32. Basic Left Hand Technique

As an exercise, using the left hand only, switch between any two or three of the basic chords, Am-D, Em-C, E-D-A etc. Watch your hand carefully! You should have enough arch in the hand to play the notes with your fingertips only, but without excessive curvature of the wrist. The optimal placement of each finger is as close to the next highest fret as possible without being on top of it. In some instances this isn’t possible, as in the photo below. Note the pinky is toward the middle. This is always acceptable when necessary. However, never fret the string near the preceding fret—it requires much more pressure.





Meanwhile, proper thumb position is the center of the back of the neck. However, when playing first position chords (the basic chords are among them), the hand may ride over the top a little, which is ok:







Probably the biggest challenge for the beginning player is left hand muscle memory. Once proper hand placement has been established and calluses build on the left hand fingertips, execution of basic chords is not difficult. However, changing between the chords can be. The best advice I can give to help this is a lot of practice and conscious preparation. Even at slower tempos with fairly easy changes, the beginning player has trouble making chord changes fast enough to keep up. Try to anticipate the changes in the following ways:

1        Be aware of when the change is coming.

2        Visualize the specific movement of the left hand fingers to accomplish the change.

3        Strive to plant the left hand fingers on the next chord as a unit.

4        Use any note(s) common to both chords as a pivot, rather than lifting the entire hand.

5        Economize the movement of the hand as much as possible.

In the beginning, it is best to begin changing to the next chord early, even if it means shortening the intended duration of the present chord. Allowing the full time value to the present chord can sometimes require a relatively fast change to the next, even at slow tempo.

© 2012 Jim Greenfield