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1.3 What is the best position for the left hand? (Classical Guitar Playing)


This article is from the Classical Guitar Playing FAQ, by Joshua Weage (jpweage@mtu.edu) with numerous contributions by others.

1.3 What is the best position for the left hand? (Classical Guitar Playing)

Positioning the left hand

Before considering left hand positioning, it should be observed that
in the concert repertoire the technical demands placed on the l.h.
are much more complex than those placed on the r.h. While the
essential movements of the r.h. fingers occur in a planar (two
dimensional) context, the movements of the l.h. fingers occur in a
spatial (three dimensional) context, which as they become more complex
must be assisted by constant adjustments in l.h. position. Thus, any
ideal position of the l.h. must be considered as a basis from which it
may depart more or less, depending upon the demands of any particular
l.h. fingering. As with the right hand though, the considerations for
determining that basis are comfort and efficiency. The position
described below is the most effective for the performance of scales,
the most fundamental material of music. When properly developed, this
position will feel most natural, and will serve as the point of
departure when necessary for the complex l.h. fingering demands of
polyphonic and homophonic styles of music.

In positioning the l.h., muscular alignment is as useful and important
as with the r.h. Another principle of muscular function which is
critically important to l.h. technique, and which many ignore to their
disadvantage, is midrange positioning of joints. This principle
observes that muscles work most efficiently when the joints they
control are positioned near the middle of their range of movement. It
is not unusual to see players with their l.h. knuckle joints extended
to the limit of their range of motion (often with the palm pressed
against the side of the fingerboard), so that their fingers can barely
move with the amount of tension required to maintain that

as in r.h. positioning, the following terms apply:

tilt: rotation of the forearm
deviation: right/left curvature of the wrist
arch: flexion/extension of the wrist

Begin with your forearm in front of the neck positioned nearly
perpendicular to the floor, and with the knuckle and middle joints of
your fingers in midrange position. Make sure your shoulder is not
hunching up, twisting or otherwise tense. Without yet placing
anything on the neck or strings, make the following adjustments:

o tilt: adjust tilt so that the palm of your hand is facing
directly backwards. As in r.h. positioning, proper adjustment of
tilt results in equal access of all fingers to the strings
(including the often ignored fourth finger).

o deviation: there should be no deviation. Again, this results in
effective muscular alignment as in r.h. positioning.

o arch: there should be no arch. A common problem seen in basic
l.h. positioning is an excess of arch in conjunction with the
overextension of the knuckle joints described above, usually
found when zealous students attempt to always press with the tips
of the fingers.

At this point, the fingertips should form a line parallel to the
strings, with the 1st finger somewhat less curled and the 2nd 3rd and
4th fingers somewhat more curled. There should be no exaggerated
effort to keep the fingers widely separated as in the "four-fret
position" of prior teaching methods. Position the thumb opposite the
2nd or 3rd finger tip. Before moving the hand to the neck, try
holding a pencil lightly between the thumb and fingers. If your wrist
is very straight, your fingertips are all resting on the pencil, the
pencil is parallel to the strings, and your fingers are in midrange
position (holding the pencil well away from your palm), then you are
ready to open your thumb up enough to place the fingers on the
strings, with the thumb still opposite the fingertips. Try placing
all four on the D string; the 2nd 3rd and 4th fingers should remain
curled and naturally placed on their tips, with the 1st finger
slightly straighter and placing slightly more on the pad. Then
smoothly lift the fingers and place them on the G string, proceeding
until the high E string is reached. With each movement to a new
string, the thumb should move accordingly, and the distance between
the palm and the side of the neck should change accordingly.

When this position is successfully achieved, try some slow scale
practice, making sure the fingers are relaxed and controlled, and that
hand (wrist) movement is minimized. If you start pressing with the
pads of the 3rd or 4th fingers, or if your thumb is sticking out the
top of the neck, or if the palm of your hand is generally resting
against the side of the neck, you've probably lost the position and
need to recheck. Always be watching for overextension of the knuckle
joints as well.

As with all other aspects of technique, the benefits of this l.h.
position are greatest when it becomes habitual; however, almost all
music requires some departure from this position. It is therefore
advisable to dedicate some time specifically toward developing this
position, initially through simple finger movement exercises and then
with position scales. With time and patience, the result will be a
much liberated left hand technique.
Stuart LeBlanc


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