of strumming down and up quickly and waiting, imagine your hand is a pendulum that swings back and forth evenly and smoothly.  I’m not sure about everyone else but when I strum, I allow my wrist to move a little.
  • Down/Up Exercise — One way to practice is to mute the strings with your left hand and just practice down/up strokes.  First, try all downs.  Then all ups.  Then all downs and ups.  Then try any combination you can think of.  Once you get the hang of this and you see how each down/up stroke corresponds with a particular beat, then playing any rhythm is only a matter of figuring out which downs/ups to play and which ones to “skip”.

About ckyoungmusic

Guitarist ♪ Songwriter ♪ Instructor ♪ Nice Guy ♪ Music for the Soul | Rock | Country | Blues | Pop | Folk | Funk

Posted on September 1, 2009, in Guitar Basics, Guitar Lessons. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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