LESSON > DIGGING DEEPER
This experience soon became the foundation for how I approach picking. Starting
with open strings, I eventually transitioned
to playing scales and arpeggios, using both
alternate picking, as well as sweeping.
There are times when I’ll choose to override the string with a big downstroke or
upstroke. However, I regularly come back
to this practice as a means of resetting my
concept of how much pressure I think I
need to put into picking. Inevitably, it is a
lot less than I think.
The next step to explore was the left-hand technique. For me, the role of the
right hand had shifted from one of being
highly controlled to meeting the guitar
and letting the sound come out as a consequence of more efficient movement.
So with the left hand, I was interested in
examining what I had perceived its role
to be. What I discovered had to do with a
struggle between viewing the left hand as a
tool for holding the guitar in place and also
being able to move freely across the fretboard. I was essentially trying to stabilize
the guitar with my left hand while trying to
remain free and agile. As I told my friend,
it was like having a butterfly on a leash.
And again, I saw that this related to learning guitar as a boy and doing everything in
my power not to drop it while still playing
what I wanted. Realizing this, I started to
notice that I was trying to equalize both
desires by squeezing the neck and then trying to move my hand around the neck—a
conflict of directions.
I went back to the beginning: How do
you press down on a string? Is it my job to
overpower like my old right-hand approach
or was there more information I could learn
from the guitar if I ceased squeezing? I was
delighted to find that what I had discovered
in the right hand applied wonderfully to
the left hand as well. I began by placing
my first finger on the 3rd string, 5th fret
(sounding a C). I’d depress the string slightly and allow the string’s resistance to push
my finger off. It was as though I was pushing the string and letting myself be pushed.
I would practice pushing down too hard
and then letting the string/diving-board
effect push me off.
The more I did this, the more I started
to respect the tension of the guitar and
Most importantly, the thing that will help you
to achieve the best technique possible is to reg-
ularly make time to assess how you do what you
do, and to let the sound be your guiding light.
And whether my discoveries help you or you
find alternative strategies, I believe the most
effective approach to guitar technique is to be
respectful of the guitar’s design while also being
aware and appreciative of your own design.
become aware that no matter how much I
could override a string while fretting, the
string inevitably found equilibrium as an
open string. I began to practice meeting the
string, letting my eagerness to fret it calm
down slightly, at which point I would let
my left hand fall into the string, depress it
momentarily, and then give up, and let the
string push my finger off.
In essence, I was becoming aware that
how you come off of a string is as important as is landing on it. In both the right
and left hands, it seemed to really be about
doing less and refining my gestures to be
as appropriate to the design of the guitar as
possible, rather than trying to impose “my
technique” on the instrument.
The last piece of this exploratory period
was researching how the hand gets from
one position to another with minimal
effort. For years, I had played as though
the fingers were entirely responsible for
getting me up and down the neck, and the
rest of my body just followed. However,
after more research, I started to realize that
the hand gets where it needs to go when
the arm moves. And the arm moves when
your breathing is free. And your breathing
is freer when you are listening to the music
being created. So it’s all connected.
If I was playing a phrase in the first three
frets and then wanted to jump to the 12th
fret, I started to realize that I didn’t have
to reach up to the 12th fret, but rather if
I moved my forearm in that direction, my
fingers would follow suit and conveniently
be positioned exactly where I needed
them. So in addition to understanding the
mechanics of picking and fretting from
this new perspective, I could see that both
hands could be moved easily if I didn’t try
to move at the source of playing. With
scales, I would practice moving my arm
along the trajectory needed to play a scale
from the 1st fret to the 12th fret without
actually fretting the notes, just allowing
the fingers to glide across the strings. Once
this movement started to feel comfortable
at a slow tempo, I would gradually start
“tucking” in the notes, by letting my fingers
fall momentarily into place on the desired
pitch. This was a huge discovery for me.
PREMIER GUITAR JUNE 2012 69